Thirty-eight non-profit boards submitted charter school applications to the North Carolina Office of Charter Schools last month—an uptick from last year’s 28 but still far fewer than the flood of applications that poured in during the years just after lawmakers lifted the 100-school cap in 2011. If the applications are approved, these charter schools would open in the fall of 2018.

Among the 38 applications (which can be viewed here) there are several prospective charter school operators who are pitching their schools again after failed attempts, as well as planned partnerships with for-profit education management organizations that are based out-of-state.

Repeat applicants

You may recall that just a couple months ago the State Board of Education took the unusual step of rejecting five of the Charter School Advisory Board’s recommendations for schools hoping to open in 2017.

That decision infuriated members of the Charter School Advisory Board, even spurring one, Alan Hawkes, to call the State Board of Education a bunch of “soulless SOBs.” (He has since apologized, saying he was upset.)

Some of the charter school applicants that were rejected thanks to a lack of consensus over their educational, financial or governance plans have thrown their hats into the ring once again.

Those repeat applicants are:

Bonnie Cone Classical Academy

Kaleidoscope Charter High School

Next Generation Academy

Ridgeview Charter School

Charlotte-based  Young Inspiration STEAM Academy is another repeat applicant that withdrew their application during last year’s review cycle (they previously called their school ‘Young Inspiration Charter School’). Comparing the two applications, it appears that they have lowered their enrollment projections, now plan to contract with Acadia Northstar to help them manage their finances, and will move toward a STEAM curriculum for their students.

Bonnie Cone was ultimately rejected due to their leaders’ weak and inconsistent answers in their interviews, when pressed for explanations on how they would accommodate students with special needs and whether they would really be able to recruit as many students as school leaders said they thought possible.

The application for Kaleidoscope Charter High School, which school leaders had planned to locate in Morrisville, drew concerns from some charter school advisory board members about the lack of clarity in the educational plan and the low wages the school would offer its teachers.

“I’m sorry, but even with a hard-working teacher, it’s going to be very difficult. How have you thought through how you’re going to operationalize this,” said CSAB chair Alex Quigley when considering the proposed workloads for teachers. [For an in-depth report on Kaleidoscope, head over to this News & Observer article.]

In addition, CSAB members expressed concern over the school’s ability to attract enough students and that there wasn’t enough in their application to address the needs of low-income students—nonetheless, CSAB member Joe Maimone said he liked Kaleidoscope’s leadership and that was enough for him to give the school the go-ahead. Six of his fellow board members went along with him and moved the school forward—but ultimately the State Board of Education was not convinced, and rejected their recommendation.

Next Generation Academy probably sparked the most contentious debate among CSAB members, ending with a tie vote on whether or not to recommend that the school should open. That tie vote kicked the application on to the State Board of Education—but the CSAB’s overall low confidence in the school triggered the State Board to make a final rejection. (Read more about Next Generation here.)

Partnering with EMOs

Only eight of the 38 applicants plan to partner with an education management organization (EMO), which is typically a for-profit enterprise that does all of the behind the scenes management of a charter school. Sometimes EMOs take a significant chunk the publicly-funded charter school budgets for the work that they do, without being required to be transparent about how those funds are spent.

National Heritage Academies, a national EMO that already operates 12 schools in North Carolina according to their website, plans to partner with three charter school applicants.

Charter Schools USA, another well known national EMO that operates eight schools in North Carolina, is the management organization listed on two 2018 charter applications.

One charter school applicant that plans to contract with an EMO stood out from the rest: Doral Academy: Wake, which plans to partner with Florida-based Doral Academy, Inc.

That management company has ties to another Florida-based charter management company called Academica—an EMO that, according to the Miami Herald, was once under scrutiny from the U.S Department of Education’s inspector general based on concerns about real-estate deals and conflicts of interest in its business practices.

The Colorado Independent reported that Academica sets up nonprofit boards to initiate charter applications, and once approved, Academica operates the schools.

Looking at Doral Academy: Wake’s application, some language appears to indicate that Academica would in fact operate the school once it’s up and running. And three of the seven nonprofit board members listed in the application are based in Florida, serving as heads of school at other Doral/Academica-operated schools.

The Charter School Advisory Board will begin the process of reviewing charter school applications this fall.

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