DPS, PEFNC talk charters, school choice

Sep. 23, 2013 @ 05:27 PM

Two forums last week focused on the challenges charter schools and public schools have and what advocates for each type of school believe their option has to offer.
At Duke, as part of the Education and Human Development series, Durham Public Schools Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown, member Nancy Cox  and Durham County Commissioner and former school board member Steve Schewel, said that charter schools are not the enemy but they do present a unique set of obstacles for traditional public schools.
“Charter schools are public schools,” Forte-Brown said. “Every charter school in Durham gets money from [DPS] because they’re public school students. I don’t want to bash charter schools. I want to level the playing field.”
But at the ICON Issues Confronting Our Nation -- lecture series discussion at the Levin Jewish Community Center, also held last week, Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in N.C., said that public charter schools, private schools and home schools are giving families options when they are not satisfied with the public school system.
“We need every quality option on the table,” Allison said. “When one design does not work for you child, we believe that you should have other quality options.”
Funding is one of the key areas in the debate between charter and public schools.
Schewel said that DPS has seen a reduction of between $12 million and $13 million in funding since 2008. He said that DPS and other districts across the state have been allotted $15 per student per year for textbooks.
But Allison argues that funding for the state’s public schools is either a “parade or funeral,” noting that $7.8 billion of the state’s 2013-14 budget is allotted to K-12 public schools, equaling roughly $8,400 per pupil in combined state, local and federal funds.
Services that traditional public schools are mandated to provide vs. what public charter schools must provide also are a point of contention.
Forte-Brown and Cox pointed out that charter schools do not have to provide transportation for students, hot breakfasts or lunches, and that they are able to reject students whereas public schools are obligated to serve all students who go to the public system seeking education.
Allison said that many parents of charter school students have established carpooling systems that ensure children get to school, and that some community groups use their resources to provide hot meals to students.
The demand for charters appears to be growing. In 2010, there were 100 charter schools but concentrated in 47 of the state’s 100 counties, Allison said. The number was capped at 100 until the legislature voted to abolish the limit. Now there are 129 public charter schools in North Carolina, with 54 counties having at least one charter; that number is expected to grow next year following recent approval from the state’s Department of Public Instruction. “This would help so many parents who felt like there wasn’t a quality option, now have an option,” Allison said. “You have those who say, ‘Oh, the sky is falling’ but that’s just not the case. Again we’re talking about 155 public charter schools this time next year compared to 2,400 traditional public schools. Even with those 155 public charter schools we’re only talking about 57 counties.”
One additional charter school was approved to open its doors for the 2014-15 school year in Durham, Reaching All Minds Academy.  There are currently nine charter schools in Durham, with 12 applications awaiting approval.
Forte-Brown believes that the county has too many charter schools and that areas that don’t have as much of a need tend to have more charter schools because, “you get more money per pupil. The money is not going to the rural areas where they can help because there isn’t funding there.”