Official: Tax dollars for public schools erode as charters grow in numbers

by: Paige Hansen Updated:


CHARLOTTE, N.C. - StudentFirst Academy, a charter school that announced Thursday it will close its doors next week, is one of 49 charter school to close since the state started allowing charters in 1997.
Just like StudentFirst Academy, most of those schools shut down for financial reasons, according to Joel Medley, the director of the North Carolina Office of Charter Schools.
StudentFirst Academy owes $600,000 to a bank and other creditors, but the Office of Charter Schools said taxpayers will not have to bail out the school. 

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Public money is being more affected as more charter schools open, a county official said.
"As the number of charter schools grow, the amount of local tax dollars going to (the) traditional public school system is eroding," Mecklenburg County Commissioner Dumont Clarke said.
Mecklenburg County commissioners recently heard from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools about the impact of charter schools.
Eyewitness News was at the March 25 presentation where the district showed a graph that showed in the 2008-2009 school year, CMS sent $12.5 million in county dollars to charter schools based on enrollment. 
Five years later, that number is projected to be $25,2 million and growing. 
The district said that local payments are projected to increase by 100 percent since the 2008-2009 school year.
In 2011, the state stopped limiting how many charter schools can open in North Carolina.
"They lifted the cap and didn't put in place accountability," Clarke said. "There's no local effort, no local body looking at the accountability."
Charters are publicly funded, but unlike traditional public schools, they don't have to provide food services, transportation and not all teachers have to be certified. 
The North Carolina Office of Charter Schools has a team of nine people who oversee all the charter schools statewide, including Charlotte's Sugar Creek, where enrollment has grown in the 15 years it has been open.
"Parents and students are looking for a different outlet, looking for a different way," Domina Blount, the assistant director of instruction at Sugar Creek said.
Blount added that although charters are not required to provide transportation and food services, Sugar Creek does because the administration sees it as "necessary" to the success of their students. 
Blount said parents are attracted to the options, which is why charter schools will continue to open.
Nine new charter schools are expected to open in Mecklenburg County next school year, and 19 more could open in 2015 if they are approved by the state.

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