Tensions flared between members of the North Carolina State Board of Education on Thursday over the approval of a new charter school.
The flashpoint is over a new law approved by policymakers this year that removed authority for approving new charters from the full State Board of Education and gave it to a new seven-member Charter Schools Review Board. Republican lawmakers believed the shift was important because the Democrat-controlled State Board of Education has rejected several charter school applications in recent years.
In an attempt to outmaneuver lawmakers, the State Board of Education passed a Sept. 7 that allows the board to continue to control funding for new charters. The step essentially neutered the bill passed by the General Assembly.
But lawmakers got the last laugh in the new state budget, which prohibits the state board from withholding funds from charters authorized by the new Charter School Review Board.
That back-and-forth power struggle was on display this week when state board vice chairman Alan Duncan — an appointee of Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper — clashed with Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt, who is a Republican.
The focal point was the approval of a new charter school, American Leadership Academy-Monroe. The state board had twice before rejected the charter school, partly on the basis of its management company, Charter One. But recently, the new Charter Schools Advisory Board OK’ed the school’s creation. It is set to open in 2024.
Duncan took except to that approval and specifically called out Truitt for declining to appeal the advisory board’s decision. (By statute, only the state superintendent or the school itself may appeal the decision to the full state board.)
“In light of the fact that the board had turned down this application twice and had expressed concerns … it fell to you to decide to make an appeal or not within that 10 day period. But the question is in my opinion, why would that not be appealed for the board’s concerns to be directly addressed?” Duncan asked.
Truitt said that she emailed board members laying out her reasons. That prompted Duncan to note that Truitt worked with an outside attorney for advice on the situation, rather than the official state board attorneys. He asked who the attorney was.
“Our legal counsel, as wonderful as they are, are not experts in charter school law. And I would argue that no one on this board is an expert in charter school law. And so I turned to outside counsel who are experts in the charter school law. I’m happy to have that conversation with you offline,” Truitt said.
“If they are an expert in charter school law, then more than likely they are an advocate,” Duncan retorted. “So I think we are entitled to know.”
Truitt said that she would share the information with Duncan offline.
Bruce Friend, chair of the charter review board, pointed out that American Leadership Academy-Monroe has a list of 1,800 students waiting for 450 seats. The school is set to begin construction on a building, the administration is in place, and the management company, Charter One, already operates in North Carolina and has been approved in connection with five other charter schools.
Meanwhile, WUNC reports that enrollment in charter and lab schools grew by almost 5% compared to the same time last year, to 147,436 students. Enrollment in traditional public schools is down 4,872 students, or around 0.4%.
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