REALITY CHECK: How Charter Schools Affect Public Schools in NC

The charter school movement began in earnest in North Carolina in 1997 when 34 schools opened across the state. There are now 200 charter schools in operation. The 1996 Charter School Act established the system of tuition-free, public schools that are not bound by many of the rules as traditional public schools. Democrats are more likely not to support them than are Republicans. 

Conservatives tout charters as school choice options that help families flee low-performing schools. Progressives say they siphon money and resources from traditional public schools, and have an advantage because they don’t have to follow the same rules as traditional public schools. Privatization of schools provides easy access to public funds and often lines the pockets of for profit schools and management companies. Public schools accept all children, while charter and private schools can be selective about what students they accept and have been used as vehicles for the resegregation of schools. And then since the schools don’t have the same populations, attempts at comparing their performance is invalid. Most people aren’t aware that the performance standards for charter schools are lower than (traditional) public school. And one last point, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) required an entire new and separate administrative unit for charter schools, duplicating everything that they were doing prior to charter schools, and costing taxpayers twice the money.

What conservatives and progressives can agree on is that charter schools are likely here to stay for the foreseeable future. Here’s a by the numbers look at North Carolina’s charter schools according to the most recent data:

200 – charters operating in North Carolina as of Oct. 1, 2020

8.4% –  percentage of North Carolina’s 1.5 million school children enrolled in charter schools

47 – charter schools identified as low-performing/continually low-performing during the 2018-19 school year

$10.37 billion – amount North Carolina spent on public education in the most recent annual budget

$734.7 million – amount it allotted for charter schools 

108 – charter schools that provide bus transportation, or a little over half

24 – don’t provide transportation

73 – n charter schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). 

7 –  new charters that opened for the 2020-21school year

10 – scheduled to open in Fall 2021

33 – average number of charter school applications each year since 1996

25.28% – percentage of yearly charter school applications approved by the State Board of Education since 1997

48 – charter schools that have relinquished charters since 1998. 

17 – have had charters revoked since 1998

10 – charters not renewed by the State Board of Education. 

1 – charters assumed by another charter operator

Source: The NC DPI 2020 Annual Charter Schools Report, NC Policy Watch

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