A clear message on charters

A clear message on charters

- in Fitzsimon File

It has been no secret that Republican House leaders have been working with their Democratic counterparts and Governor Beverly Perdue to come up with a compromise on charter school legislation and House Speaker Thom Tillis confirmed it Tuesday.

There are plenty of compromises that need to be made. The first version of the charter school bill in the Senate did more than simply raise the cap on the number of charters, it abolished it and created an entirely separate school system outside the control of the Department of Public Instruction.

It took money from traditional public schools to give to charters, including funds raised by boosters and student groups. That would be mistake in any year. It’s unconscionable at time when public education faces massive budget cuts.

There was nothing in the original Senate plan about requiring new charters to provide transportation or school lunches for students who need them, which would basically allow the creation of exclusive charter schools supported by taxpayer dollars that many children could not afford to attend.

There was nothing to require the schools to reflect the racial makeup of the school district in which they were located, raising the possibility of dozens of segregated schools supported by public money.

Overall, the initial bill seemed more like an ideological assault on public education by people who want to privatize public schools than a good faith effort to thoughtfully raise the cap to address the increased demand for charters in some areas of the state.

After heated debate in the Senate, some of the most egregious aspects of the legislation were watered down slightly and the bill was approved on a mostly party line vote and sent to the House, where after a few committee meetings the bill disappeared and the talks about a compromise began.

The negotiators would do well to listen to the public as they try to come up with a final deal. People in North Carolina understand that charters are part of the current public education system designed to allow room for innovations that help all public schools.

They do not want to create another education system, especially not one that excludes students based on their economic status. Those were the key findings in a poll about charter schools released Wednesday by N.C. Policy Watch.

Voters said they supported requiring charters to provide free and reduced lunch for students who qualify and transportation for students who need it. A clear majority does not support creating a separate charter school commission to oversee the schools and would rather charters come under the auspices of the State Board of Education.

And in a clear message about using the charter school bill to advance the education privatization agenda, a majority of voters do not support requiring public schools to allow students who are home schooled to participate in sports and they also do not support vouchers or tax credits for parents who send their children to private schools.

The poll also found that 66 percent of voters support keeping taxes at current levels to prevent deep cuts to public schools. Legislative leaders continue to refuse to keep taxes at current levels by leaving the 2009 temporary tax increases in place for two more years.

The people get it. Protect traditional public schools. Expand charters cautiously and ensure that students are not denied access to them based on much money they have. And above else, resist all attempts to use charters to dismantle and privatize public education.

That’s pretty clear. Let’s hope the compromisers are listening.