The state House approved a bill today that would let most of the state's charter schools expand their grade levels without seeking state approval.
The bill says that state Board of Education approval isn't needed to "expand to offer one grade higher than the charter school currently offers if the charter school has operated for at least three years and has not been identified as having inadequate performance as provided in G.S. 115C - 238.29G(a1)."
That compromise language was added to House Bill 250 by a conference committee formed after the blll was rejected by the House last week.
The Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill this afternoon. Upon approval there, it would go to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature.
Currently, charter schools who want to go beyond the grade levels they were approved to offer need to get the okay of the state Board.
But some Senators, working with Arapahoe Charter School in Pamlico County after its expansion request was denied, modified the version of H250 approved by the House to add in language on grade expansion.
The version approved by the Senate Education Committee last month said charters didn't need state Board approval to:
* Expand to offer grades four and five if the charter school has previously been authorized to offer grades kindergarten through third grade.
* Expand to offer grades seven and eight if the charter school has previously been authorized to offer grade six.
* Expand to offer grades 10, 11, and 12 if the charter school has previously been authorized to offer grade nine.
The traditional public schools were not happy about that change.
But the version approved by the Senate earlier this month amended the wording to say "expand to offer one grade higher than the charter school currently offers."
The House voted not to concur with the changes last week, leading to the conference committee recommendation that included wording requiring charters to have been open for three years and not had poor performance.
The House passed the bill on a 68-47 vote.
Rep. Deb McManus, a Chatham County Democrat, said the bill would devastate rural school systems that only have one high school.
Rep. Rick Glazier, a Cumberland County Democrat, pointed to the lawsuit between the Arapahoe Charter and Pamllco County schools, which contends that expanding the charter would hurt its ability to run its high school. He said the legislature shouldn't interject itself into an ongoing legal battle as it would set a precedent for people to turn to them when they're not happy with how litigation is going.
Arapahoe Charter is a K-9 school that wants to go to K-12.
Another Democratic legislator said allowing Arapahoe to expand even only at one grade at a time would be "dismantling" the Pamlico County school system one grade at a time.
Rep. Michael Speciale, a Craven County Republican whose district includes Pamlico, said that the school districts should do a better job of focusing to meet the needs of its students.
Other Republican legislators noted how no one would be forcing children to leave the traditional public schools to go to a charter.
We'll see how the bill affects charter school expansion in Wake County.
The Senate adopted the conference committee version of House Bill 250. The bill now goes to Gov. Pat McCrory's desk.