Congratulations to the North Carolina Public Charter Schools Association team, led by former State Senator and now Executive Director Eddie Goodall, on a successful, well-attended state charter schools conference July 19-21 in Durham, North Carolina! This week begins the 20th anniversary year of the signing of the North Carolina charter school law passed in 1996. I was delighted to serve as keynote speaker for the conference, sharing the pioneering charter school story and dispelling the myths of chartering. The Durham Herald Sun captured some of my comments here.
When I attended their conference in Greensboro two years ago, North Carolina had 107 charter schools. Since that time, the state legislature lifted the cap on chartering and today they have 162 charter schools and over 70,000 students. That is a significant jump! I’m particularly pleased to see the growth of chartering in rural areas of North Carolina, and in Durham, home of my alma mater law school, Duke University.
What I heard, however, is great passion and resolve to do more to remove the barriers to chartering in North Carolina, because frankly, there is more demand for chartering in the state. Only a small percentage of applications are being approved to open each cycle.
That needs to change, says Steven Walker, General Counsel and Policy Director for Lt. Governor Daniel J. Forest. There currently is too much regulation around charter schools, intended to be laboratories of innovation, he noted. And the funding is unfair—charter public schools receive only 71% of the funding received by district schools. Look at the successful charter schools we have now, and “Imagine what they could do if they received the same funding that district schools receive!” he said.
His comments were echoed by others at the conference, including Democratic former state legislator Marcus Brandon, now Executive Director of CarolinaCAN. Hopefully leadership for change will come from the Lt. Governor and legislators who attended the conference, recognized by the Association as “Charter Champions.” I was honored that the legislators stayed to hear the story of the origins of chartering.
To the hundreds of charter school leaders who attended the conference: Thank you for taking an extraordinary stand for change. Congratulations on your 20th anniversary year—you have much to celebrate!