North Carolina Alliance for Public Charter Schools, headed by outgoing NC Senator of the Mint Hill area, Eddie Goodall, today called for North Carolina to increase the cap of 100 charter schools allowed by law in the state. By increasing the cap, the state would have a better chance to obtain Race to the Top federal stimulus dollars that will be released by the Obama Administration this summer. North Carolina will celebrate its 14th year of charter schools on June 1, 2010. Read the rest of the press release after the break.

If North Carolina has any hopes of winning hundreds of millions in federal education funding, the state must now lift the cap of 100 public charter schools for phase two of the Race to the Top (RTTT) competition. As President Obama and those in his education administration have stressed — as well as increasing numbers of legislators on both sides of the aisle — public charter schools are an important tool for educators to improve student achievement and graduation rates.

The North Carolina Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NC Alliance) calls on the General Assembly to eliminate the cap on charters, moving the debate from whether or not charter schools should remain a part of the education landscape to how do we ensure that North Carolina has quality public charter schools that meet the growing needs of our students, families, and communities. Specifically, we suggest that North Carolina expand public charter schooling options by granting exceptions to any cap by allowing high-performing models to develop and open.

The NC Alliance strategies include “The Intelligent Increase Initiative” which provides for three specific measures to ensure quality growth of new public charter schools.

“I am confident that encouraging the development of high-quality public charter schools would greatly increase our state’s competitiveness to be awarded funding in the second round of Race to the Top grants,” said Michelle Godard Terrell, Communications Chair of the NC Alliance who has held former research positions at the Public School Forum and the NC Department of Public Instruction.

Eddie Goodall, President of the NC Alliance said, “We have brought forth a solution today and not just rhetoric. Our Intelligent Increase Initiative recommends environments that can produce quality educational options for parents, students, and educators. June 1, 2010 is the fourteenth birthday of the Charter School Act’s ratification and we think a befitting birthday card, signed by the Governor, would be a RTTT application that opens the door wider for North Carolina’s future, our children.”

“With our state facing a deficit in excess of a billion dollars, we can ill afford to put obstacles in the way of receiving over 400 million dollars in federal funds. By passing common sense legislation with bi-partisan support that clearly benefits the citizens of this state, it is a win-win proposition,” according to Paul J. Norcross, Chairman of the NC Alliance of Public Charter Schools and Phoenix Academy in High Point.

By lifting the cap and supporting the growth of high-performing public charter schools, we will dramatically improve North Carolina’s student achievement across diverse populations and increase high school graduation rates and our college attendance and success rates. The demand for more public charter schools in North Carolina shows no signs of letting up. We propose that our state meet this demand through bi-partisan leadership by updating the state’s 1996 public charter school legislation with intelligent increases.

Solutions to North Carolina’s Charter School Cap Liability:
The Intelligent Increase Initiative, A Proposal from the North Carolina Alliance for Public Charter Schools, May 2010

Right now, there are caps on how many charter schools are allowed in some states, no matter how well they are preparing our students. That isn’t good for our children, our economy, or our country. Of course, any expansion of charter schools must not result in the spread of mediocrity, but in the advancement of excellence. That will require states adopting both a rigorous selection and review process to ensure that a charter school’s autonomy is coupled with greater accountability …. Provided this greater accountability, I call on states to reform their charter rules, and lift caps on the number of allowable charter schools, wherever such caps are in place.
— President Barack Obama in March 29, 2009 speech to the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

As the President and those in his education administration have stressed — as well as increasing numbers of legislators on both sides of the aisle — public charter schools are an important tool for educators to use to improve student achievement and graduation rates. As North Carolina readies its second application for the federal Race to the Top program, to enhance the chances of winning 17 additional points in the charter school section as well as in other sections of the application, the state can address its charter cap liability by updating its current public charter school legislation through a series of “intelligent increases.” Our state has seen performance variation in charter schools across the state, ranging from schools that perform in the top tier of all public schools across the nation to the state’s most challenged public schools. We propose to move the debate from whether or not there should be charter schools to how do we ensure that North Carolina has quality, high-performing charter schools that meet the growing needs of our students, families, and communities.

