Pro-Voucher Group in N.C. Sees Backlash in Rural Charter Schools Effort
The North Carolina group hoping to increase the state's rural charter schools is being criticized by traditional and rural school advocates who say their efforts will hurt existing schools.
We reported on the pro-voucher group Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina last month and described its proposal to create the N.C. Public Charter School Accelerator program, which would help schools navigate the charter-approval process and provide support once a school was established.
The push back launched into high gear when the House recently unveiled its latest budget proposal that would give the group nearly $1 million over two years. Apparently, that provision didn't exist in the Senate or governor's proposed budgets, according to a blog post by N.C. Policy Watch
The money would fund $100,000 grants for schools in rural counties that trail the state in student achievement, and the parent group would have to provide $1 million before receiving any state money.
Parents for Educational Freedom also is involved in the controversial campaign to allow private school vouchers in the state.
Public Schools First NC, which opposes vouchers, wrote a piece for The High Country Press in Boone, N.C., saying the House budget provision would "devastate" traditional rural public schools by diverting resources to unproven charter schools.
"It is critical to understand the root causes of problems in rural areas," wrote Yevonne Brannon, who chairs Public Schools First NC. "Programs that bring in outside competition to try and solve issues closely linked to poverty will not address student success. What our traditional public schools need are real resources, not divisive competition."
The group contends that the rural charter schools are being funded to put traditional schools out of business, and that the money is being given without a competitive-bid process to ensure the group awarded the money can do the work effectively.
In North Carolina, 85 of the state's 100 counties are rural, and only 37 of those have charter schools.
The situation has attracted the attention of Doris Williams, who leads one of the most vocal national rural education advocacy groups, the Rural School and Community Trust. She supports the position of Public Schools First NC on this issue and explained why in its piece for The High Country Press.
"Rural school districts have long known their fundamental challenge is a lack of local wealth to devote to their schools," she wrote. "Since rural districts sued the state in 1995, their children's right to a sound basic education has been upheld in two N.C. Supreme Court rulings. However, our state legislature has continuously failed to provide adequate and equitable funding of rural schools to secure that right. This provision doesn't get to the root of the problem and will most assuredly widen the equity gap in the N.C. education system."
Parents for Educational Freedom responded with a statement from its president, Darrell Allison, which said the status quo only serves institutions, not children. The group's effort would leverage existing expertise, and charter schools can be shut down for failing to meet its goals, he said in a statement.
"A strong public education system is not a school building or any sort of governing body, but an entity that, regardless of the model, benefits the public by meeting the needs of every student," he wrote.