News: CJ Exclusives

NCGA Moves Charter School Operation To State Board

Legislation strips superintendent’s authority to oversee schools

Legislation creating a state Office of Charter Schools and shifting management of those alternative public schools from the Department of Public Instruction to the State Board of Education has cleared the General Assembly and awaits Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, who spearheaded the final revisions to House Bill 334, said the change was needed because resistance to charter schools from traditional public schools appears to be affecting DPI’s handling of the alternative public schools.

“When something’s not working like you think it ought to work, you look for a better way,” Tillman said.

Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson, who oversees DPI, said the change is unnecessary. Nevertheless, she said she plans to carry out the policies of the State Board of Education, although she considers the shift of charter move oversight a bit convoluted.

“Even though I may not agree with a policy that the state board would make, it’s my responsibility to carry out policies of the state board,” Atkinson said. “I will adjust as to the organization structure that the General Assembly has oddly asked us to implement.”

When the legislation passed the Senate in August, Atkinson posted on her Twitter feed:

Moving charter schools from DPI to State Board is similar to my saying that I am moving from my current house to my current house. #ncga

That tweet prompted Terry Stoops, director of research and education studies at the John Locke Foundation, to note at the time, “if the move is as trivial as Superintendent Atkinson claims it is, then there is no reason to object to it.”

The bill administratively places the Office of Charter Schools within DPI. However, the office will be supervised, directed, and controlled by the State Board of Education.

The office’s executive director will report to and serve at the pleasure of the State Board of Education.

Charter schools are public schools that operate with fewer regulations than traditional public schools. Charter schools report to their own board of directors instead of a local school board.

While charter schools receive a similar per-pupil allocation of state and local funds for operating expenses, they do not receive local capital funds to build and renovate schools.

Tillman said that many local school boards across the state have resisted the formation and growth of charter schools. He said he hears complaints from local school board members that charter schools are taking resources from traditional public schools.

“They’re not taking from the public schools,” Tillman said, adding that funding is distributed to both traditional public schools and charter public schools on an average daily membership — or per-pupil — basis.

Tillman said he believes that some of the tension toward charter schools expressed by traditional public schools also exists within DPI.

“I feel like we’ve got some better advocates [for charter schools] under the State Board of Education,” Tillman said. “I think things are going to work a lot better.”

Tillman said he is just trying to make sure charter schools have a good working relationship with the state board.

Atkinson said that charter schools are public schools and that she will continue to provide support for them. She also said she thought DPI was better positioned to administer the state board’s charter schools policies than the state board is.

“I wish that my friends in the General Assembly could understand this,” Atkinson said. “We have a board appointed by the governor and that board gets paid $15 a day when it meets. And it meets once a month for two days.”

“The State Board of Education does not have an administrative arm outside the Department of Pubic Instruction,” Atkinson said. “We are the administrative arm” of the state board.

Atkinson said that while the N.C. Constitution indicates that the State Board of Education is responsible for supervising and administering the state’s public schools, it also says that the superintendent of public instruction is the chief administrative officer of the state board.

In 2009, after the State Board of Education and then-Gov. Beverly Perdue stripped Atkinson of her powers, Atkinson won a lawsuit when a judge ruled that she had the authority to run the state’s public schools.

Atkinson said she plans to carry out the law and the policies of the state board.

“We have an excellent State Board of Education,” Atkinson said. “The state board and I work very well together.”

Tillman said that the General Assembly has on a number of occasions tweaked the state’s charter school law. The latest move is another in a series of tweaks, he said.

Atkinson, however, questioned the need for the latest change, and questioned what this tweak would accomplish.

Barry Smith (@Barry_Smith) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.