By the time school starts for the 2014-15 academic year, North Carolina will have more than 150 operating charter schools. That number has grown more than 50 percent over the last two years.
The boom in charter schools is raising some questions about accountability and fairness.
Rhonda Franklin, who co-founded Partnership Achieving Community Education Academy in Carrboro 10 years ago, said she started the school with the hopes of serving the disadvantaged community.
“We look at the students as individuals and meet their academic needs they weren't able to receive in other places,” Franklin said. “Some of our students look at this place like home.”
Franklin said more than 50 percent of the student population at PACE Academy has a learning disability, including autism or Down syndrome.
But the test scores at PACE Academy have not been meeting state standards. So in early February, the state Board of Education voted not to renew PACE Academy's charter.
The school quickly responded by creating a website making a public plea to save the students.
“I feel like the schools saved my daughter,” said Kathy Hotelling, whose child attends PACE Academy. “I don't know where she would be today if she didn't come here.”
A charter school just 20 minutes from PACE Academy is on a different track.
Orange Charter School Principal Jon Corcoran said the schools' test schools measure up with state standards. Last year, the majority of students at Orange Charter tested at or above the level set by the state.
At Orange Charter, teachers place an equal emphasis on the arts and science, math and English.
“I get to give kids 90 minutes of music education over six years,” said Orange Charter teacher William Dawson. “So, you can really build on things.”
Matthew Ellinwood works as an education policy analyst for the N.C. Justice Center. He said students are being segregated by how they perform in the classroom.
“We have these two schools with completely different missions, completely different student bodies, completely different sets of resources being held to the exact same standard,” Ellinwood said.
PACE Academy leaders have filed an appeal to the state Board of Education vote, but it could take months before a decision is reached, leaving the future of 140 students in limbo.