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Charter Schools Opening in Rural N.C. With Help of Accelerator Program

Charter schools set to open in two rural North Carolina communities this coming fall got some extra help from a state school choice advocacy group pushing to create more charter schools in rural counties.

KIPP Halifax in Halifax County and Heritage Collegiate in Bertie County were part of the inaugural class of the North Carolina Public Charter School Accelerator program, a project of the Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. That group supports both private and public school choice.

In North Carolina, like the rest of the country, most charter schools are in urban areas. Nationally, only 16 percent of all charter schools are rural, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. We reported last week on a new report that explored the policies that make it difficult for rural charter schools and offered suggestions on how states could make the process easier.

Darrell Allison, president of the North Carolina choice group, said the accelerator's primary task had been connecting leaders of the two prospective charter schools with charter leaders statewide and nationally, so they could understand that they didn't have to start from scratch and create a new model. Instead, they could learn from others both in and outside of the state, he said.

The accelerator provided the schools with one-on-one writing coaches from top-performing charter schools, and it offered peer and ongoing support throughout the planning year. The goal is to create a culture of excellence in the state's charter school community, he said.

"It's not a game of adding more just to add more," he said. "We want quality public charter schools. And we're not just saying here's a quality school; we're actually targeting those areas of need."

A recent Education Week article described how the state's decision to lift its 100-school cap on charter schools and relax other related laws has raised concern among some about the quality of the new charter schools. The state has 127 public charter schools in 54 counties, a number that will increase to 153 schools in 57 counties in the 2014-15 school year. The state's remaining 43 counties, many of which are rural, don't have any charter schools.

Two of the new rural charter schools are in high-poverty, low-achieving communities that Allison described as among the lowest performing in the state.

The accelerator project is in the midst of its second year and is working with five prospective charter schools. All five are moving forward in the state application process, and three of those would open in rural counties that lack charter schools.

Some rural advocates have been critical of charter schools because they see them as pulling funding and students away from struggling traditional neighborhood schools.

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