News: Quick Takes

N.C. school leaders ask Biden’s pick for education secretary to protect charters

(CJ photo by Maya Reagan)
(CJ photo by Maya Reagan)

Charter school leaders in North Carolina are urging incoming U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to continue federal support and protection for charters moving forward.

The N.C. Association of Public Charter Schools is one of 50 organizations signing on to a new letter calling on Cardona to follow a path of “equitable support for public charter schools and the families and educators who choose them.”

Cardona was confirmed for his new post as head of the U.S. Education Department by a bipartisan 64-33 vote in the U.S. Senate on March 1. Before that, Cardona’s most recent position was as Connecticut commissioner of Education.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, public charter schools have provided the flexibility and innovation families so desperately needed for students,” the letter states. “Ensuring effective public charter schools can continue to serve families who choose them brings us closer to delivering on the public education promise of an excellent education for every child.”

“We want to make sure we communicate with the new education secretary that we hope charters receive federal funding and protection,” Rhonda Dillingham, executive director of the N.C. Association of Charter Schools, told Carolina Journal. “We also hope to have support to rebuild and restore our schools from the pandemic, just like any other public school.”

Dillingham also noted that North Carolina is in the middle of a five-year grant from the federal government totaling $36.6 million — called NC ACCESS (North Carolina Advancing Charter Collaboration and Excellence for Student Success) — that has supported 42 charter schools so far, including helping some charter schools get started with seed funding.

“It’s amazing what this grant has done,” Dillingham said. “It has removed barriers to educationally disadvantaged students.”

As a Democrat, Cardona has shown a willingness to work with charter schools in the past, including overseeing both the renewal of charters and authorization of the creation of new schools in Connecticut.

Asked about charter schools during his confirmation hearing for Connecticut Commissioner of Education, Cardona said, “Charter schools provide choice for parents that are seeking choice, so I think it’s a viable option. But [neighborhood schools], that’s going to be the core work that not only myself but the people behind me in the agency that I represent will have while I’m commissioner.”

N.C. has 200 charter schools — six of which opened as recently as July 1, 2020 — serving 127,125 students. Dillingham said charters experienced a bump in enrollment during the pandemic as families sought alternative educational options.

“It became clear to parents that charter schools are innovative and flexible. They were able to quickly pivot when schools suddenly closed last March.”