PSFNC materials on NC charter schools
- Quick Facts on charter schools
- Comprehensive directory of North Carolina’s charter schools
- Charter School School Performance Data Summary, 2017
- Charter School Applications for 2019-2020
- Charter Schools Application Status for 2018-2019
- Charter School Applications for 2018-19
- Charter Schools Application Status for 2017-18
- Charter Schools Opening in 2015-16 (including virtual charter pilot schools)
- Charter School Closed (or approved but not opened, 1997-2017
- Charter School Applications, 2015-16 and 2016-17
- Read our Fact Sheet on charter schools
- Historical Perspective on NC Charter Schools
Currently, 185 charter schools, including two online or virtual charters, operate in North Carolina, serving approximately 101,000 children. Charter school students make up nearly 6.5% of the total student population for grades K-12.
Eight schools received a favorable report in August from the State Board of Education to begin a planning year for preparation to open in August 2019. During the 2018 application year, seven schools were granted a one-year delay in opening by the State Board of Education. These 15 schools, once all open, will bring the state’s total number of charter schools to 200. The deadline to submit an application to the Office of Charter Schools October 1. Thirty-Five applications were received for the 2020 school year.
What are charter schools?
Charter schools are tuition-free, independent public schools exempt from most of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools. They are vetted by an advisory council, approved by the State Board of Education, funded with taxpayer dollars, governed by private, nonprofit organizations, and can be run by for-profit companies. Charter schools were originally created to:
- Provide increased choice and learning opportunities (with special emphasis on students who are at risk of academic failure or academically gifted)
- Encourage creative teaching methods
- Offer new professional opportunities for educators, and
- Share best practices with traditional public schools
Public school advocates believe that there should be a limited number of truly innovative, not-for-profit charter schools designed to work with local school districts and managed with careful local and state oversight. However, the passage of a 2011 law removed all limits on the number and enrollment increases of charter schools, which has encouraged the rapid growth of these schools.
[Note: In addition to traditional “brick and mortar” charter schools, online or virtual charter schools offer full-time learning—in front of a computer—not necessarily in a space dedicated to learning, or with any adult supervision. Please read our perspective on online charter schools.]
How do charter schools differ from traditional public schools?
- Are not governed by an elected board. For-profit companies may manage them, and there is no requirement that board members reside in North Carolina.
- Have no curriculum requirements.
- Have no restrictions on class size.
- Are not required to have all teachers licensed—only 50%.
- Are not required to hold teacher workdays for professional training and development. Are not required to protect students against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Are not required to provide transportation to students; those that do provide transportation are not subject to the same safety standards as are traditional public schools.
- Are not required to provide free and reduced price meals for qualifying students.
- Can expand, one grade at a time, without approval from the State Board of Education.
- Are exempt from public bidding laws that protect how tax dollars are spent.
- If a charter’s performance is determined to be “inadequate,” another group can take over school’s charter. Public assets transfer to the new charter owner, not to the local public school district.
Concerns over charter schools include:
- Impact on local public school districts: Loosely regulated charters take funds away from public schools, which are often forced to reduce staff, programs, and other basic expenditures. Public schools must also assume responsibility to educate students coming from failing charters.
- Lack of oversight: The State Board of Education lacks adequate staff and a sufficiently rigorous process for evaluating applications and tracking charter success.
- Poor student outcomes. For the 2016-2017 school year, district schools had a lower percent of schools with D and F grades (22.5%) than charter schools (25.2%).
- Increased racial isolation: In North Carolina, the majority of charter schools are racially isolated and serve lower proportions of low-income students. A 2017 study by UCLA, demonstrated charter schools are more segregated than traditional public schools and the share of minority charter students has declined over time. In addition, the burgeoning numbers of charters drive increasing amounts of segregation in traditional public schools, as middle class, mostly white students leave their district schools. NC charters also serve lower proportions of low-income students than traditional public schools.
- Uncertain legal protection for students: Students of color are suspended at two to three times the rate of other students. Black students, boys, and students with disabilities were disproportionately disciplined compared to other groups.
More information on charter schools:
A 2018 report from UCLA shows charter schools as a major contributor to resegregation.
The Growing Segmentation of the Charter School Sector in North Carolina, a report that details how charters in North Carolina are becoming increasingly racially imbalanced schools.
See the comprehensive 2017 Review of State Board Policies “that guide the purpose, governance, and operations of charter schools across the state of North Carolina”
Read Key Facts About Charter Schools from a June 2015 research report by the Spencer Foundation and Public Agenda
See the Annenberg Institute’s Public Accountability for Charter Schools: Standards and Policy Recommendations for Effective Oversight
Also see In the Public Interest and the Center for Popular Democracy’s The Charter School Accountability Agenda: An 11-Point Program for Reform
Updated July, 2018