Last week, new State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey was not shy about sharing with his fellow board members his disapproval of SB 337, which would create a new charter school oversight board and set policy for charter schools.
In advance of the bill’s vote on the Senate floor tomorrow, today Cobey shared with NC Policy Watch his continued reservations about the bill, calling into question its constitutionality.
“The creation of a new charter school advisory board independent of the State Board of Education invites a lawsuit that could be tied up in court for years,” said Cobey. The chairman stopped short of saying the State Board of Education would initiate a lawsuit, saying that there has been no discussion on that point and that his colleagues were hoping SB 337 does not become law.
The current regulatory body in place, the Charter School Advisory Council, falls under the purview of the State Board of Education. The group reviews charter school applications and makes recommendations to the SBE as to whether or not a charter applicant should be green lighted to set up shop in North Carolina. The SBE has final say for all applications.
With SB 337, the Charter School Advisory Council would be abolished to create in its stead a “NC Public Charter Schools Board,” which would be “located administratively within the Department of Public Instruction but shall exercise its powers and duties independently of the State Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction,” as the bill states.
The bill’s constitutionality comes into question because North Carolina’s constitution explicitly gives the State Board of Education the power to “supervise and administer the free public school system and the educational funds provided for its support.” Charter schools are publicly funded.
“There is also potential for conflicts of interest,” said Cobey. “You are bringing together a lot of people who know and care a lot about charter schools.”
Cobey is referring to the section in the bill that calls for ”all appointed members of the Charter Board shall have demonstrated an understanding of and a commitment to charter schools as a strategy for strengthening public education.”
The current advisory council comprises a more diverse set of stakeholders, in accordance with the State Board of Education’s policy. Eight of the fifteen members are gubernatorial appointees who much conform to the following policy:
“The Governor shall seek to achieve a balanced membership representing, to the maximum extent possible, the State as a whole, geographically as well as educationally, including representatives of the charter school and traditional public school communities.
Diverse stakeholders are also required to fill the remaining seven slots.
Under the proposed legislation, the State Board of Education would have veto power over the actions of the new charter school board with a ¾ majority vote. “Yes, the State Board of Education will have veto power,” said Cobey. “But now we will have to monitor everything they do. Again, I just think the creation of this board will invite lawsuits.”
Cobey noted that Senator Jerry Tillman, who introduced the legislation, is a friend of his and understands his position on the bill. “Most of the time, legislation is put out there and people have a chance to realize it’s not good,” Cobey said. “I respect and trust the legislative process.”
Other contentious parts of the bill:
- Exempts charter schools from any requirement that teachers be certified;
- Does not explicitly require charter schools to conduct criminal background checks during the hiring process;
- Local school districts would also still be required to lease available buildings or land to a charter school for $1 a year;
- Charter schools would not be required to provide transportation or meals to students, unlike their public school counterparts;
- If a charter school is dissolved, assets would be returned to the state’s General Fund, not to the local school district; and
- Eliminates the current under-enforced requirement that charter schools “reasonably reflect the racial and ethnic composition” in the area in which the school is located.
SB 337, which has thus far been approved by three Senate committees, is currently scheduled for consideration by the full Senate today at 2:00pm.