Quick Resources on NC Charter Schools
- Fact Sheet on Charter Schools
- Comparing K-12 Traditional Public Schools and Charter Schools in NC
- Charter School Federal Regulation Response April 2022
- Tweet Text to Support Federal Charter School Program (CSP) Regulations
- 2021-22 List of NC Charter Schools by County
- Number of NC Charter Schools SY 1997-98 to 2021-22
- Economically Disadvantaged Students Charter Schools vs. Traditional Public Schools 2020-2021
- Economically Disadvantaged Students Public Schools vs Charter Schools 2017-2018
- Percentage of Students by Race NC Public & Charter Schools SY 2010-11 and 2017-18
- Percentage of NC Traditional and Charter Schools Meeting or Exceeding Expected Annual Growth 2012-2013 thru 2018-2019
- Cumulative Total State Funding NC Charter Schools 1997-1998 thru 2018-2019
- Cumulative Planned Allotted ADM NC Charter Schools 1997-1998 thru 2018-2019
- Planned Allotted ADM & Total State Funding NC Charter Schools 1997-1998 thru 2018-2019
- NC Charter School Failures 1998-2019
- Charter School Details NCDPI 2019
- Cumulative Planned Allotted ADM & Total State Funding NC Charter Schools
1997-1998 thru 2018-2019
- Free and Reduced Lunch Traditional vs Charter Schools 2013-2014
- Office of Charter Schools
- Comprehensive Directory of North Carolina’s Charter Schools Download an Excel version.
- Charter School School Performance Data Summary, 2017-18
- Charter Schools Opening in 2020
- 2019 Charter School Applications to Open in 2020-2021
- 2018 Charter School Applications to Open in 2019-2020
- Charter Schools Application Status for Schools Opening in 2018-2019
- 2017 Charter School Applications to Open in 2018-19
The most current budget included the creation of fast track replication process for some charter schools. Planning year will not be required for these schools.
Current Charter School Facts
North Carolina currently has 204 charter schools serving over 126,000 students and ten schools participating in the planning year and scheduled to open in 2022. Approximately 8.4 percent of North Carolina’s 1.5 million school children attend charter schools. In the most recent budget, $10.37 billion was spent on public education with $734.7 million allotted for charter schools. Since 1998, 48 charter schools have voluntarily relinquished their charters, one has been assumed by another non-profit board, 10 have been non-renewed, and 17 charters have been revoked by the State Board of Education. During the 2018-19 school year, 47 charter schools were identified as either low-performing or continually low-performing. Of the charter schools in operation, 80 provide reduced-priced lunches and 108 provide bus transportation. In contrast, all traditional public schools provide reduced-price lunches and offer bus transportation.
Previous Charter Schools Performance
During the 2017-2018 school year, 68.7 percent of charters met or exceeded growth, a figure that has trended down since 2012. They did not meet the academic goal of 75 percent of charter schools meeting or exceeding growth set forth by the state. Twenty-eight of North Carolina’s charter schools were deemed continually low performing. North Carolina’s goal is to have no more than 9 charter schools in that designation. Charter schools are not living up to their promise of providing a better education. The percentage of Charter schools in North Carolina meeting or exceeding expected annual growth lags behind that of traditional public schools.
Source: NC Policy Watch, September 2019
In addition to disappointing academic performance, and siphoning money away from traditional public schools, charters maintain and often exacerbate segregated schools. A recent national analysis shows that while only 4 percent of traditional public schools have student bodies that are 99 percent minority (2014-15), 17 percent of charter schools are 99 percent minority. In his report, Stymied by Segregation Kris Nordstrom reports: “In 72 percent of North Carolina counties with at least one charter school, charter schools increase the degree of racial segregation in the district, as measured by the racial dissimilarity index.”
Brief History of Charter Schools
The original NC charter school legislation was ratified in 1996 and authorized the establishment of up to 100 charter schools. Thirty-four charter schools opened 1997-98 school year. The number of charters schools has increased from 34 in the 1997-98 school year to 184 in the 2018-19 school year. The state’s budget for charter schools has grown from just over $16 million in 1997 to more than $580 million for the 2017-18 school year.
