A back-and-forth power struggle between state lawmakers and members of the North Carolina Board of Education came to a head in the new budget—and, at least for now, lawmakers won.

Here’s what happened. Earlier this year, the General Assembly OK’ed a measure creating a new Charter School Review Board responsible for evaluating and approving new charters. With the previous system, the full State Board of Education had the final say, under recommendations from the Charter Schools Advisory Board.

Republican lawmakers believed the shift was important because the Democrat-controlled State Board of Education has rejected several charter school applications in recent years.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed the bill on July 7, claiming the measure was “a legislative power grab that turns that responsibility over to a commission of political friends and extremists appointed by Republican legislators, making it more likely that faulty or failing charter schools will be allowed to operate and shortchange their students.”

Later, Republican lawmakers overrode the veto with the help of two Democrats in the House. But that wasn’t the end of the skirmish.

In an end run around the new law, the Democrat-controlled State Board of Education passed a policy Sept. 7 that allows the board to control funding for new charters. The policy passed 8-3, with all Democrat appointees voting in favor plus one Republican appointee, chairman Eric Davis. Three Republicans voted against — Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, State Treasurer Dale Folwell, and board member Olivia Oxendine, who is a GOP appointee.

“To do this in one day is unfair,” said Robinson during the meeting Sept. 6. “It’s unprofessional, and it smacks of political pandering and should not be tolerated on an issue this important.”

Davis said the move was needed because seven charter schools have closed in recent years. “At least five of them with questionable financial situations, which are currently being reviewed by federal officials,” Davis said.

Lawmakers appear to have gotten the last laugh, however. The new budget prohibits the State Board of Education from withholding funds from a charter authorized by the new Charter School Review Board, except under limited circumstances. Those circumstances are:

  • “The change in funding is due to an annual adjustment based on enrollment or is a general adjustment to allocations that is not specific to the charter or actions of that charter school.”
  • “The Review Board notifies the State Board that the charter school has materially violated a term of its charter, has violated a State statute or federal law, or has had its charter terminated or nonrenewed.”
  • “The Superintendent of Public Instruction notifies the State Board that the charter school has failed to meet generally accepted standards of fiscal management or has violated a State or federal requirement for receipt of funds.”

Lindalyn Kakadelis, executive director of the NC Coalition for Charter Schools, issued a statement praising the budget provision.

“The waitlist for public charter schools has 77,000 student names on it, and threats to withhold funding for new charter schools would have made that problem worse, not better,” Kakadelis said. “Ultimately, students and families are the ones who lose out most when policymakers put politics and power over funding all of our public schools fairly.”

A recent national report concluded that charters outperform their traditional public school counterparts in reading and math, with gains particularly accruing to minority students, students in poverty, and students learning English as a second language.