AT THE SCHOOLHOUSE DOOR: Creating a Constitutionally Questionable Charter Schools Board

March 18, 2013

This legislative session has seen several bills filed that could have serious consequences for public education. In this space, we have discussed the privatization of public education through the explosive growth of charter schools, which will drain traditional public schools of resources.

This week, Senate Bill 337 was filed. The bill creates a North Carolina Public Charter Schools Board.  

Charter schools can be problematic in several ways: they take public money from public s but oversight and accountability are also serious issues. The task for oversight became much more difficult when the cap of 100 charter schools was lifted during the 2011 legislative session.

The Department of Public Instruction’s Office of Charter Schools was already asked to accomplish a monumental task when there were 100 charters and only six staff members when it was fully staffed. Sarah Ovaska, NC Policy Watch's investigative reporter, documented a major issue about the oversight of charter schools when she reported about Quality Education Academy and its basketball program.

The rapid expansion of charter schools will be given an even bigger boost if Senate Bill 337 becomes law. In order to qualify for the Public Charter Schools Board, a member “shall have demonstrated an understanding of and a commitment to charter schools as a strategy for strengthening public education.”  

The Charter School Advisory Board, which has been responsible for reviewing charter school applications, did not consist solely of people who believed blindly in charter schools. There were people who may have dissented. It is doubtful that there will be much dissension on the Public Charter Schools Board.

Perhaps the most troubling aspects of this bill concern the apparent conflict with the North Carolina Constitution. The bill states that the Charter Schools Board “shall be located administratively within the Department of Public Instruction but shall exercise its powers and duties independently of the State Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction.”  

Article IX, Section 5 gives the State Board of Education the power to “supervise and administer the free public school system and the educational funds provided for its support.” The State Board of Education is the constitutional entity responsible for public schools. Charter schools are public schools so they should continue to be governed by the State Board of Education.

SB 337 states that the State Board of Education “shall have the authority to veto by a three fourths vote any action adopted by vote of the Charter Board if the State Board's veto vote is taken within 45 days of the date the Charter Board voted to adopt the action.” It does not make sense that the body that was constitutionally created to supervise and administer public schools should have to override a legislatively created body given power without a constitutional amendment. When the bill that lifted the cap was making its way through the legislative process, there was a similar provision requiring the State Board to override the Charter School Advisory Board. It was likely unconstitutional then, and it is likely to be unconstitutional now.

One of the last things that North Carolina needs is a possibly unconstitutional entity continuing the explosive growth of unaccountable charter schools that siphon money and resources from traditional public schools.

More interesting information:

Sarah Ovaska’s blog on Senate Bill 337

Op-ed from our colleague Jason Langberg

NC Policy Watch’s Education Reporter Lindsay Wagner’s profile of a State Board of Education Nominee

Research & Publications: