Proposed charter school needs guidelines

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With the increase in public education choices comes a need for better guidelines in uncharted waters. Chief among these is the state’s expansion of charter schools.

The N.C. Court of Appeals underscored that point in a recent ruling on a proposed school in Cabarrus County that would have offered online classes to students statewide.

The foundation of the case is a little murky. The N.C. Board of Education didn’t address the charter’s application to open, so school supporters argued that since the state board didn’t say “no,” its silence meant “yes.”

Two courts now have ruled otherwise, so the school has not opened. But even if the courts had ruled in favor of the proposed charter, the school’s statewide online program raises questions about funding.

The Twin Counties has some experience with those issues.

The Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools system includes students on the Edgecombe County side of the city. Since the state disburses education funding to individual counties – not school systems – Edgecombe County turns over part of its share of the state’s per-pupil spending allotment each year to Nash County for the Edgecombe students taught in Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools.

The Cabarrus County proposal invites more complicated questions. If a student in, say, Nash County, signs up to take online classes at the new charter school in Cabarrus County, does Nash County then have to turn over the state money it would have spent educating that student here?

Based on Edgecombe County’s funding relationship with Nash-Rocky Mount, the answer to that would seem to be yes. But the N.C. General Assembly hasn’t spelled that out very clearly. That’s why the legislature should take advantage of the recent Court of Appeals ruling and take up the issue when it convenes for its short session in 2014.

Additionally, the legislature should set clear accountability standards for the management of online education in general, as we argued in this space earlier this week.

Charter schools and online classes present opportunities that were scarcely imagined a generation ago. If implemented properly, they may represent great potential for reaching students in new and innovative ways.

But structure must accompany innovation. The Court of Appeals ruling offers the legislature a chance to take a thoughtful approach to the proposal. It’s up to lawmakers to make that opportunity count.