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The elimination of the cap on charter schools has allowed for the growth of such institutions across North Carolina over the last three years.
Friday, area lawmakers, educators and community leaders took a look at one of the newest in New Hanover County–Douglass Academy.
The local charter school on Sixth Street was the kick-off point for a statewide tour, sponsored by Americans For Prosperity Foundation-North Carolina (AFPF-NC), aimed at showcasing opportunities for alternative education since that limit was lifted.
Those in attendance included AFPF-NC Director John Dudley, New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chairman Woody White, N.C. Reps. Ted Davis and Rick Catlin and New Hanover County Board of Education members Dr. Derrick Hickey and Tammy Covil.
In 2011, legislators decided to do away with a maximum of 100 state charter schools. By August 2014, North Carolina is expected to have 155 charters in 57 of the 100 counties, including South Brunswick Charter in southeastern Brunswick County.
That school is operated by Roger Bacon Academy, the company that also operates Columbus Charter in Whiteville, Charter Day School in Leland and Douglass Academy, which opened its doors in August 2013 at the old Peabody Center building.
“We applaud Douglass Academy for giving all area students educational choices, options and opportunities they didn’t have before,” Paige Freeman, area field coordinator for Americans For Prosperity, told a small crowd. “Renovating and revitalizing this building is a gift to the downtown area…It is a true gift, especially to residents in the adjacent lower-income areas, and a true gift to the students.”
Douglass Academy opened for grades kindergarten through second with the particular goal of serving those in public housing communities and other neighborhoods that headmaster Barbra Jones said had to attend two of the district’s lowest-performing schools–Rachel Freeman and Snipes.
Unlike most charter schools, Douglass provides buses and lunches for the approximately 35 students enrolled there. Since charters do not receive state transportation or child nutrition funding, they are not required to offer either services.
As guests toured the facility, the word “choice” echoed through the hallways.
“I have always been a proponent of school choice,” Hickey said. “Not every educational setting is right for every child…And anybody in education just wants children to be educated.”
“As a board of education member, I have to represent the most overlooked stakeholder–the students,” she said. “It is important to provide opportunities for all students.”
Both Covil and Hickey acknowledged that the funding of charter schools remained a hot education topic, one that has, within the last year, created a division between traditional public school supporters and charter school advocates.
“People misunderstand–charters are public schools,” Covil noted.
By law, charter schools receive the per pupil allotment for each student they enroll–about $8,700 per year.
Covil said at traditional public schools that qualify for Title I– federal money for schools with large populations of economically disadvantaged students–the average allocation is actually much higher. Charter schools, she added, do not qualify for Title I monies.
And, Covil said, charter schools–originally designed to innovate public education–could serve as learning tools.
“It is important for us as a board to see what it is that is attracting parents to charter schools and what we could do differently or better,” she said.
Douglass Academy has already held open enrollment for 2014-15 with more than 90 students signed up to attend there in the fall.
Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or firstname.lastname@example.org.