The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

North Carolina passes charter school law that critics say is intended to promote segregation

Educators rallied in May in Raleigh, N.C., calling for teacher raises and more money for public school classrooms. (Gerry Broome/AP)

The North Carolina legislature has passed a controversial measure permitting four towns with mostly white populations to create their own charter schools, a move that critics say is intended to promote segregation.

The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP is threatening to sue the state over the law and over a proposed constitutional amendment requiring identification cards at the polls.

The charter school law will allow the mostly white towns of Cornelius, Huntersville, Matthews and Mint Hill outside Charlotte to create their own charter schools and limit the enrollment to families living within their borders. And state legislators agreed to allow municipalities across North Carolina to spend property taxes on local schools, a right that until now was reserved to counties and the state, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.

“Clearly, this is an effort to go back to the 1900s with Jim Crow where these enclaves for whites are being allowed to be set up,” Irv Joyner, a lawyer and the legal redress chair for the North Carolina NAACP, was quoted as saying by the Charlotte Post.

Supporters, including House bill sponsor Bill Brawley (R), say the charter school law gives flexibility to local communities that want to offer parents publicly funded education options. Critics say it is really a return to the days when some whites in the South resisted the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling.

The Brown decision declared as unconstitutional state laws allowing separate public schools for black and white students. Some whites in the South opened private schools or created white-only public school districts to skirt the law.

Still, progress was made toward school desegregation for decades after the ruling. But then some public schools began resegregating. One way, as explained in this Answer Sheet post, involves secession of school districts, mostly but not exclusively in the South:

The phenomenon of school district secession, or the splintering of whiter, wealthier districts from larger, more diverse ones, first emerged as a component of massive Southern resistance to Brown v. Board of Education. Today, secession is gaining steam once again.
Since 2000, more than 70 communities have tried to secede — and nearly 50 have succeeded. These districts include Leeds and Trussville outside of Birmingham, Ala.; Saraland, Chickasaw and Satsuma, outside of Mobile, Ala.; and Zachary from East Baton Rouge, La.

Back to the future: A new school district secession movement is gaining steam

Some researchers have also found that “school choice” policies can exacerbate segregation. The Associated Press published an analysis in December saying that charter schools — which are publicly funded but privately operated, sometimes by for-profit companies —”are among the nation’s most segregated.” It said:

National enrollment data shows that charters are vastly overrepresented among schools where minorities study in the most extreme racial isolation. As of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.

James E. Ford, a former North Carolina Teacher of the Year and now an education consultant, wrote in the Charlotte Observer:

A bill that would allow municipalities like Matthews and Mint Hill to create their own tax-supported charters, where being a resident of those communities is the primary requirement for attendance, is a design for racial and economic segregation. Let’s just make it plain.
. . . In an environment where political correctness is decried and straight-talk is encouraged, it’s important not to nibble around the edges. There have been some relevant educational issues raised in this debate. But to act like race doesn’t have any influence is imaginative and inconsistent with American history. We’ve seen this before. Only this time it is not white flight, it’s building a “white fence.”

The assault on public education in North Carolina just keeps on coming

Stuart Egan, an English teacher in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system who blogs about education at Caffeinated Rage, wrote about the passage of the charter bill:

The General Assembly probably just weakened every public school system in the state whether or not it currently has a charter school. Now charter schools can ask the local district for funds to finance anything from custodians to benefits for charter school teachers.

The law was passed by a Republican legislature that critics say has been intent on assaulting traditional public education. In recent years, the state has seen a decline in public education spending, an embrace of charter schools and voucher systems that use public money for private education, and a controversial teacher evaluation system based on student test scores.