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Saturday, May 18, 2024

‘Got their hand out’: NHCS board states opposition in giving more money to charter schools

House Bill 219, co-sponsored by Rep. Frank Iler (R-Brunswick), calls for various changes to North Carolina’s charter school regulations, some of which would require public school districts to share more of their funding. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — In the shadow of the New Hanover County Board of Education’s book-banning conversation on Tuesday was a resolution to oppose the state legislature’s charter school omnibus.

House Bill 219, co-sponsored by Rep. Frank Iler (R-Brunswick), calls for various changes to North Carolina’s charter school regulations, some of which would require public school districts to share more of their funding. 

READ MORE: More staff reductions, divisions to shave off $1M to balance NHCS budget

The bill has seen no action since its March 1 introduction. 

Still, New Hanover County Schools Chief Financial Officer Ashley Sutton asked the board to consider signing a drafted resolution that states the legislation’s “total financial impact to all local school districts could expand significantly over time and lead to egregious results based on future increases in charter school enrollments of both in-person and virtual school students.” 

Charter schools are hybrids between traditional public and private schools due to their flexibility in curriculum and schedule. They are considered public schools due to their open admission requirements and taxpayer-funding structure. 

North Carolina charter schools receive state and county funding through their local school district. There are seven charter schools in New Hanover County, however, students may cross county lines to attend a charter. So, if a charter school has 50 Pender County students and 50 New Hanover County students, NHCS only pays for its 50.

Right now in New Hanover County, 7% of its revenue goes to local charters for 2,240 students. 

Sutton explained H.B. 219 would change that by requiring more revenue to be transferred to charter schools. The bill removes the protected status of certain money school districts do not have to share with charter schools, like its fund balance, federal reimbursements and donations. 

NHCS would have to share 7% of any money it spends from its fund balance and monies designated for specific programs or purposes — “double dipping” as NHCS dubs it.

The bill also no longer protects federal reimbursements for programs like Head Start, which provides funding for low-income preschool programs. So, if Head Start provides $10,000 to NHCS, the whole amount has to be spent on Head Start. However, the $10,000 still adds to total revenue, which charter schools are entitled to 7% of under the proposed new legislation. So, in effect, that percentage would have to come from a different source. 

“Head Start is not going to let us use their money and give it to charter schools, so we would have to find funding from somewhere else,” Sutton said. 

The same thing would happen with donations, according to Sutton. A portion of any monetary gift would also need to be allocated to charters, yet it couldn’t be directly pulled from the donation.

“[Donors] expect their whole $25,000 to go toward what they’re giving the money for,” Sutton said. 

H.B. 219 requires the same sharing method for pre-K programs, for which charter schools can apply for funding directly, and sales tax reimbursements. Charter schools would not be required to share any of its savings or revenues with the local school district, including tuition or fees charged for certain charter activities. 

School board members Stephanie Walker and Stephanie Kraybill were strongly opposed to the bill at Tuesday’s meeting.

“They just got their hand out and they need to close it,” Kraybill said.

For Walker, the bill is another example of unreciprocated funding taken from the larger group and given to charters.

“I don’t care who’s sponsoring this bill, I would never be in support of taking funds from public schools — it’s just wrong,” Walker said. 

Other board members were not convinced a strong dissent was the best response.

 “I’m hesitant to sign in opposition because what I like to do is say, this is what we want to see,” said Josie Barnhart, who chairs the legislative committee.

Her preferred way to derail the law was to express advocacy for what the school district wanted to happen instead; she said she thought the state should fund charter and traditional schools separately, instead of using districts as a “middleman.” 

Bradford agreed, stating the district should try to sit down with state leaders to discuss their concerns instead of signing the resolution. 

“I can’t imagine any county would be in favor of these charter school measures, they’re just gutting us,” Bradford said. 

In the end, Walker, Kraybill, Hugh McManus and Pete Wildeboer formed the majority vote in favor of signing the resolution.

Beyond rationing funds between public and charter schools, H.B. 219 also addresses capital funding, admission standards, low-performing schools and micro-school programs. 

The legislation would allow counties to provide capital funds in a direct transfer, rather than passing them through the local school district. Charter schools could use the funds for the acquisition of real property, construction, renovations, furniture and equipment. The bill stipulates the county may levy a tax up to $1.50 per $100 of appraised property value for this purpose.

H.B. 219 also changes the rules regarding enrollment caps. Under current law, low-performing charters cannot increase their maximum enrollment authorization by more than 20% of the previous year’s enrollment. The bill would allow the increase if approved by the North Carolina Board of Education. 

According to 2021-2022 North Carolina Department of Education accountability reports, Wilmington Preparatory Academy, Classical Charter Schools of Wilmington, American Leadership Academy – Coastal, the Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington, and the Wilmington School of the Arts were classified as low-performing. All are recurring low-performing schools except for Wilmington School of the Arts. 

Charter schools set their own curriculum, and do not have to follow the North Carolina standard course of study, and are therefore, judged by the guidelines they set. 

For non-low performing schools, the current law stipulated the state board approve enrollment caps increased more than 30%; H.B. 219 requires that no longer. 

Charter schools are bound to non-discriminatory admissions per state law; they are required to hold a public lottery if it receives more applications than available spots. While sibling preferences are allowed — though schools are not required to grant them —  H.B. 219 will allow board of directors to offer preferred admission to incoming students from pre-K programs operated under or in agreement with the charter school. These students, however, may not make up more than 10% of the school’s total enrollment. Preference can also be given to military kids. 

The bill stipulates public school districts may not discriminate against attendees or former attendees of charter schools in admission to school or special programs. The state board shall not consider any alleged impact on the local school administrative unit when deciding whether to grant, renew, amend, or terminate a charter.”

In addition, H.B. 219 allows charters to establish “micro schools” under their charter with the state board of education for specialized areas of study using similar guidelines to a charter establishment. No more than 50% of the charter school’s total enrollment may be assigned to micro schools.

Port City Daily reached out to several local charter schools to discuss the potential impacts of the bill; they did not respond by press or declined to speak on the issue. Rep. Iler also did not respond by press.


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com 

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