And that is why the looming push to greatly increase the number of charter schools in North Carolina is so interesting. Charter schools are run by non-profits through a charter with the state. The state requires them to hit education goals contained in that charter, but they have more leeway in how they go about that than a traditional public school.
State law currently caps the number of schools at 100, but the new GOP majority is all but certain to eliminate, or at least raise, that cap. Outright elimination was a campaign promise, re-iterated after this month's election, though some GOP legislators are interested in more incremental changes.
Charter school advocates will argue that the new schools don't have a negative effect on the old ones, because the public funding they take from a given school is offset by that student's changing schools. You don't have to spend money to educate a student if someone else is doing it, right?
Regular K-12 school officials beg to differ, and you can expect them to turn up the heat on legislators as the session begins. This is from Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Superintendent Don Martin, though it arrived to late for inclusion in this piece:
When we lose students to charter schools, it reduces some operational costs. However, it doesn't reduce a lot of infrastructure costs. For example, if 25 students leave a school we don't save a teaching position unless all of them are in the same grade, and we don't save any utilities unless we are able to close down a portion of a building.That is why fundamental shifts in money and strategy — and that's what the charter school movement is — cost more at the outset, regardless of whether they end up saving money or improving results in the long run.
So what I'll be watching when the legislative session starts Jan. 26 is whether GOP legislators maintain the political will to radically increase charter school funding at the expense — whether it's perceived, real, or somewhere in the middle — of traditional schools and their political base. It will also be interesting to see what Democratic legislators do if they feel Republicans over-extend on the issue.