Scary reading in charter school bill

A bill in the North Carolina Senate is highly revealing about  how much concern its Republican sponsors really have for accountability in education.

Short answer: apparently none.

Longer answer: A bill titled “NC Public Charter School Board,” introduced by two Republicans, calls for a new board to approve and oversee charters. The State Board of Education would no longer have the job of overseeing charter schools, and charter school applicants would no longer have to get permission to open from local school boards or local education agencies. They could go straight to the new board, whose members would be appointed by the governor.

If anyone is worried that members of the new board might have conflicts of interest with the schools they are overseeing, the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Jerry Tillman and Sen. Dan Soucek, are not; their legislation doesn’t have any language ensuring that there are no conflicts.

What’s more, local school boards would be forced to lease open buildings or land to charter school operators for $1 annually unless they could prove that wasn’t feasible, according to the Progressive Pulse. If a charter school closes, its assets won’t go the local school agency or school board but to the state’s general fund.

And there’s more. The Pulse reports that the legislation says:

Charter schools shall “make efforts to reasonably reflect” the racial and ethnic composition of the LEA in which they are located.

That actually weakens the current requirement on diversity and reveals a lack of interest in such issues.

And there’s this: Charter schools would no longer have to have at least half of their teachers officially certified to teach, nor would they be legally required to conduct criminal background checks on their teachers and other staff members. Why? Well, during a legislative committee hearing on the bill, this is what happened, the Pulse reported:

Senators [Republican Austin] Allran and [Democrat Gladys] Robinson raised concerns about why the bill would make it optional for charter schools to conduct criminal background checks for prospective employees. “You’re talking about children. Seems like something that would be the minimum you would do,” said Allran. Tillman dismissed his concerns, effectively saying that he didn’t want to micromanage the schools and that many would do the background checks anyway.

The bypassing of local school boards is not unique to North Carolina; Tennessee has a bill to do the same thing and, in fact, more than half of the states with charter-school laws allow state bodies to overrule charter decisions by other authorizers, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.

The North Carolina legislation may, however, be in a class by itself when it comes to removing any notion of accountability from charter schools.

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | March 28, 2013