There were 20,000 good reasons for legislation that the General Assembly approved last week lifting the cap of 100 for charter schools in North Carolina. According to the Associated Press, 20,000 is the number of families in North Carolina who are on a waiting list to get their children enrolled into a charter school.
If 20,000 moms and dads believe a charter school is their child’s best option for a quality education, then that choice should be available. There is no better indicator of a life’s course than the education that a person receives, and limiting school choices has always been contrary to this state’s constitutional pledge to provide a quality education at the lowest cost possible.
Charter schools are frequently confused with private schools, but charter schools are part of the state school system, tuition-free, taxpayer-funded, and accountable to public boards. They simply have greater range in how they educate children, liberated from the traditional teaching methods that work most of the time, but not all of the time. If 100 charter schools were a good thing for the state, then why would 200 charter schools not be twice as good?
Perhaps this legislation will open some minds to the possibilities of school vouchers, which would provide private school opportunities for children of this state, mostly poor and often minority, too often sentenced to the underachieving school down the street.
But one fight at a time.
Robeson County has a charter school, CIS Academy in Pembroke, where seventh- and eighth-graders have been pulled back from the ledge for about two decades. By all measurements, the academy has performed well. There is not any reliable count on how many students have had their lives rerouted in a positive direction because they enrolled at CIS Academy, but we know the number is plenty.
As Gov. Bev Perdue has no better choice but to sign a budget that education officials across the state say will be debilitating to public schools at all levels, now would be a good time for the Robeson County Board of Education to begin exploring the possibility of a second charter school.
There has been talk for decades of creating an alternative school in this county, a place where incorrigible students — preferably from high schools — could be sent as their final chance to get an education. Their removal — as well as the discipline problems they cause — would enhance the learning atmosphere for the great majority of students who are sincere about gaining an education, but frustrated by daily disruptions that are beyond their control, and their teachers’ inability to deal effectively with the offending students because of liability worries.
The push for an alternative school in this county has never gained traction because of the strawman that it would become a dumping ground for black and American Indian students. But there are layers of protection against that happening — a school board, central office and principals and assistant principals who are mostly minority.
If, as educators warn us, classrooms in our schools are going to get more crowded because of budget cutbacks, never has the time been more ripe for an alternative school.
The light is green.