In monthly meetings held earlier this week, both boards of education adopted resolutions that will be sent to the governor.
Officials noted that passage of the “No Cap on Number of Charter Schools bill, already OK’d by the Senate and awaiting passage in the House, would allow charter schools, none of which are in Sampson County, a portion of all system accounts, including: Donations from private entities; reimbursement of expenses, such as activity bus fees and gymnasium rental fees; grants, such as Head Start, More at Four, JROTC and free and reduced lunches; fund balances; and child nutrition foods.
“Leadership of this school system charges us with the responsibility for securing and appropriately using funding for the educational program from multiple sources including federal, state and local governments, as well as private donations, additional grants and various fees and fundraisers,” explained city Board of Education chairwoman Kathleen Squibb. “When public school systems receive grants for specific programs such as Head Start and More at Four, the funds must be used solely for the purpose of providing these programs; thus, any portion of these grants shared with charter schools would have to be taken from the current operating budget of the local school system, leading to a reduction in services and/or positions that would otherwise be provided.”
Essentially, it would take money from public school programs to fund charter schools, which hardly seems fair, officials said, considering that the closest charter school in the area is in Kinston.
Sampson County superintendent Dr. Ethan Lenker said the issue is not with charter schools, it is about fairness.
“The Sampson County Schools system does not take issue with any charter schools,” he said. “But it does take issue with the way they are trying to fund charter schools. Taking money away from public schools, such as child nutrition dollars, parking lot fees, grants the school system writes ... things that charter schools have no involvement in and no place in what we are trying to do with public schools.”
Lenker went on to suggest that charter schools should write grants and apply for funding, just like public schools do.
“If you want to have a charter school, then by all means have it,” he said. “I believe in the parents’ choice to choose, but you can’t sit there and take money from every grant and give it to a school that doesn’t have any programs.”
The superintendent said the State School Boards Association asked 115 other school systems in the state to adopt the resolution this week.
County school board chairman G.H. Wilson said it was important for the Board of Education, as well as other school systems in the state, to adopt the resolution and to do that could be done to stop the bill’s enactment.
“Our concern, as a board, is that the funding part of the bill is not exactly fair,” he said. “The biggest problem is that they are not furnishing the programs and I don’t see how you can take the money from the programs we supply and give it to charter schools who don’t have to offer them — it is taking away from the kids.”
Wilson said passage of the bill would handcuff both school systems. “They (charter schools) don’t have to take everyone,” he said. “They take who they want, and if they don’t want them, they will have to go to the public school that is in their district. We don’t have that option. There are other things that people don’t really know about. There are some real problems with this bill.”
So why now?
Some say SB8 was approved (by 60 percent) because the North Carolina Senate wanted to complete work on one of the new Republican majority’s legislative priorities. Supporters of the bill noted that passage of it would ensure more racial diversity and attract more low-income students by requiring the 100 North Carolina charter schools to provide transportation and free lunch programs.
Some officials aren’t buying it, saying even if it is passed, charter schools are not required to provide any of the services or programs, transportation, or even free lunches that public school systems do.
“I am all for thinking out-of-the-box when it comes to education,” noted Wilson. “But when you are taking money out of the pockets of public schools and possibly taking away programs or at least limiting what we can do, making us struggle, that’s not the way to do it.”
Although officials from both system would comment on the alleged party-line politics behind the voting in Raleigh, one official said the hope remains that Perdue will accept their plea and veto the bill.
“One state representative told me that they ran on the promise of raising the cap, and although the bill has problems, they made that promise to vote on it,” said one board member. “Another one told me that if they didn’t vote on it, they would get rolled over because it was going through already.”
Either way, if the bill does pass in the House, system officials feel that low-income families who are working and living in poverty will feel the force of those votes in the end, because some local children, the stress, count on that free or reduced lunch and hot breakfast in order to have food in their stomachs.
Calls to Rep. Dr. Larry Bell and Rep. James Langdon were not immediately returned Wednesday. Both were in session in Raleigh.
To reach Doug Clark call 910-592-8137 ext. 123 or send e-mail to email@example.com.