October’s meeting of the NC Charter Schools Advisory Board included a conversation that nearly resulted in the shutdown of a Raleigh charter school as well as a review of 32 charter schools looking to have their charters renewed for another 10 years.
Members of the charter school oversight body also discussed ways to encourage the State Board of Education to look more favorably upon their recommendations for new charter schools, following the SBE’s recent decision to deny several of CSAB’s approvals that sparked outrage among members of the charter oversight board.
Repaving the path toward charter school approvals
CSAB member Steve Walker discussed with colleagues a new way to present their recommended charter school applications to the State Board of Education.
You may recall that this past summer, the State Board of Education broke with tradition and denied several of the CSAB’s approved charter schools after an emerging pattern of charter school failures and a clear divide bubbling up between CSAB members who appear to hold higher standards than others for who should be able to operate a charter school.
The SBE’s action frustrated many members of the CSAB, even prompting member Alan Hawkes to call the State Board of Education “public charter school no-nothings (sic)” and “soulless SOBs.”
Walker floated by his colleagues these ideas for putting forward future charter school applications:
- All charter school applicants that receive a majority vote by the CSAB should automatically be reported to the State Board of Education with a motion to approve, rather than allow for discussion of which way SBE members would like to initially put forward a motion. (Waker followed that up with “then of course they [SBE members] can vote yes or no on that motion.)
- Any charter that has 75 percent approval recommendation from the CSAB should automatically be placed on the consent agenda—instead of first being placed on the discussion agenda.
- Any charter school applicant with a preliminary denial by the State Board of Education and that had a CSAB majority recommendation for approval must be returned to the CSAB for further review before a final denial vote is given on second reading by the State Board.
- The State Board of Education must review a charter application with CSAB majority approval within 60 days, in a bid to speed up the timeline of this entire process. In some cases, the CSAB recommends a prospective charter school for opening in December and those operators don’t learn of their fate until the following August.
“I really like these recommendations,” said CSAB member and charter school operator Joe Maimone. “I think it’s really important for all of us on this advisory board who are putting in literally hundreds of hours in reviewing these documents and trying to make sound recommendations…has a sense that our recommendations are being taken seriously.”
CSAB will vote on a final version of these recommendations next month and take the next few weeks to make some tweaks as they see fit.
Most charter schools up for renewal get 10 more years to operate
Of the 32 currently operating charter schools whose charters are up for renewal this year, CSAB voted to recommend to the State Board of Education that 23 of them be renewed for another 10 years, pending a clean financial audit in some cases.
Nine of the other charter schools up for renewal will come before the board soon for interviews. These schools are either underperforming academically as compared with the public schools in their local district or are experiencing financial difficulties.
One school that got another 10 year lease on life was Winston-Salem’s Quality Education Academy, the subject of a 2013 investigation by NC Policy Watch which raised questions over the school’s appropriate use of tax dollars to recruit out-of-state and international basketball players.
That investigation also found that the school’s leader was charging some basketball players to attend the school and housed them in questionable living conditions. School leaders also overcharged the federal free and reduced lunch program by tens of thousands of dollars but eventually repaid at least some of those funds.
It’s unclear whether or not these practices persist today and there was no discussion of these past issues at October’s CSAB meeting.
Hope Charter Leadership Academy on very thin ice
Despite last December’s relatively upbeat forecast for the fate of Raleigh’s Hope Charter Leadership Academy, the school almost began the process of having its charter terminated last week.
The school’s recent academic scores were abysmally low and didn’t meet growth last year. While 99 percent of the school’s student population is economically disadvantaged, that qualifier alone wasn’t enough to get a pass from the state.
School leaders appeared to be unprepared from the scathing criticism CSAB members handed down, failing to present a robust plan that would pull students’ scores up.
Steven Walker floated a motion to begin the charter revocation process for Hope, but eventually the board decided to give the Raleigh charter school one more month to come up with a strong improvement plan . A decision next month would also ensure that more members of the advisory board (many were absent this month) would be in a position to consider the school’s fate.