North Carolina’s interest in competing for funds through the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” contest has again brought the state’s charter school cap to the forefront of education policy discussion. In order to compete for funds, the contest requires states to submit plans for overhauling their education systems with specific components, one of which is easing restrictions on charter schools. North Carolina’s current charter school policy caps the number of charter schools that can be authorized at 100, and provides that no more than five charter schools may be authorized within a school district per year. Shortly after the passage of charter school legislation in 1996, charter school advocates started pushing the General Assembly to raise or remove the cap, arguing that it limits opportunities for the success of the state’s charter school movement. All attempts have thus far been unsuccessful.
Recognizing that the state’s charter school cap could put it out of the running for “Race to the Top” funds, earlier this month the governor, state superintendent, and chair of the State Board of Education wrote to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, “objecting to the emphasis on charters as the major tool for innovation” ( see newsobserver.com/news/education/story/1671514.html ). I sincerely doubt that their letters of disapproval will result in any changes in the contest’s requirements or lead to the Dept. of Education having leniency on North Carolina’s proposal. The irony of the situation is that it has been Democrats in North Carolina that have blocked all attempts to remove the cap. If North Carolina Democrats, who have controlled state government for the better part of the last 100 years, are determined to keep the cap on charter schools, they will be the reason for putting the state out of the running to receive a substantial boost in education funding from this Democratic presidential administration.
My gut feeling is that the enticement of “Race to the Top” funds could be enough to push the General Assembly to raise or remove the cap, which again is ironic since charter schools are seen largely as a conservative education reform in North Carolina. Go figure! To say the very least, the Obama Department of Education has redrawn the education reform battle lines.