Backdoor vouchers?

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


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4 thoughts on “Backdoor vouchers?

  1. gary kukulka

    The March 4 press conference was politics as usual, and there message was all biased spin of only partial facts without any proof that what they (Fisher, Keever, Rapp) predict is likely. Per Rep Fisher’s comment public charter schools are not asking to “take money away” from the traditional public schools, they are simply asking for all the money that the legislators and now courts have direct that they should receive from local districts, like Asheville. Which it appears failed to do in recent years and likely did so under Fisher’s watch as a local school board member.
    Until recently, only 96 of the 100 slot for public charter schools were awarded over the past 15 years. Now what evidence is there that a deluge will start. None.
    And, they’ve not presented one bit of proof other than their uninformed opinions that there will not be accountability as that simply is not the case throughout the nation. As authorizing bodies exist and they do close public charter schools the fail to perform. Not so for traditional public schools.
    “Show me the proof”

  2. Leah Ferguson

    As someone who was at the press conference on March 4, I disagree with Mr. Kukulka’s statement that the concerns of our democratic representatives are all “spin”. The funding situation for all public schools–Charters included–is dim. Rather than fighting over the meager scraps the new legislative body is proposing we should be united in asking for more. Studies show that it costs at least 20% more to educate a child of poverty. For a myriad of reasons nearly all of the children who live in poverty in Asheville city attend one of the 10 Asheville City Schools. The current legislature would rather sit on its rhetoric and let the 1% sales tax expire and provide tax breaks to individuals that send their children to private schools (HB 41 gives $2500 to each private school family from public school funds) than fund the health and human services so many fought for in the civil rights movement. I refuse to take the bait. I say that if Charters need more funds to do their work the legislature should appropriate more funds rather than shift the funds around ensuring that those students who live in poverty in our community will be effected disproportionately by a number of proposed bills not just SB8.
    Sadly, this country has a long history of oppressing people by limiting their access to equal education. Our mandated public schools are supposed to be the vehicle that we fund and empower to ensure that education is equitable. The “proof” you might be asking for can be easily found in generations of “separate but equal” schools that were separate, but not equal.

  3. Lissa Pedersen

    As to the question of poverty in the schools… according to the NC DPI’s own stats for the 2010-11 school year, the percentages of children in poverty/eligible for free lunches in all the schools (city, county, and charters) are quite high. Asheville City sits at the top of the list with a whooping 28% of their population listed as children who fall into this category. In comparison, ArtSpace’s 13.81%, Francine Delaney’s 12.42%, and Evergreen’s 9.56% may seem small. But when you look at the Buncombe County’s 15.04%, the charter schools are completely in line with the surrounding public school’s numbers. So the argument that the charters somehow do not serve the same statistical breakdown as the mainstream schools of children in poverty is misleading.

  4. Leah Ferguson

    I agree that percentages can be misleading. Let’s talk real numbers. 1,748 students in ACS recieve free lunch services, 191 recieve reduced lunch services. 100 are identified as homeless. As of today, there are 3,983 students total. 28% of that number is roughly 1,200 students live in poverty and are served by the ACS school district.

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