Three state representatives from Western North Carolina held a March 4 press conference in Asheville slamming charter-school legislation approved by the N.C. Senate this week. The three legislators, all Democrats, praised Buncombe County's existing charter schools as a model for the state.
Reps. Susan Fisher, Patsy Keever (both Buncombe County) and Ray Rapp (Madison County) described "No Cap on Number of Charter Schools" (SB 8) as "a travesty" for public education statewide. Their objection was not to removing the 100-unit cap on charter schools but to changes in financing and accountability contained in the fine print.
Fisher, who served eight years on the Buncombe County Board of Education, said the bill removes the current 65-student minimum for starting a charter school, requires no licensing for teachers, and takes away funding now given to traditional public schools for required services such as lunches — even though the charter schools receiving the money don’t provide those services. Removing the enrollment threshold, Fisher emphasized, would enable a family home-schooling a child to call itself a single-unit charter school.
"It amounts to selective education of our children, and as we see it, [the bill] is a backdoor voucher system," Fisher declared.
Rapp, a retired Mars Hill College dean, noted that an alternative bill they’re proposing would "remove the cap but keep accountability measures in place." All three urged the governor to veto SB 8 if the House approves it in its current form.
"I went to Raleigh to work with both parties, but I wanted to work on education," freshman legislator Keever told the audience gathered at the Asheville City Schools Board of Education. "Charter schools are doing a great job in Buncombe County: We're proud of those schools,” said the former teacher. “I went down ready to raise the cap on charter schools, but Senate Bill 8 just goes overboard,"
Asheville City Schools board member Al Whitesides said his board was gearing up to consider a resolution calling for modifications to the bill; the Buncombe County board already approved a similar measure. SB 8, said county school board Chair Steven Sizemore, might also entitle charter schools to some of the money raised by a traditional public school's PTA or booster clubs, income from facility rentals or fees for special programs.
The House Education Committee was slated to consider SB 8 March 8, said Fisher, noting, "We don't know at this point whether we will be invited to speak." The three legislators plan to introduce their alternative bill in the House March 8. Currently they have three more sponsors: Democrats Rick Glazier and Marvin Lucas of Cumberland County and Tricia Cotham of Mecklenburg.
Rep. Tim Moffitt, a Buncombe County Republican, said he hadn’t yet fully studied SB 8 but that he looks to Keever in particular on education matters — even if they don’t always agree. "All children deserve access to fair and appropriate public education," he added.
SB 8's primary sponsor is Sen. Tom Apodaca, whose district includes part of Buncombe County. He was not available for comment.
— Nelda Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.