North Carolina could see 15 more charter schools open in the fall of 2018—and this time, members of the oversight panel tasked with vetting the charter applications were largely unanimous in making their recommendations to the State Board of Education, a far cry from how this process went down last year.

“Our board has worked hard this year to improve the review process and ensure increased alignment around quality,” said the Charter School Advisory Board’s chair, Alex Quigley.

Charter school advisory board members spent the better part of the past seven months reviewing 38 applications to open a charter school next year. The board whittled that number down to 15 recommendations they put forward this week to the State Board of Education — and only three of those had split votes.

That’s a big difference from last year, when CSAB members were divided on eight of the thirteen charter school applications that they recommended to the State Board of Education (which has the final say) for a 2017 opening. The doubt that was on display about many of the applications resulted in the State Board of Education rejecting five of them, infuriating charter school advocates.

The considerable division on the Charter School Advisory Board when it came to deciding whether or not to move a charter school application forward appears to have dissipated—which, Quigley says, is due in part to the fact that the review process has been reworked to separate out the wheat from the chaff early on in the process.

Unlike in previous years, this year all charter school applicants got to have an initial in-person interview called a “clarification interview” that was intended to be brief. This allowed the CSAB to ask questions about a school’s application early on in the review process and get a better sense right away as to whether or not an application was worth further vetting.

The new process “cut through the schools that were not at all ready to take an hour of the CSAB’s time,” said Quigley. He also credited the fact that the board relied more heavily on the assessments made by external evaluators and that members have grown more trusting and comfortable with the improvements and tweaks made to the review process.

“We do feel more confident in the final applicants that we are bringing before you today,” added Quigley in his presentation of the 15 charter schools to members of the State Board on Wednesday.

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Unanimity was not achieved for every charter school application, however. Three out of the 15 applicants still drew split votes that tilted toward favorable.

Bonnie Cone Classical Academy applied for a charter for the second year in a row. State Board of Education member Becky Taylor noted the division on that vote, 5-3, and asked for clarification.

“I didn’t feel that that application had advanced to the degree necessary,” said Quigley. “That’s why I voted against the application.”

Quigley later said that he didn’t believe the school had a good plan to meet the enrollment targets they laid out in their application with regard to diversity.

But vice chair of the CSAB, Stephen Walker, said he didn’t have an issue with the school’s target population and supported it.

The other school receiving a split vote was Monroe Charter Academy, which is one of two schools (the other being Anson Charter Academy) that would be managed by the same nonprofit board, raising concerns about that board’s capacity to handle opening two charter schools at once.

“We are generally hesitant to give a new board [a charter] that has not run a charter school before,” said Quigley. “Historically there is precedent, but that board has struggled to open both of those schools.”

Anson and Monroe’s board chair is Eddie Goodall, a former state Senator who has a long history with charter schools in North Carolina.

Goodall once ran the state’s lone charter school advocacy group—but then left that organization to form his own charter school association when he became concerned with conflicts of interest between former CSAB members that were also part of the original advocacy organization. The two charter school advocacy organizations recently merged back together and Goodall now manages his own private charter school consulting firm.

The fact that Goodall would be chair of the board for the two new charter schools and his consulting firm could contract with the schools to manage the school’s financial reporting prompted board member Becky Taylor to ask if this scenario presents a conflict of interest.

“We discussed the conflict of interest issue,” said Stephen Walker. “My understanding is if they agreed to enter into a contract, then [Goodall] would be removed from the board.”

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There was one other school that received a split vote—but the State Board of Education didn’t discuss that application publicly this week.

West Lake Preparatory Academy’s charter application was pitched by Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), and it would be managed by a Florida-based for-profit education management organization (EMO) Charter Schools USA.

In the days and weeks after Rep. Saine submitted to the state the application for West Lake Prep, he received campaign contributions from CSUSA’s executive director, Jonathan Hage, and McGuire Woods, a lobbying firm that works on behalf of CSUSA.

But what gave CSAB members the greatest pause when they reviewed West Lake Prep’s application last winter was the appearance that the application was put together in a rush—and that the school’s leadership didn’t seem to have a firm grasp on their plan to open a charter school.

“We are saying that an EMO [in this case, Charter Schools USA] can meet with a nonprofit board a few weeks from the deadline, throw something together they’ve pretty much thrown before, couple tweaks here and there, and you produce a board that is diverse in profession but not diverse in terms of race,” said Eric Sanchez, a CSAB member and head of Henderson Collegiate, a high poverty charter school where students are performing at an exceptionally high academic level.

“You don’t have to know your stuff inside and out, just come with your basic charisma, and we’re gonna give you a charter,” Sanchez piled on. “I find that offensive as a leader in this movement and I also think it perpetuates this idea of these segregated charter schools that has actually been spoken about for the last two years.”

The State Board of Education will issue a final vote on the batch of 15 charter schools at their June meeting.

 

School (County) Recommendation (Vote) CSAB

Meeting Date

Anson Charter Academy (Anson County) 8 Approve (11-0) February 6, 2017
Ascend Leadership Academy: Lee (Lee County) Approve (11-0) February 7, 2017
Bonnie Cone Classical Academy (Mecklenburg County) Approve (5-3; CT, AQ, ES dissenting; AH, PG absent) December 9, 2016
Carolina Charter Academy – A CFA (Wake County) 7 Approve (7-0; JM, TH recused; ES, AQ absent) April 10, 2017
Davidson Charter Academy (Davidson County)7 & 9 Approve (7-0; JM, TH recused; ES, AQ absent)
East Voyager Academy (Mecklenburg County) 9 & 10 – strongly encourage to amend school name Approve (8-0; ES, AQ, CT absent)
Essie Mae Kiser Foxx Charter School (Rowan County) 3 Approve (8-0; ES, AQ, CT absent) April 11, 2017
Global Achievers School (Nash County) Approve (7-0; ES, AQ, CT, TS absent)
Monroe Charter Academy (Union County) 8 Approve (6-3; CT, SR, TS dissenting; ES, AQ absent) April 10, 2017
Moore Montessori Community School (Moore County) 10 Approve (11-0) February 7, 2017
Next Generation Academy (Guilford County) Approve (11-0) February 6, 2017
Raleigh Oak Charter School (Wake County) Approve (11-0)
The Experiential School of Greensboro (Guilford County) Approve (8-0; ES, AQ, CT absent) April 10, 2017
The Paideia Academy (Cabarrus County) Approve (8-0; ES, AQ, CT absent) April 11, 2017
West Lake Preparatory (Lincoln County) 2 – must change foundation name Approve (7-2; ES, TS dissenting; PG, AH absent) December 8, 2016

 

For more information on the State Board of Education’s website, click here.

 

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