Education Leaders Explore Thorny Topic of Charter Schools

Education leaders explored the complicated topic of charter schools, at WCHL’s Community Forum on Thursday.

Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, argued for parent choice.

“If there was a public charter school down the street and . . . if that school is going to work for my child, I’m going to use by any means necessary . . . to make sure my child gets the education that they are entitled to,” said Allison. “So, for that parent, they’re not against the public school system. They don’t hate the public school system. They just want a school that’s going to work for their child.”

NC House Rep. Graig Meyer agreed that the conversation should be more nuanced than loving or hating public schools. But he posed a question about how funding for charters impacts public schools.

“Does the choice movement create a situation where it’s difficult to sustain strong public schooling? That’s the rub,” said Meyer.

Charter schools are exempt from regulations traditional public schools must follow; charters don’t have to provide transportation or meals for students. Critics say charter schools, which receive public funds, draw resources away from traditional public schools. Meyer is concerned that as more families put their kids into charters, there may be a “tipping point” at which parents decide to pull their financial support from public schools.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board Member James Barrett pointed to another criticism of charter schools.

“They’re being used to do things like re-segregate our schools in the state overall,” said Barrett. “And that to me is not the right solution and it’s not really benefiting every student, and it’s not benefiting our society.”

A Washington Post article reports that NC charters tend to be “overwhelmingly black or overwhelmingly white-in contrast to traditional public schools, which are more evenly mixed.” The article draws on a recent report from professors at Duke which suggests NC charters are “increasingly serving the interests of relatively able white students in racially imbalanced schools.”

But Barrett acknowledged that charter schools are not going away any time soon, and he said public schools should learn from charters that are experimenting with new ways of teaching.

“To Darrell’s point: Why not see what works? To James’ point: We’re trying things. The (public) school system can also try new things. Good lord I don’t know what they would be,” said East Chapel Hill High School Counselor Kristin Hiemstra. “We’ve tried so many things. I don’t know what the answer is.”

The group touched on many other K-12 education topics, including state funding for schools and discipline disproportionately affecting minority students.

You can find the full audio recording from this discussion and other panel discussions on topics including affordable housing, development, sports and “UNC under fire” at

Orange County’s Newest Charter School To Open This Fall

HILLSBOROUGH- A new charter school is coming to Orange County. The Expedition School is slated to open in Hillsborough in August.

According to the school’s website, the curriculum will focus on project-based learning as well as science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM education. The Expedition School will be located at the Eno River Mill on Dimmock’s Mill Road in Hillsborough.

The school will operate on a year-round schedule. Multi-age classrooms will serve 230 children from Kindergarten through 6th grade initially, with expansion to 8th grade planned within three years.

Charter schools are publically funded, but operate outside the purview of local school boards. The North Carolina Board of Education approved 26 new charter schools this week as part of a statewide expansion, bringing the total to 157.

The Expedition School will be the third charter in Orange County, and the first to open since the state lifted its cap on charters in 2011.

Admission to charter schools is granted through a lottery. The Expedition School is currently accepting applications through the end of the month and the lottery will take place in February.

If you’d like to find out more about The Expedition School, officials will host an information session Sunday at 2 o’clock at the Chapel Hill Public Library.

National Heritage Academies Pulls Out Of Lee Scholars Charter School Agreement

CHAPEL HILL – The Howard and Lillian Lee Scholars charter school has come to another bump in the road as the management company behind it has pulled out of the agreement.

The Chapel Hill News reports that National Heritage Academies has removed itself from the proposed school that has seen multiple delays with problems finding a building to house its classrooms.

Lee Scholars was originally expected to open in August 2012 after receiving approval from the state to fast-track its opening. A 48,000 square-foot building was scheduled to be constructed on a seven-acre parcel of land in Carrboro called Claremont South; that property is being developed by Omar Zinn of Parker Louis, LLC. It was recently rezoned from residential-only after an approval by the Carrboro Board of Aldermen.

During the first BoA meeting of March, Zinn asked the Aldermen to delay the date of a public hearing about the property. That more than likely will delay the construction of the building that is already losing time to be available for an August opening.

NHA has opened more than 70 schools across America, mostly in its home state of Michigan.

The local NAACP was apposed to the application of the school stating that it could appear segregated due to its focus on low-income populations.

The status of the school’s opening is unknown at this time.