Bill allowing towns to open charter schools passes legislature

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
Members of the North Carolina House of Representatives at the General Assembly (Christine T. Nguyen | The North State Journal)

RALEIGH — The N.C. General Assembly has passed a bill that would allow four towns in the Charlotte suburbs to open their own public charter schools. House Bill 514 allows Huntersville, Mint Hill, Cornelius and Matthews to open and run public charter schools to address the rapid growth in their communities.

Opponents of the bill include the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools system, which is reportedly considering legal action to stop it. Bill sponsor Rep. Bill Brawley (R-Mecklenburg) called into former N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory’s radio show on WBT in Charlotte to talk about the bill.

“The school board isn’t building schools in the suburbs where the growth is,” said Brawley.

“Matthews has an elementary school built for 850 with 1,300 kids in it, and that is the way all of their schools are. They need more schools space, they have nothing on the plans. They have to build their own (schools) in addition to CMS — that’s what they are talking about. They aren’t trying to replace CMS. They are trying to do schools that CMS should be doing and won’t.”

According to the bill sponsors, Huntersville is also expecting up to 40,000 new residents over the next 12 years, requiring new schools at every level, which are not currently in the CMS plan. However, critics say the municipal charters will lead to resegregation of the Charlotte public schools because the suburbs are made up of predominantly white families who could choose to go to a new local public charter in their town instead.

“We are arguing about the economic interests of adults when we should be focusing on the educational needs of students,” said Brawley.

Former Republican House member Charles Jeter is the current lobbyist for CMS, pitting him against his former caucus colleagues on this issue.

“As impacts of HB514 are evaluated and possible responses explored, the district will continue to work with leaders, families, parents, teachers, staff and students from across Charlotte-Mecklenburg to help build vibrant futures for children today and tomorrow,” read CMS’ statement on the issue.