In the coming weeks, state lawmakers will consider a fundamental issue of fairness in public education: Should some students be educated with less taxpayer funding than others simply because their parents chose a different type of public school? 

There is a stark difference in local education funding between public district school students and public charter school students. According to BEST NC, an education nonprofit, public charter school students in North Carolina received 37% less local funding than district school students in 2020-21. 

A bill before the General Assembly (H.B. 219) would fix this disparity by requiring local administrators to fund public charter school and district school students equally.  

First, some history. District school bureaucrats fiercely oppose funding equality even though the legislature required it in the law authorizing public charter schools in the mid-1990s. State courts upheld this requirement time and again over the next 15 years. 

But in the waning days of the 2009-10 legislative session, public charter school opponents slipped into a “technical corrections” bill a change permitting district school administrators to hoard local funding.  

The maneuver, which passed without debate, has cost public charter school students hundreds of millions of dollars since, including $108 million in 2021 alone. 

H.B. 219, then, would return local funding rules to their original model. 

Second, the “why.”  

I believe public school funding should be for students, not systems. If we accept that premise, then it follows that all public school students deserve equal funding. A public charter school student is not worth 37% less than a district school student. All public school students are equally important and therefore worthy of equal taxpayer funding. 

District school bureaucrats have offered numerous arguments opposing equal funding. On the surface, some of those arguments look compelling. 

For example, district administrators argue their schools have services and programs that public charter schools don’t offer. Therefore, they say, district schools should have more local funding than public charter schools. 

But it isn’t true that district schools offer certain programs and public charter schools offer none.  

Public charter schools offer different programming. They do so because that is their legal mandate — they’re supposed to innovate and experiment, not mimic what already exists. 

The Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies (NEAAAT) in Elizabeth City, for example, offers a comprehensive manufacturing program that certifies students for good-paying local jobs. 

NEAAAT also partners with the U.S. Department of Education on its “competency-based education” framework — the only school in the state chosen for the project.  

Alpha Academy in Fayetteville has a Drone Remote Pilot Institute that grants students FAA certification to commercially fly drones. Starting pay for drone pilots is $75 per hour. 

The Sallie B. Howard School in Wilson offers a four-year biotechnology “major” with a rigorous college prep curriculum.  

Other examples abound. Pinnacle Classical Academy offers logic and rhetoric classes. Vance Charter School participates in Future Farmers of America. Other charter schools provide college application camps, Saturday academies, character building workshops, innovative academic monitoring regimens, and more. 

It isn’t reasonable to argue that public charter school students deserve less funding simply because their schools offer different services and programs. These different services and programs are the precise reason lawmakers created public charter schools in the first place. 

And it isn’t reasonable for public charter schools to pursue their legal mandate of innovative curricula and programs while local bureaucrats withhold 37% of their funding. 

Lawmakers will soon decide whether it’s fair for some students to be educated with less funding than others simply because of the type of public school their parents chose. 

Public charter schools are meeting their mandate for innovative school programs. Their students deserve fair, not fractional, funding. 

Lindalyn Kakadelis is the Executive Director of the North Carolina Coalition for Charter Schools.