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Group Launches Effort to Stimulate More Rural N.C. Charter Schools

One North Carolina school choice advocacy group is pushing to create more charter schools in rural counties.

Like most states, North Carolina's charter schools are clustered in urban areas. Eighty-five of the state's 100 counties are rural, and only 37 of those have charter schools. That means 48 rural North Carolina counties don't have a public charter option. Nationally, only 16 percent of all charter schools are rural, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, which supports both private and public school choice, created the N.C. Public Charter School Accelerator program, and one of its goals is creating charter schools in rural areas. Other priorities include helping charter schools win approval to open, and provide high-quality instruction.

Stan Chambers, media relations director for the group, said although funding has increased in some of the state's rural counties in recent years, achievement in many rural areas has been stagnant. The accelerator initially is targeting 16 counties in the eastern part of the state, and only half of those 3rd through 8th grade students on average passed end-of-grade reading and math tests, according to Chambers.

Although the state's charter schools office hosts workshops to help interested groups get through the application process, it doesn't have the resources to offer the intensive help the accelerator will be providing, according to one story on the project. The effort is modeled on similar programs in Chicago, Denver, and New Orleans, which target under-served students in urban areas; the North Carolina accelerator is distinctive in its focus on rural areas.

An intern with Parents for Educational Freedom wrote in arecent op-ed for The Daily Tarheel in Chapel Hill, N.C., that more rural charter schools would give families options and spur economic development in the state's 85 rural counties.

Still, this effort might draw criticism from some rural advocates. Charter schools often receive state and local per pupil allocations for its students. The Rural School and Community Trust has said that means traditional neighborhood schools suffer when students leave for a charter school.

"For example, a charter with a few hundred, or even several thousand, students might not make a big difference in the ability of a large school district to offer programs for students. But that same charter could trigger the loss of a devastating proportion of a small district's budget," according to the Rural Trust.

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