State approves dozens of new charter schools

The state of North Carolina on Thursday approved dozens of new charter schools despite concerns from some that they undermine traditional public schools.

The state once allowed a maximum of 100 charter schools, but the cap was lifted in 2011.

On Thursday, the state approved two dozen more, taking the number to 130 for next school year. Another school has been approved but will not open next year.

“They are public schools that serve public students with public dollars for the public benefit,” said Joel Medley, the director of the state's office of charter schools.

“You start taking too many people from the public schools and their dollars follow them away, we're going to have the public schools with a lot less money,” said Matt Ellinwood, a policy analyst for the North Carolina Justice Center.

Charter schools receive local, state and federal money. When a charter receives the money when it begins, and from the school district that the student would have otherwise attended.

In Wake County, for example, that's a little more than $4,500 per student.

“I hope that our school districts and our charter schools will find ways to collaborate and cooperate with one another so that we can have some economies of scale or we can save money by working together,” said June Atkinson, the state superintendent of public schools.

Another concern for the state is how it will monitor charter schools.

“Now with the cap being lifted, we've seen an explosion in the number of applications, an explosion in the number of schools that are being approved – without any parallel increase in the amount of accountability or the number of people that are staffed to oversee these schools,” said Ellinwood.

 Medley has an administrative assistant and four consultants. He said his staffing is behind national averages for the number of staff making sure charter schools do what they're supposed to do.

“With more schools, it's not just going to have an effect on my department or my office, but there will be a ripple effect throughout the building,” Medley said.

In addition to the two dozen scheduled to open this coming school year, about 70 applications are being considered for the 2014-2015 school year.

The applications have doubled since the cap was lifted, but the state's charter school director says the application is more intense now, too.

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