Charter school process needs reform

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The greater a school district’s enrollment, the more money it will receive from taxpayers for operations. This principle is apparently at the heart of a battle between Brunswick County Schools and Roger Bacon Academy, which is preparing to open its second charter school in the county this summer.

The opening of charter schools means fewer students will be served by the public school system, but local school districts are still responsible for funding the charter schools.

By law, charter schools receive the per pupil allotment for each student they enroll. In Brunswick County, that allotment is about $7,600. Brunswick County sent $1.9 million to charter schools during the 2013-14 school year.

Like regular public schools, charter schools are taxpayer-funded. If a taxpayer chooses to send his child to a charter school, his dollars simply follow his child and are not taken from the public school district, says Baker Mitchell, the founder of the academy.

But while regular public schools must ensure a student attends classes according to a 185-day calendar in order to receive its enrollment-based funding, that rule does not apply to charter schools. Instead, a charter school only needs to make sure a student attends classes for a minimum of 20 days. After those 20 days are up, the student can withdraw from the school and return to regular public school or become homeschooled. Either way, the charter school gets to keep the full school year’s worth of enrollment funding.

That should not be.

Roger Bacon Academy will open South Brunswick Charter School in August to children in kindergarten through second grades and add one grade each year up to fifth.

Meanwhile, its other two schools — Charter Day School Inc. in Leland and Columbus Charter School in Whiteville — are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General.

“The basis of the alleged investigation was that Charter Day School … used improper means to encourage homeschooled and private school students to enroll during the first few days of school to increase the average daily membership,” says Brunswick County Schools Superintendent Edward Pruden.

Pruden also takes issue with the fact that Mitchell serves on his own board of directors and on the state charter board in Raleigh that approves new charters — including the one for South Brunswick Charter School, which was approved Jan. 9.

That also should not be.

Every part of North Carolina’s public school system is intended to create a well-educated population of citizens at the taxpayers’ expense.

Every person involved in that effort, then, should welcome reforms that would improve close the loopholes that create conflicts of interest and the opportunity to funnel taxpayer dollars away from students.