News: Quick Takes

Controversial municipal charter school bill is now law

Four towns in Mecklenburg County can open and run their own charter schools apart from the local board of education.

After lengthy — sometimes heated — debate, House Bill 514 passed 64-53 on Wednesday, June 6, and it’s now law. It’s a local bill, so the governor’s doesn’t need to sign it, and it’s not at risk of a veto.

Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, introduced the bill last year.

The bills applies to Mint Hill, Matthews, Cornelius, and Huntersville.

He said town leaders brought to his attention issues of overcrowding and long waiting lists. H.B 514 aims to address these concerns by allowing the towns to operate their own charter schools and to give their residents preference with enrollment.

Supporters of the bill have said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is too big, and officials there don’t listen to the needs of towns outside Charlotte.

Brawley said the municipal charter schools would still be subject to the same laws and regulations as existing charter schools. It’s unclear whether teachers in those schools could opt into state retirement plans, a provision the Senate stripped from the bill earlier this week.

“Are we thinking of something new? Yes we are,” Brawley said. “But remember, there was a time when settlers in the American colonies were forbidden to cross the Appalachia and settle the land … had they not explored new territories this country would still be just 14 states.”

The bill endured criticism from both sides, with Democrats and Republicans worrying the bill would have statewide implications and set a precedent for other towns to follow. Democrats took their concerns a step further and warned H.B. 514 would lead to re-segregation and a higher tax burden on residents.

Keith Poston, president and executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, said the bill is a terrible idea for the state.

“At a time when we are courting major new investments from Apple, Amazon, and the U.S. Army, the last thing we need are national headlines about a new N.C. law driving resegregation,” Poston said in a news release. “H.B. 514 threatens to become our state’s education version of H.B. 2.”

The state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and four African-American former school board chairs held a press conference June 5 denouncing the bill and vowing to take the matter to court.