Charter schools: kiss kiss, hug hug from lawmakers

Sessions of the N.C. General Assembly are always something of a tug-of-war — over ideology, over priorities and certainly over the purse strings — although that’s less the case today with Republican dominating both chambers and the party’s membership marching in lockstep with its leadership. There is, in the current session, a bit of a push and pull going on now over the state’s relationship to charter schools. That’s right: while legislators are hard at work devaluing traditional public schools in the state, a segment of them is bending over backwards to grease the skids for existing and future charter schools.

Among bills now in the pipeline are those that would ease the approval process (http://tinyurl.com/mwddz4c), make rejection of a charter school application tougher (http://tinyurl.com/k246e8s) and — get this — allow charter schools to operate without public oversight. That’s a nice way of saying it would allow them to operate in secret.

It is this issue of charter school accountability that really has legislators grabbing both ends of the rope. Both the House and Senate are considering bills that could increase public scrutiny of charter schools (http://tinyurl.com/n4l3dzw and http://tinyurl.com/mogh5eg). But last week the Senate Education Committee was tugged toward the elimination of a key accountability provision — that charter schools be subject to the state’s open meetings and public records laws, the same as public school systems.

If the General Assembly allows charter schools to operate in this manner — behind a curtain of secrecy — the public (that is, the taxpayers) will not know squat about how the boards running these schools operate or, for instance, how much charter school administrators are getting paid. In fact, it was a push by the Charlotte Observer to publish the salaries of charter school employees that help set up this debate. http://tinyurl.com/m5xcpku

Our main complaint about charter schools is not that they exist, but that they exist in a kind of Big Rock Candy Mountain atmosphere. They do not have to play by the same stringent rules that pretty much determine the policies, procedures and daily existence of public schools. At the very least, North Carolina taxpayers — who account for more than $304 million in annual payments to charter schools — deserve to know where that money goes, how many charter school teachers are certified in the subjects they’re teaching and what goes on in the meetings of the boards running those schools and spending that money.

Level the playing field. There’s no justification for doing otherwise, although we’re sure legislators will think of something.