North Carolina’s current cap of 100 charter schools is too blunt an instrument to address quality and the pent-up demand for growth. Caps do nothing to promote quality among charter schools. Instead, they prevent the creation and replication of quality schools. Some legislators in our state have proposed incrementally increasing the cap by just six schools. The North Carolina Alliance for Public Charter Schools calls for no restrictions on the development of good public charter schools. Should state legislators have an annualized cap on public charter schools, limiting growth of new start-up charter schools to a certain number each year, we suggest that North Carolina expand high-quality public charter schooling options by granting exceptions to any cap through the following three types of public charter schools:

A state university network of charter demonstration schools. Affiliated with and operated by universities, university charter schools — above and beyond the cap — could play a key role in developing great teachers and leaders and in ensuring that a charter cap expansion in North Carolina is filled by high-performing schools that operate within the bounds and support of our prestigious university system. University charter schools would be a strong strategy to encourage, model, and better ensure that what is learned in the proposed network of schools informs the process of teacher preparation, teacher development and school reform. Through coaching and professional development, the initiative would create the space and time for staff to reflect on and assess student learning; use data to inform decision-making; deepen the capacity to deliver high quality instruction; and identify and share effective tools and practices throughout the university charter schools program as well as with local school districts who choose to participate in the program’s professional development opportunities. Piloting initially in just a few universities, ultimately, a state-wide network of university charter schools would be established throughout the state, sharing best practices, tools, resources, and lessons learned in a professional community committed to ensuring that students are well-prepared for success in college, careers, and their communities

Replication of proven models. We propose no restrictions on replicating proven strong charter schools that have demonstrated achievement in the top 15 percent of similar public schools for at least three years. “Replication,” the practice of a single public charter school board or management organization opening several more schools that are each based on the same school model, is the most rapid strategy available to increase the number of new high-performing public charter schools available to North Carolina’s children and communities. Consistently high performing networks of schools such as KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) and Achievement First have shied away from growing in North Carolina due to the restrictive cap of just 100 schools. These high-performing networks of charter schools open doors for low-income families and make great achievements with traditionally underserved student populations. This type of success should be replicated, not blocked. Demonstration of a school developer’s potential for quality replication would include a well-supported growth plan and evidence of ability to transfer successful practices to a potentially different context while reproducing key cultural, organizational, and instructional characteristics. Outside management organizations (organizations that provide an education program and centralized administrative services to a network of schools) proposing to replicate schools in North Carolina would need to demonstrate clear evidence of a track record of success in existing schools and the capacity to expand. Additional legislative changes for replication schools beyond the cap adjustments may be required to possibly allow single boards to operate multiple schools under a single preexisting charter and board.

Career academies supported by community colleges, the business community and local Chambers of Commerce. A well-educated and skilled workforce is the foundation for business growth and innovation in North Carolina. Career academy schools formed across the nation nearly one-half a century ago by business and community leaders as a way to provide high-school students improved educational and career opportunities. Launching public charter career academies — in partnership with community colleges and supported by local businesses and Chambers of Commerce — could allow students to receive high school credit for graduation and technical college credit at the same time. While preparing students for college, career academies also broaden the opportunities for high school students to be ready for the workforce when they graduate. In addition to simple preparation for future occupations, some of the programs could offer paid work or an opportunity to take licensing exams upon successful completion of the coursework. Research shows that while many career academy students do continue on to a traditional college education after graduation, an even more basic benefit is that students who are dual-enrolled are more likely to complete high school. Career academies could be sponsored by partnerships with local education agencies or universities or directly by the State Board of Education. The business community would see involvement with career academies as a path to academic and technical improvement in our state and would likely offer numerous resources and partnerships to create them and sustain them.

Chartering public schools is difficult work, and as with any education school reform effort, even the best plans do not guarantee success. Each of the new public charter schools would submit to the State Board of Education an annual report detailing student achievement and individual student growth, along with evidence of conservative budgeting, active fundraising, and smart investments. These annual reports would demonstrate to the SBE and the public how the schools are preparing students to succeed in college, careers and their communities. We hope these reports would serve as models for all public schools, traditional and charter, to follow.

The pressure for more public charter schools in North Carolina shows no signs of letting up. We propose that our state leaders can meet this demand by updating the state’s 1996 public charter school legislation with these intelligent increases.