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April - May - June 2014

Charter Schools (p.26)
An Educational Option To Consider

By A. Monica Cutno

As we approach the end of the 2013-2014 academic year, some of you may still be weighing your school options for the fall. If you have not already made a decision, it is not too late to investigate the vast educational choices in Wake County, some of which you may not have considered. Your decision will most likely be based on the best fit between your children and the school, whether it is a private, charter, or district (traditional calendar, year-round, or magnet) school. All students capture, synthesize, and retain information differently; therefore, education should not be viewed through a one-size-fits-all lens.

If you have not researched the selections available, you may want to consider an option that is often misunderstood – charter schools. "High-quality charter schools play an important role in addressing the needs of some of our 1.5 million students," said State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson in a December 10, 2013 press release by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI).

Charter schools are actually public schools that operate independently and are founded and governed by a non-profit board of directors, although some are managed by for-profit companies. Charter schools exist nationally and are typically funded by public tax dollars. These tax dollars follow the student, whether they move to a charter or district school, as they are both public schools.

Like other public schools, charters provide tuition-free education, and enrollment is open to all students. If enrollment exceeds the number of available seats, a public lottery is held to determine who will be admitted to the school. Admissions eligibility is based on North Carolina residency, rather than the county of residence.

Although they cannot discriminate against students based on their backgrounds or abilities, charter schools do have the flexibility to design innovative curricula to attract a particular population or address unique learning needs. For example, some may deliver a science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) curriculum while others may offer instruction geared toward college preparation, the arts, special needs students, or the underserved population, just to name a few. Regardless of the charter's focus, it must educate and provide services to all eligible students, including at-risk, special needs, academically gifted, English language learners, etc.

Charters are bound by federal, state, and local provisions that hold the school accountable for its academic performance, financial practices, and governance standards. North Carolina requires that 50% of all teachers employed by a charter school be certified; however, they must follow state requirements for highly qualified staff. Students who attend charter schools are required to take state mandated tests, in addition to any charter-specific assessments.

Charter schools are regulated by the North Carolina State Board of Education (SBE), the authority with whom the school enters into a charter agreement. The SBE regularly reviews academic reports and financial records to determine if the charter agreement will be renewed at the end of the term (typically five years). If the school does not meet the conditions of the agreement, the charter can be revoked.

In 2011, North Carolina lifted the 100-charter school cap which resulted in a flood of applications from ambitious charter founders into the NCDPI office in Raleigh. Currently, 127 charter schools exist across North Carolina, with 15 in Wake County. In January 2014, 26 new charter schools received their final approval from the SBE to open this fall. This expansion will bring the number of charters to 153, the largest growth since the 1990s. Four of the 26 new schools will be located in Wake County.

We are very fortunate to live in an area where parents have access to and can choose from a plethora of school options. You should certainly consider charter schools when reviewing the educational offerings that may suit your children. For more information on charter schools, visit the North Carolina Office of Charter Schools' website at
www.ncpublicschools.org/charterschools.

A. Monica Cutno is the president and co-founder of Envision Science Academy, a Wake Forest-based charter school delivering a STEAM curriculum, opening in August 2014.
Visit www.EnvisionScienceAcademy.com to learn more about this charter school.


 


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