Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte have ‘charter school deserts’

Raleigh, Durham and Charlotte are home to many charter schools, but a new national report says those three areas are filled with places where lower-income families don’t have access to these non-traditional public schools.

A new report from the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute says there are hundreds of “charter school deserts” in the U.S., which it defines as three or more contiguous census tracts that have poverty rates greater than 20 percent but that have no charter schools.

The report, released Thursday, found 14 charter school deserts in North Carolina, including nine in the Raleigh, Durham and Charlotte metro areas. The other five are in rural areas.

“We think there are plenty of cities that are saturated with charters, but when you can zoom in at the census track level, you can see census tracks that are pretty poor and they have no other option than their traditional school,” said Amber Northern, senior vice president for research at the Fordham Institute.

The areas with charter school deserts can be viewed by going to https://edexcellence.net/charter-school-deserts.

But the report is being met with skepticism by some North Carolina educators.

Cheryl Turner, a longtime Charlotte charter school leader and member of the North Carolina Charter Schools Advisory Board, burst out laughing when told the study had labeled large parts of Charlotte as charter school deserts.

There are 173 charter schools open in North Carolina this school year serving more than 100,000 students.

Charter schools are taxpayer-funded public schools that are exempt from some of the regulations that traditional public schools must follow. For instance, charter schools don’t have to provide bus service or school meals, don’t have to require that all their teachers be licensed and are exempt from the state’s school calendar law.

But charter school leaders say their extra freedom also comes with more risks, such as the potential of being closed by the state. Between 1997 and 2017, 60 charter schools closed in North Carolina.

Charter school operators have flocked to the state’s major metropolitan areas. More than a third of the state’s charter schools are located in Durham, Mecklenburg and Wake counties, with more on the way.

The growth has been particularly frustrating for Wake County school leaders, who say that $5.5 million of the $58.9 million increase they may ask from county commissioners this year is because of increased charter school enrollment.

School districts pass along local money to charter schools based on the number of charter students who live in their district. Wake is projecting 1,535 more charter schools students this fall, only 363 less than the number of new students projected for the district.


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