In 343 B.C., Aristotle had this to say about the legislative process: “Even when laws have been written down, they ought not always to remain unaltered.” More than two thousand years later, his political sagacity still rings true. In Raleigh, members of the North Carolina General Assembly are well into their 2007 session, churning out new legislation and amending existing law.
As of today, legislators have introduced 866 bills in the House, and another 831 bills in the Senate; with more coming as the deadline date approaches. Of these bills more than 250 have something to do with education. Particularly noteworthy is education legislation to raise or remove the existing charter school cap; such legal alteration is long overdue.
Lawmakers first created charter schools as part of the state budget in 1996, capping the number of these deregulated public schools at 100. Every session since, legislators have introduced bills to either raise or remove the cap. But each year, the education establishment has worked successfully behind the scenes to stamp out charter school growth.
The 2007 session is shaping up to be no different from its predecessors – already, lawmakers have introduced several bills to permit more charters. Both Senate Bill 39 and House Bill 30 would raise the charter school cap by 25 schools – an incremental step, but definitely a move in the right direction. Both bills currently sit in respective education committees, and will remain there until the committee’s leadership decides to bring the bill up for discussion.
Senate Bill 590 would raise the cap by 25 schools, but only if at least 30 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. If this percentage falls below 30 percent, the school’s charter would be terminated automatically. This legislation smacks of social engineering and sets up a peculiar system of desired outcomes, whereby administrators would be measured not by their ability to improve academic achievement, but on whether they could maintain a perfect socioeconomic balance.
In the big picture, though, raising the charter-school cap makes good sense. Charter schools provide families with options – obviously a hot commodity, since charter school wait lists across the state are stacked with students. Equally important is the fact that charter schools are quite cost-effective. Charter schools save counties and taxpayers millions of dollars by covering their own facilities costs under their operations budgets. This is particularly noteworthy in light of North Carolina’s burgeoning student enrollments and concurrent facilities crisis.
Keep these millions of dollars in charter school savings in mind when you are asked to vote for a Two Billion Dollar state school bond proposal (.pdf). This enormous, taxpayer-funded loan is not the only alternative to our state’s facilities problem. Yet in spite of charter schools’ ability to save dramatically on facilities, the BLOB (Big Learning Bureaucratic Organizations) will undoubtedly lobby against raising the charter school cap. They’ll also likely weigh in to support the two billion dollar bond.
What can you do? Above all, remember that your voice matters. It’s your civic duty and right to hold your representatives in the General Assembly accountable. Make sure they represent your interests, and not those of well-paid lobbyists. Ultimately, only public engagement and outcry will change the balance of power in Raleigh. Next week, I’ll provide a guide to other noteworthy education bills. Stay tuned.