Cap Lifted: In August 2011, NC Senate Bill 8 was approved, removing all limits on the number and enrollment increases of charter schools allowed, lowering minimum enrollment numbers, and eliminating provisions that guard against schools being created to serve only specific subcategories of students (e.g. gifted students, students with disabilities, students of the same gender).
When the cap on the maximum number of charter schools allowed (100) was lifted in 2012, there were 45,000 students enrolled in charter schools. Currently, 184 charter schools, including two online/virtual charters, operate in NC, serving approximately 110,000 children. Charter school students make up nearly 7.3% of the total student population for grades K-12.
An additional eight schools were approved in August 2018 by the State Board of Education 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 open in August of 2019, will bring the state’s total number of charter schools to 199.
The deadline to submit an application to the Office of Charter Schools for the 2020-21 school year was October 1, 2018. Thirty-Five applications were received for the 2020-21 school year and are under review. A listing of applicants is available on the NC Department of Public Instruction’s website (look for Office of Charter Schools).
For more details see Historical Overview of Charter Schools and see the Charter Schools Annual Report presented by the NC Department of Public Instruction in February, 2019.
Recent Relevant Legislation
SB 247, Charter School Study/Moratorium on Growth, was introduced in March 2019. It was referred to the Committee On Rules and Operations of the Senate in March and has not had further action this session. This bill would establish the Joint Legislative Study Committee to study the impact of charter schools on local school administrative units and place a moratorium on charter school growth pending further legislation. Charter schools drain valuable resources from our traditional public schools. Many systems are rapidly resegregating and we need to study the effects of charter schools to ensure we are being good stewards of taxpayer money. Charter schools should have the same accountability as traditional public schools so that all our students receive a high-quality, equitable education.
One of the most concerning bills to come out of the 2018 legislative session is HB514 titled Permit Municipal Charter School/Certain Towns allows Cornelius, Huntersville, Matthews, and Mint Hill, majority white suburbs of Charlotte, to create their own charter schools. Further, they will be permitted to restrict access to local residents. In the budget amendments, a related provision (38.8) allows local municipalities to use (and raise) property taxes to fund schools. It is worrisome that this will exacerbate existing segregation and inequality. Charlotte is already experiencing high levels of segregation.
Additionally, taxpayers could see increases in tax bills as localities take on school funding responsibilities. Many public school advocates think these related pieces of legislation will eventually be found unconstitutional. Also troubling is how this legislation could return North Carolina to a time when the quality of education was inequitably distributed based on zip code. On June 6, 2018, the N.C. House approved HB 514 with a 64-53 vote. It was ordered enrolled and ratified (Ch. SL 2018-3). Public school advocates have serious concerns about segregation and inequity. It was treated as a local law and therefore did not require the governor’s signature.
Section 38.8 of the 2018-2019 Budget Adjustments bill authorizes cities in North Carolina to use local property taxes to fund any public school located within their localities. This could include charters, lab schools, and any other publicly funded entity.
HB514 will drastically alter the way schools could be funded. It could further the divide between have and have not schools by allowing cities to supplement funds for certain schools. The budget adjustments also grant the virtual charter schools pilot an extension for another 4 years even though both virtual schools are low-performing. (All related legislation can be found on the NC Department of Public Instruction, Office of Charter Schools’ website.)
What are Charter Schools?
Charter schools are tuition-free, independent public schools exempt from many of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools. In North Carolina, charter schools are vetted by an advisory council, approved by the State Board of Education, funded with taxpayer dollars, and are governed by private, for-profit and nonprofit organizations. 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?
Charter schools are required to participate in the state’s accountability program and administer end-of-grade and end-of course tests. Like traditional public schools, charter schools must provide data needed for NC School Report Cards.
However, unlike traditional public schools, charter 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.
- Can expand by one grade level beyond what is currently offered without approval from the NC State Board of Education.
- 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.
