Why I support lifting the cap on charter schools

Rep. Craig Horn

I am writing in support of Senate Bill 8 that lifts the cap on charter schools and restores the original funding mechanisms for charter schools in North Carolina. I have heard many arguments both in favor of and against elimination of the cap on charter schools. The rub is, as it always is, the money!

When charter schools were created in North Carolina in 1995, the funding statute required that local school systems pay an amount equal to their own per-pupil spending to all charter schools serving students from their school district. In 1998, the N.C. Attorney General, under Gov. Jim Hunt, issued an opinion that “All Funds” contained in the local school systems’ local current expense fund must be included in these calculations. This decision has been upheld in the courts on three separate occasions.

Unfortunately, school systems across North Carolina ignored the law and have excluded the charter schools from some of their rightful share of the required per pupil amounts.

In 2009, the N.C. Supreme Court declined review of the earlier court decisions, thereby acknowledging their legitimacy. However, the local schools systems subsequently persuaded the General Assembly to change the law to avoid the requirements of the original statutes. A new bill allowed the local school systems to move funds out of their local current expense fund and not have them count in the share going to charter schools. These monies include sales tax revenue; federal monies, including those that are unrestricted; money carried over from year to year in local budgets; and funds for any other project the school systems deem to be a “special program.”

Senate Bill 8 not only lifts the cap on the total number of charter schools in North Carolina but also restores the monies removed by the General Assembly in the dying days of a majority that has now changed. I see this as both ironic and significant.

Last year, a suit was filed on behalf of Union Academy against Union County Public Schools,  alleging that the public school district “jumped the gun” and moved money out of its expense fund a year earlier than permitted. In the 2009-10 year, the school district’s per pupil amount for students, including current expense and capital funds, was $2,844 per student. Under the modification passed in 2009, Union Academy would receive $2,026 per student, or 71 percent of Union public schools’ per pupil spending. Under Senate Bill 8, Union Academy would get $2,210 per pupil, or 78 percent the larger school district’s per-pupil allotment.

Editor’s note: For more on the charter school subject from Rep. Horn, as well as editorials from county commissioners Jerry Simpson and Kim Rogers, go to www.unioncountyweekly.com

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