Choice school

First Posted: 7/27/2013

If the leadership at Southeastern Academy tried to stack the deck in favor of previous students being able to return to the campus when the school becomes public for the coming year, then those officials did a poor job — one deserving of an F.

Numbers aren’t easily bent — and they don’t suggest that a fix was in.

According to the chairman of Southeastern Academy’s board, just 43 of the 180 students — 24 percent — who will attend Southeastern when it opens as a charter school attended it when it was a private school. More than 40 percent of the students who attended Southeastern last year will attend school somewhere else this coming year, according to the chairman.

That didn’t stop the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, apparently acting on behalf of the Center for Community Action, from filing a complaint with the state Office of Charter Schools, alleging that Southeastern Academy violated the state’s enrollment policies and the lottery process was not sufficiently open.

All that will be figured out, but it did turn a positive development into a negative headline.

The fact that Southeastern’s future is assured because of the public funding it will receive as a charter school is tremendous news on the local education front. It could have been twice as good had Flora Macdonald’s application for charter school status not been denied, but the venerable Red Springs institution will tweak its application and try again.

The county already has one charter school in Pembroke, operated by Communities in Schools, which targets at-risk students in middle school.

Southeastern and Flora Macdonald have solid histories of getting their students educated. We understand that because the schools have operatedly privately, their student populations don’t reflect this county’s demographics, and they benefit from students who have come from more affluent homes, typically with two parents who make sure the homework gets done.

Now students from all across Robeson County, regardless of their skin color or the size of their family’s bank account, have equal access to Southeastern Academy — and perhaps Flora Macdonald in short time.

Critics of charter schools say that they divert taxpayer money away from public schools and to institutions that operate essentially as if they are private. The effectiveness of charter schools has been argued extensively, but a Google search will find more studies that testify in favor of their usefulness.

What is clear is that Robeson County’s public schools, constrained on so many fronts, are ill-equipped to take wayward students who have no support system and reroute their future. A few of those students will now find their way into the halls of Southeastern Academy, where they will enjoy smaller classrooms with able educators, adding to the odds that they continue their education and someday contribute to society — and don’t drain it.

There has been much criticism of the new Republican leadership in Raleigh, especially in regards to education, although the budget adopted Friday boosts education spending by $400 million. But it was Republicans who lifted the cap on charter schools in this state, and we are convinced that as a result some children in this county who were in danger of falling through the cracks will now rise and shine.