Guilford County commissioners intend to delay funding for school capital projects. That’s understandable in view of this year’s budget challenge.
Finding money would be even harder if commissioners had to share capital funds with charter schools — maybe many more charter schools than there are in Guilford County today.
It could happen with proposed state legislation that would revamp the charter school system.
Charter school change is a high priority for House and Senate Republicans. For years, they’ve pushed for two goals: removal of a statewide cap of 100 charter schools, and funding equity. Democrats weren’t interested. Now that Republicans have gained control, they intend to move ahead.
The cap should be lifted. It limits opportunities and stifles innovation. For example, one of the most successful charter organizations in the country is KIPP, the Knowledge is Power Program. There are 18 KIPP schools in Houston alone, but only two in all of North Carolina with few chances to expand under the cap.
A bill in the state Senate goes much further than lifting the cap, however. It would create a Public Charter Schools Commission, largely independent of the State Board of Education or Department of Public Instruction. A new bureaucracy in Raleigh is worrisome. More troubling: It would cut charter schools in on state lottery money for capital expenses (so much for the notion that Republicans would repeal the lottery, which they once strongly opposed). Cities and counties also would be authorized to appropriate capital funds for charter schools, using property tax revenue.
Until now, a strong selling point for charters was their lower cost. They didn’t receive public funds for building schools, and so were forced to rely on private contributions or to lease facilities with proceeds from their per-student state allocations.
They should continue to do that. Successful charters have shown that children can attend school in clean, safe classrooms set up in storefronts, office buildings and other nontraditional locations. They don’t always need state-of-the-art schools that cost tens of millions of dollars. And taxpayers can’t afford to provide more and more expensive facilities.
The bill also would make it clear that charter schools don’t have to furnish transportation for students, would relieve them of the existing requirement that their student bodies reasonably reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the school system as a whole, and allow them to accept students from outside the system and charge them tuition.
These measures could limit access to some children and make charters more like private schools — except that they would tap into much more public money.
While more charters can increase choices for parents seeking alternatives to assigned schools, adding to public expense or vying for scarce existing dollars is not the way to go. Not when county commissioners aren’t able to meet the costs of school projects already on the drawing board and approved by voters. Charters must be a good deal for students and for taxpayers.
SOURCE: Greensboro News & Record, http://www.news-record.com/content/2011/02/14/article/editorial_more_choice_and_less_cost