by Bob Geary
Senate Bill 8, the Republican legislation to lift the cap on the number of charter schools and see where the dust settles, won House approval this afternoon by a 69-48 vote. A second House vote is required to pass it, and that vote is scheduled for Monday night. Then assuming the Senate concurs in the House amendments, as it will, it will be on to Gov. Bev Perdue ... and today House Minority Leader Joe Hackney predicted that Perdue will veto the legislation.
Hackney, at a press conference with fellow Democrats, ripped the bill and said Perdue wouldn't sign it. Asked if he knew that for sure, he dialed back just a bit, saying there's "a high likelihood" that she won't, and that her veto will force negotiations toward a better bill. NB: The Republican majority in the Senate of 31-19 is veto-proof (a 60 percent majority is need to override the Governor), but the 68-52 GOP minority in the House is not — it's four votes shy of a 60 percent majority. In the House, SB-8 got at least one Democratic vote, but it didn't get four — an indication that if Perdue does veto the bill, her veto would be sustained.
Originally, SB-8 simply eliminated the cap of 100 charter schools, allowing an unlimited number. But in the Senate, it metastasized into a bill that not only allowed an unlimited number of charters but gave them additional funding and set them up under a new state commission independent of the State Board of Education.
Critics (Democrats, especially African-Americans) howled that the bill would result in a resegregated school system, with a lot of charter schools in white neighborhoods and the traditional public schools left to educate an increasingly minority, increasingly poor student population. Over the long term, charter schools could destroy the whole idea of a public school system designed to serve all students equally regardless of race or income, the critics said.
House amendments followed and the bill, once a single paragraph, is now 23 pages long. The bill is improved slightly. All charter schools must have at least 50 students. (As passed by the Senate, one student was enough.) And the number of new charter schools per year is limited, if that's the right word, to 50. (So, 150 charter schools in year one, 200 in year two ...)
Still, House Democrats like Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, and the Legislative Black Caucus continue to think that SB-8 will resegregate the school system. The LBC issued a statement today — it's copied below.
Republicans, meanwhile, maintain that a lot of charter schools will simply mean more good choices for every student, including poor kids.
The history of the first 100 charters supports the resegregation idea. Most of the existing charters are either predominantly white or predominantly black and Hispanic, as we reported early in this debate. Charter schools don't have to provide transportation to students, so naturally the ones in upscale neighborhoods tend to have upscale kids, and vice versa for the ones in poor neighborhoods.
As amended in the House, SB-8 does require new charter schools to provide transportation to students [edited to add: who live within three miles of the school and ...] whose family income is 185% of the federal poverty rate or less. How likely it is that such kids will apply to (or even know about) a distant charter school in a predominantly white neighborhood is a big question mark, however.
House Democrats offered a series of proposals aimed, Glazier said, at encouraging charters to set up shop near low-income populations, not out in the 'burbs. The Republican leadership, specifically House Majority Leader Paul Stam and Sen. Richard Stevens, SB-8's chief sponsor, rejected most of them, Glazier said.
Stam and Stevens both represent Wake County districts in the Southwest — the Republican — part of Wake.
From the Legislative Black Caucus:
Raleigh, NC — The North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus (NCLBC) today announced their opposition to Senate Bill 8, No Cap on Charter Schools. While the caucus supports lifting the cap on the number of charter schools, the bill as written neglects the needs of minority students across North Carolina.
As written, Senate Bill 8 does not require transportation for economically disadvantaged students, nor does it require charter schools to provide nutritionally sound food for students who qualify for free or reduced price school lunches. The bill creates a separate governing board for charter schools, and would take away much-needed funds from public schools at a time when public schools are already facing the prospect of massive budget cuts.
“I have no problem with lifting the cap on the number of charter schools, but we should also make sure charter schools are operating in a way that benefits all students,” NCLBC Chair Sen. Floyd McKissick said.
“As currently written, Senate Bill 8 would create a separate system of public education for the haves and another for those who can’t access charter schools. We need to ensure that new charter schools are held to standards of quality and accountability like every other public school in North Carolina, and that disadvantaged students can have the opportunity to attend charter schools.”
Rep. Earline Parmon (D-Forsyth), founder of the state’s first charter school geared toward African American students, said “The whole idea behind the charter school movement is to create a learning environment where innovative educational techniques can be more freely applied to students who aren’t excelling in a more traditional environment — not a publicly funded private school. Sadly, Senate Bill 8 would ignore the students that charter schools can most benefit.”
“We all believe in the same dream: quality public schools that serve all students. But the charter school bill is a nightmare for poor and minority students in North Carolina,” said Rep. Michaux (D-Durham). “Senate Bill 8 divides public education along racial and socio-economic lines, and would leave many kids behind. We need a responsible charter schools bill that lifts the cap, but also ensures the needs of poor and minority students are being served.”
The NC Legislative Black Caucus is a unified group of African-American legislators in the General Assembly who promote the well-being and interest of the African-American community.