News: Quick Takes

House committee backs bill to help reproduce top-performing charter schools

North Carolina’s best-performing charter schools would have an easier time opening new campuses in challenging settings, under a bill that won endorsement from a state House committee.

House Bill 616 won unanimous approval after less than three minutes of discussion Tuesday in the Education K-12 Committee.

“The reason that we need a change is I don’t think it was ever the intent to discourage great charter schools from replicating in poor, underserved, or inner-city regions,” said Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston. In addition to sponsoring H.B. 616, Torbett co-chairs the education committee.

“Current replication criteria in statute work to dissuade good charters from replicating in certain areas,” Torbett added.

Torbett offered the example of a successful charter school operator with a total of four schools. “One may not be performing in a very needy area,” Torbett said. “We’ll say it this way: It hasn’t got to that great performance level yet.”

Even if the other three schools show clear success, current state rules would delay replication of the charter model at another location. “A charter organization with all A and B schools but one inner-city D is denied the right to replicate,” Torbett said. “They have an incentive to close the D school so they can replicate some other A school. You don’t really want that to happen.”

Current rules also present risks for charter operators who would like to reproduce their successful models in challenging settings. “If they have A/B schools, they would not risk putting a replication in a needy area which might take a number of years to catch up,” Torbett added. “There’s a disincentive to go to a needy area.”

“Such punitive criteria are denying needy areas the possibility of attracting good and proven charter programs,” he said. “Only new charters with added risk of success … will locate in low-income, at-risk areas. The goal: We want high-quality charters to locate in poor, underserved areas and not have their ability to replicate the high-quality schools taken away because they have taken on a school in one of these areas.”

A new charter school in a challenging area might need five or six years of operations before showing signs of success, Torbett suggested. “Those are the most critical years in which charter school management growth is completely stalled due to the performance of one school.”

Under H.B. 616, a charter school organization could pursue a new school if a majority of its existing schools produce “student academic outcomes from the three prior school years that are equal to or greater than the student academic outcomes in the local school administrative unit in which each charter school is located.”

The bill would need support from the full House and Senate to become law.