Public Charter Schools
A milestone achieved: Aniekan Affiah, a fifth grader from Durham, joined national, state, and community leaders in urging Governor Beverly Perdue to remove North Carolina’s charter school cap.
In 1996 the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation to create and authorize a system of public charter schools across the state. While misconceptions about charter schools remain, these schools are, and have always been, public schools. They are independent, non-religious, tuition-free public schools of choice. North Carolina statute defines charter schools as “deregulated schools under public control.” What does it mean to be a deregulated public school? Public charter schools are given operational and educational autonomy but adhere to rigorous financial and academic accountability standards. In addition, unlike traditional public schools, public charter schools can be closed if they do not meet academic or operational standards.
Across the state of North Carolina, 158 public charter schools served nearly 82,000 students during the 2015-16 school year. The number of public charter schools is expected to increase by 13 schools to 171 schools statewide in 2016-17. While the number of high-quality public charter schools in North Carolina continues to grow, tens of thousands of students still remain on public charter school wait lists. The annual charter schools report from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Office of Charter Schools, submitted to the North Carolina General Assembly in 2016, indicated that almost 40,000 students were on charter school waitlists as of December 2015.
Many more students simply lack access to a charter school within a reasonable driving distance: 40 counties in North Carolina do not have even one public charter school. In light of this reality, PEFNC is hard at work to increase access to high-quality public charter schools for students across North Carolina.
Learn more about our work to build a pipeline of high-performing public charter schools for North Carolina’s students through the North Carolina Public Charter School Accelerator.
Public charter schools nationwide are models of innovation, often featuring:
- Unique or specialized curricula
- Extended school days
- A culture of high expectations for all students and adults
- Disciplined classroom learning environments
- Pay structures that reward high-quality teachers
- Parent contracts that encourage and shape school involvement
Who are charter schools serving?
State law stipulates that public charter schools must be open to any child in North Carolina. Charter schools have an open enrollment process that does not permit discrimination; additionally, these schools are non-religious and do not charge tuition. Charter schools must hold an open lottery if they receive more applications than they have space. Because public charter schools have open enrollment with no restrictions, they generally serve similar student populations as traditional public schools.
How do charter schools stack up academically?
Data show that public charter schools serve students well. The academic performance of charter school students is generally on par with, or even exceeds, the performance of students enrolled in traditional public schools. The latest data from the NC Department of Public Instruction’s Office of Charter Schools indicates that roughly two-thirds of state charter schools perform at or above the proficiency level of other schools in their district.
Bottom line: Public charter schools are making the grade. And those that don’t can be closed, unlike traditional public schools.
Highlights from the report:
- 74 percent of NC charter schools met or exceeded academic growth in 2014-15; 72 percent of NC traditional public schools met or exceeded academic growth in 2014-15
- 69 public charter schools earned a grade of B or higher on 2014-15 state school report cards; 19 earned a grade of A or A+
- A higher percentage of public charter schools earned B’s, A’s, and A+’s on school report cards, compared to traditional public schools
A number of North Carolina charter schools have been awarded accolades on nationally published rankings that assess school rigor. On the Washington Post’s 2016 list of most challenging high schools, four of North Carolina’s top 10 schools were public charter schools. These include: Raleigh Charter High (#1); KIPP Pride (#4); Woods Charter (#6); and Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy (#9).
US News & World Report’s 2016 list of best schools also ranks four charter schools in the top 10 list of North Carolina schools. These schools include: Raleigh Charter (#2); Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy (#4); Woods Charter (#5); and Lake Norman Charter (#8).
A look back: PEFNC’s work to eliminate the cap on public charter schools
On June 17, 2011, with overwhelming legislative support, Governor Beverly Perdue signed legislation to remove the cap of 100 public charter schools statewide. This bipartisan measure set the stage for increased innovation and opportunity for North Carolina’s students through greater access to charter schools.
Other provisions within the measure included:
- Increasing charter enrollment caps from 10 percent to 20 percent
- Providing fairer standards for improving charter school performance
- Reporting by the State Board of Education regarding public charters approved or rejected
- Allowing the State Board of Education to create a public charter school advisory committee