Opinion

$26M grant could boost NC charter school diversity

Ryan, a student in the kindergarten classroom of teacher Yan Han at East Voyager Academy. East Voyager Academy on Tuckaseegee Rd. In Charlotte is a Chinese immersion charter school that opened in August with 89 students.
Ryan, a student in the kindergarten classroom of teacher Yan Han at East Voyager Academy. East Voyager Academy on Tuckaseegee Rd. In Charlotte is a Chinese immersion charter school that opened in August with 89 students. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Looking back on the 2017-2018 school year, we made great strides in strengthening academic outcomes for charter school students. Now, we have the opportunity to keep moving and making progress in 2019.

The latest Annual Charter School Report shows charter schools have great results to celebrate. Charter schools are giving students the personalized education they need and helping students achieve strong academic outcomes — 56.7 percent of students at charters have grade level proficiency, compared to only 44.3 percent at non-charters­. Additionally, more than 40 percent of charter schools earned a School Performance Grade (SPG) of A or B compared to 34 percent of non-charters. And the number and percentage of charter schools earning Ds and Fs decreased for the fifth consecutive year.

This is strong progress, but we know we still have work to do. Luckily, we’re starting off the year on the right foot and are on track to expand charter school opportunities for all students with a new grant that will help NC charter schools provide high-quality educational opportunities to educationally disadvantaged students.

Last year, North Carolina was selected as one of the eight states to receive the Charter School Program (CSP) Grant, a competitive federal grant issued each year by the US Department of Education to help new and existing charter schools better meet the needs of traditionally underserved students.

North Carolina will be using the $26.6 million received over five years to increase the number of educationally disadvantaged students in our charter schools. The focus is on working to increase the diversity of our student bodies to better reflect our communities and to ensure that more students have an opportunity to receive the education and academic outcomes they deserve.

The majority of CSP funds will be allocated to competitive subgrants available for charter schools to help fund brand new schools, schools within their first three years, and high-quality schools who want to replicate. The grant requires recipient schools to conduct weighted lotteries and provide transportation and lunch.

Additionally, school leaders from the schools who receive a grant will participate in ACCESS, a year-long fellowship program for immersive leadership training to give teachers the support and technical assistance they need to develop, expand, and replicate their schools. By the end of the five years, the program will have created a community of 100 charter school leaders skilled in serving educationally disadvantaged students.

Now that the subgrant application process is open, we at the NC Association for Public Charter Schools are hitting the ground running. We are hosting a grant-writing workshop this month to help schools write winning grant proposals to apply for the school-level grants. By helping school leaders learn grant-writing skills, we know they will be able to advance the work of their charter schools and expand opportunities to even more students.

We are thrilled to see the progress charter schools made in 2018. We’re ready to keep the momentum going in 2019 with the CSP grant to increase access to high-quality charter schools to more students, ensure our classrooms reflect our communities, and equip our school leaders with skills to give students the individualized attention they deserve.

Rhonda Dillingham is the Executive Director of the NC Association for Public Charter Schools.

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