The Senate, in a 33-11 vote, approved a bill giving charter school operators the option to bypass local county commissioners in winning approval of charter facility bonds.

Senate Bill 392 would allow the Superintendent of Public Instruction to approve the issuance of private activity bonds for charter school facilities after a public hearing.

Private activity bonds are tax-exempt bonds issued by or on behalf of local or state government to help finance special projects that otherwise would be considered private activities.

Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, a primary sponsor of S.B. 392, said the bill is necessary because some local elected officials are politically motivated against charters and vote against approving new ones.

Under current law, qualified private activity bonds must be approved by the governmental entity issuing the bonds and from a governmental entity with jurisdiction over the area where the facility would be located. Under S.B. 392, the state superintendent — currently Mark Johnson — could authorize a private activity bond to finance a charter school facility.

Critics, including some Democrats, were concerned that the bill intrudes on local governments’ authority.

“I think we’re going down a path of no return, a path that may be detrimental in many ways,” Sen. Joyce Waddell, D-Mecklenburg said during an April 16 Senate Rules Committee meeting.

Waddell pointed out that several charter schools have closed down due to financial problems. She, along with several other Democratic senators, questioned whether Johnson would be able to identify whether a charter school operator would repay bonds.

Drew Elliot, the director of communications at the Department of Public Instruction, said Johnson supports the bill.

Neither the N.C. Association of School Administrators nor the N.C. School Board Association offered an opinion to Carolina Journal on S.B. 392.