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Local charter school options growing
9 county applications OKd, total to 21 by 2014
 
Published Wednesday, September 11, 2013 7:30 pm
by Herbert L. White

The charter school movement is growing across North Carolina in general and Mecklenburg County in particular.

The N.C. Board of Education approved 26 public charter schools last week, with nine to be located in Mecklenburg County. That would give Mecklenburg 21 of the state’s 155 charter schools in the 2014-15 academic year. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, by comparison, has 180 campuses.

Charter advocates say the schools will provide greater flexibility for students.

“What we do like is for parents to at least have it as an option so that they can decide if this is a better choice than the traditional school they’re going to,” said Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, a charter school advocacy group. “Parents now, in particularly in Mecklenburg County, have this as an option and there are parents weighing the idea of a public charter school but remain in a traditional public school. I think that’s a good thing.”

State funding goes to charter school students, but the individual schools are responsible for acquiring and maintaining their physical plant and buildings. About 65,000 students could be enrolled at charter schools this year.

“We welcome the growth of high quality charter schools in North Carolina as they offer a valuable option to help meet the academic needs of our 1.5 million public school students,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said in a statement. “Our public charter schools have helped to increase our graduation rate to the highest in state history and we look forward to working with these applicants as they formalize their plans to open new schools in 2015.”

The growth in charters coincide with  state lawmakers voting in 2011 to eliminate the cap of 100 schools, which resulted in 30,000 students on waiting lists. Fifty-seven of N.C.’s 100 counties will have at least one charter campus next year.

“When public charter schools open in counties where previously none existed, parents who never had this as an option are finally provided an alternative that could potentially better meet their child’s educational needs,” Allison said.

The state’s oversight of public charter schools is changing as well. The General Assembly voted to launch an advisory board charged with reviewing charter school applications before making recommendations to the State Board of Education, which makes the final decision.

For urban counties like Mecklenburg, Wake and Guilford, charter schools have a larger base of students to grow enrollment. In rural counties where there are fewer students and less financial support, adding campuses is equally important, Allison maintains.

“I think the power of choice and options and providing families with alternatives is that for the first time when they didn’t have have a choice, they now have that,” he said. “That’s empowering and that’s the kind of thing we want for our parents to have in deciding the kind of education that works for their children.”

Mecklenburg public charter schools approved by the N.C. State Board of Education:

• Carolina STEM Academy

• Charlotte Charter High School

• Charlotte Learning  Academy

• Concrete Roses STEM Academy

• Entrepreneur High School

• Pioneer Springs Community School

• Thunderbird Preparatory Academy

• United Community School

• West Charlotte Charter School

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