Despite objections from Democrats, the Senate Rules Committee passed a bill giving charter schools another avenue for approval of private bonds to pay for or refinance their facilities.

Committee members were divided over Senate Bill 392 during debate Tuesday, April 16. Democrats raised concerns about empowering the state superintendent of public instruction to approve private activity bonds, if that intrudes on local governments’ authority, and whether charter schools are financially sound enough to pay off bonds.

The Senate Education/Higher Education Committee passed the measure on April 10. It is scheduled for a vote Wednesday on the Senate floor.

Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, a primary sponsor of the legislation, said giving charter schools with the new option of getting bond approval from the state superintendent could reduce political influence from what should be a financial decision.

“I think we’re going down a path of no return, a path that may be detrimental in many ways,” said Sen. Joyce Waddell, D-Mecklenburg. Charter schools are public schools under local jurisdiction. She said cities or counties, not the state superintendent, should make funding decisions. 

Waddell said a number of charters have closed because they couldn’t pay rent or make needed repairs. She and other Democrats said the state superintendent lacks the financial acumen to determine whether a charter school operator can repay bonds.

But Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, countered that lending institutions would perform due diligence to verify a charter applicant’s creditworthiness before lending hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Harry Kaplan, a lobbyist for the N.C. Coalition for Charter Schools, said the organization met with the State Treasurer’s Office about adding the state superintendent to the list of officials who can approve charter school bond funding. The Local Government Commission under the Treasurer’s Office would review proposals before cities and counties could vote on them.

As for the superintendent’s possible lack of financing expertise, Kaplan said few city and county elected officials have that proficiency as well.