Durham City Council’s vote shows a misunderstanding of charter schools

Rhonda Dillingham is the executive director of the NC Association for Public Charter Schools.
Rhonda Dillingham is the executive director of the NC Association for Public Charter Schools.

Petty, ridiculous, abuse of power, over-reaching … words to describe the Durham City Council’s decision (5-2) on August 6 to reject Excelsior Classical Academy’s request for approval of education revenue bonds.

The bonds cost the city nothing. Excelsior just needed the council’s approval to pursue the bonds.

What was the justification for their decision? Fear.

Some of the council members believe that charter schools are a threat to the existence of Durham Public Schools and public education as a whole. Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson thinks that charter schools are harming public education, while Mayor Steve Schewel claims charter schools make it harder for public schools to operate successfully.

Not only are these council members afraid of charter schools, they are also misinformed.

Charter schools have been a part of North Carolina’s public school system since the law was passed in 1996. It has been over 20 years, but some people still do not understand that charter schools are free, public schools open to all students.

Public charter schools strengthen our public school system by offering more students an opportunity for a great public education at schools that put their needs first. And they provide a great education despite receiving less per-pupil funding than traditional public schools, so more money goes to our students rather than going to the wasteful bureaucracy.

Council member DeDreana Freeman, who voted in support of the request, acknowledged her peers’ attitude when she said it was offensive that they would consider using this as an opportunity to push a charter school out of business.

She’s right. I’m sure the parents and supporters of these students agree. They understand that some on the Durham City Council do not represent them or support their right to choose the educational setting that best fits their children.

Excelsior’s teachers understand that the money the school could have saved, which would have gone to their salaries, will now have to be found elsewhere if at all.

Durham’s charter school supporters understand that it is each council member’s responsibility to understand that their charter schools are public schools. We all know a one-size-fits-all approach for education doesn’t work. Charter schools offer the personal attention, creativity, and passionate teaching that kids need to really learn.

We cannot overlook the fact that the families who have chosen Excelsior Classical Academy are going to be deeply and negatively impacted. Public servants should consider the needs of all families across this community. The vote last week blithely ignores the needs of the students and their families that have chosen Excelsior Classical Academy as the right and best education option for their students.

Rhonda Dillingham is the executive director of the NC Association for Public Charter Schools.

Related stories from Durham Herald Sun