Impact on local public school districts: As local school districts lose students to charter schools, they lose funding for those students. A measurable loss of funds poses significant challenges for traditional public schools, which are often forced to reduce staff, programs, and other basic expenditures. Ideally, charter schools function as labs of innovation, the best practices of which can be returned to public schools, benefitting all teachers and students; however, many fail to fulfill this expectation. Therefore, the funds that are drained from traditional public schools, which are governed by elected boards and staffed by professional educators, are allocated instead to schools whose educational practices vary little from their own—and lack democratic governance and professional qualifications. 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. Also see a study by NC Policy Watch in 2018.
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.
For these reasons, many education experts advocate that the state only allow a limited number of truly innovative, not-for-profit charter schools designed to work with local school districts and be managed with careful local and state oversight. There is growing call for giving traditional schools the same privileges and flexibilities as the charter schools to enhance choice and program offerings to accommodate academic needs of our children. This would allow innovative, creative and flexible learning opportunities along with the transparency, accountability and stability that parents, teachers, students and taxpayers desire while keeping one public system of public schooling in NC.
Many education experts advocate for only allowing a limited number of truly innovative, not-for-profit charter schools designed to work with local school districts and be managed with careful local and state oversight. There is a growing call for giving traditional schools the same privileges and flexibilities as charters to enhance choice and program offerings to accommodate academic needs of our children. This would allow innovative, creative, and flexible learning opportunities in traditional public schools along with the transparency, accountability and stability that parents, teachers, students and taxpayers desire while keeping one strong public system of schools in NC.
What is needed to help charters be successful?
- Rigorous, sensible criteria for establishing and evaluating charter schools and a competitive approval process that approves the best charter school applicants
- Fidelity to the original concept of charters, including the sharing of best practices
- Charter schools that complement, not compete with, traditional public schools
- Local control on the decision to open or close charters
- Partnership with local school districts with governance by duly elected school boards
- Meaningful oversight, accountability, and transparency to the public, both in terms of finances and student achievement
Best Practices for charter schools:
- Only be granted a charter if the proposed school will offer an educational experience that is qualitatively different from what is available in traditional public schools.
- Charter Schools should use weighted lotteries to ensure the racial and socioeconomic makeup of the school reflects the larger community.
- Maintain fidelity to the original concept of charters, including the sharing of best practices with traditional public schools.
- Not be operated by private, for-profit entities.
- Work in partnership with local school districts. Charter schools should have limited impact on long-term planning including capital, facilities, and enrollment.
- Be held to the same careful oversight, accountability, and transparency regarding academic standards and financial review as traditional public schools.
- Offer free and reduced lunch, safe and reliable transportation, and services for students with disabilities, limited English proficient students, and academically gifted students.
- “Reasonably reflect racial and ethnic composition” in the area where the school is located.
Ultimately, charter schools are public schools and should reflect public school demographics, barring policies and practices that may prohibit students from attending them. They should be open to all in the state and offer free and reduced lunch, safe and reliable transportation, and services for students with disabilities, limited English proficient students, and academically gifted students.
Recently, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform published a series of standards and policy recommendations for the effective oversight of charter schools; in making our own recommendations and considering those of the Annenberg Institute, if the charter school system is to have a purpose in North Carolina, its constant improvement is vital to ensure the highest quality of education in the state.
More Information on Charter Schools/Resources
NATIONAL CENTER for ANALYSIS of LONGITUDINAL DATA in EDUCATION RESEARCH, 2015, The Growing Segmentation of the Charter School Sector in North Carolina
Report to the North Carolina General Assembly: Charter Schools Annual Report presented by the NC Department of Public Instruction in February, 2019.
North Carolina’s Deep Tax Cuts Impeding Adequate School Funding, Office State Budget, May 2018. https://www.cbpp.org/blog/north-carolinas-deep-tax-cuts-impeding-adequate-school-funding
2018 report from UCLA shows charter schools as a major contributor to resegregation.
Stymied by Segregation, NC Policy Watch, Education and Law Project. March2018; http://media2.newsobserver.com/content/media/2018/3/15/STYMIED%20BY%20SEGREGATION%20-%20Integration%20can%20Transform%20NC–FINAL.PDF
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.
Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy, Diversity Study Finds Economic Disparities Rising in NC Schools, http://news.sanford.duke.edu/news-type/news/2013/diversity-study-finds-economic-disparities-rising-nc-schools
National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, The Growing Segmentation of the Charter School Sector in North Carolina, http://www.caldercenter.org/publications/growing-segmentation-charter-school-sector-north-carolina
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
NC Policy Watch, “The dangers of charter school expansion,” http://www.ncjustice.org/?q=education/radio-interview-dangers-charter-school-expansion
NC School Boards Association, Charter Schools Issue Brief, http://www.ncsba.org/index.php?src=gendocs&ref=Charter%20Schools
NC School Board Association, NC Traditional/Charter School Comparison, August 2012, http://www.ncsba.org/clientuploads/DocumentsPDF/Advocacy/NC%20Traditional_Charter%20Schools%20Comparison.pdf
State Board of Education, Office of Charter Schools Website: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/charterschools/
Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, Public Accountability for Charter Schools, http://annenberginstitute.org/sites/default/files/CharterAccountabilityStds.pdf
The Center for Popular Democracy, “Holding Charter Schools Accountable,” http://populardemocracy.org/campaign/holding-charter-schools-accountable
Green, P., Frankenberg, E., Nelson, S., & Rowland, J. (2012). Charter schools, students of color and the state action doctrine: Are the rights of students of color sufficiently protected?
Washington and Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice, 18(2), 254-275.http://cloakinginequity.com/2013/01/02/why-judges-say-charters-are-not-public-schools-students-and-parents-should-be-nervous/
Helen Ladd, Charter School Presentation for NC Policy Watch, March 30, 2011, http://22.214.171.124/~wakeupw3/gsiw/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Helen-Ladd-Duke-University-Charter-School-Research-Findings.pdf
“Schools Without Diversity: Education Management Organizations, Charter Schools, and the Demographic Stratification of the American School System,” http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/schools-without-diversity
NC Policy Watch, “Expansion of Charter Schools Should Bring Better Oversight and More Accountability,” http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2012/09/18/expansion-of-charter-schools-should-bring-better-oversight-and-more-accountability/
2013 National Charter School Study. Center for Research on Education Outcomes, 2013, http://credo.stanford.edu/research-reports.html
Measures 1.5.1 and 2.4.1, NC State Board of Education Strategic Plan, December 2, 2015, http://stateboard.ncpublicschools.gov/strategic-plan/strategic-plan-full.pdf
NC School Boards Association, Charter Schools Issue Brief, http://www.ncsba.org/index.phpsrc=gendocs&ref=Charter%20Schools&category=Governmental_Relations
G.S. 115C-238.29F (g) “A charter school shall not discriminate against any student on the basis of ethnicity, national origin, gender, or disability. Except as otherwise provided by law or the mission of the school as set out in the charter, the school shall not limit admission to students on the basis of intellectual ability, measures of achievement or aptitude, athletic ability, disability, race, creed, gender, national origin, religion, or ancestry.” http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/HTML/BySection/Chapter_115C/GS_115C-238.29F.html
Miron, Urschel, Mathis, 2010, Schools Without Diversity: Education Management Organizations, Charter Schools, and the Demographic Stratification, http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/schools-without-diversity
Helen Ladd, Charter School Presentation for NC Policy Watch, March 30, 2011, http://126.96.36.199/~wakeupw3/gsiw/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Helen-Ladd-Duke-University-Charter-School-Research-Findings.pdf
A federal appellate court decision suggests that students of color should also be concerned about the legal protections that charter schools might provide to students.” See Green, P., Frankenberg, E., Nelson, S., & Rowland, J. (2012). Charter schools, students of color and the state action doctrine: Are the rights of students of color sufficiently protected? Washington and Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice, 18(2), 254-275. http://cloakinginequity.com/2013/01/02/why-judges-say-charters-are-not-public-schools-students-and-parents-should-be-nervous/
Last revised November 21, 2021