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News Education Senator Jim Davis on removing the charter school cap in North Carolina

Q: What is your position on S.B. 8?

“Right now that bill is in the House and they've been doing some changes to it, and quite frankly, changes for the better, to help protect some aspects of the bill. I am totally in favor of lifting the cap on charter schools. They are public schools too. But also there are some things in there that concerned a lot of LEAs, for example, there was a concern that if a benefactor left a million dollars to Mountain View Intermediate School, they'd have to share it with a charter school and visa versa.” Davis says that this is no longer the case. “No, they wouldn't have to. A PTO raising money for Nantahala School wouldn't have to share it with a charter school in the same areas. So, we're trying to clean up some things like that.”

“But the bottom line is we're trying to expand the educational opportunities for students and for parents in North Carolina, and we feel like lifting the cap on charter schools would go a long way towards that. People have to remember that a charter is a public school. They have fewer regulations to deal with, but the same basic ones, and they are held accountable. Charter schools can be shut down and regular schools cannot.”

Q: My understanding is that charter schools are held accountable to a lot few regulations than public schools, and though they may be eligible to receive portions of moneys that come in for special programs such as reduced lunches, they will not actually be required to provide those services. Is that your understanding as well?

“They should not get paid for any benefits that they are not going to provide. Again, the House bill is going to clean some of that up. Some of the LEAs have legitimate complaints dealing with those issues – transportation costs for example. We just feel like the money should follow the student and the student needs.”

Q: Art Pope has said he would like to see a day when all schools were charter schools. Do you think that is an extreme position?

“Why would that be extreme? Because charter schools would have a monopoly on the educational system in North Carolina? You and I are just having a conversation about that being extreme, and yet we don't accept the concept that not having charter schools in North Carolina, having everybody in the LEA, is not an extreme position. I think that we need to introduce competition into our educational system.”

“Forty percent of North Carolina students do not graduate. I have seen statistics that show anywhere from 62 to 73 percent of our college freshman who graduated from North Carolina schools require remedial work. Almost two thirds require remedial work, and that's just unacceptable. We have to be competitive in a global economy now, and we're just not doing it. We feel like charter schools is a way to introduce competition into the educational system and give some student and some parents a choice.

“Now, franky, I think a charter school would have a hard time making it in Franklin, because I think in spite some problems we have a pretty good school system in Macon County, one that I am very proud to have helped build capital facilities for. So they don't have anything to worry about. But why should a kid be stuck in a failing school in North Carolina.”

Q: Have you seen the annual Fund Schools First Report from the NCAE?

“No, I haven't. But they are going to have their bias, just like any other group. They want to keep things the way they are. But to keep things the way they are, it's not working.”

Q: In that report they say that North Carolina is 46th in the nation in terms of per pupil expenditures and 45th in the nation in terms of average teacher salaries.

“That's totally bogus. The fact is that doesn't include benefits. My guess is that that number does not include benefits. If that was the problem, if money could solve this problem, you know, we have some school systems in the state of North Carolina that spend a quarter of a million dollars to a get a kid through K-12. Some schools spend about $110K. The average is about $142K. So, money is not the answer to this problem.

“Holding school systems, holding teachers, holding students, and holding parents accountable is the answer to this problem. And we have to do all of it. We can't just blame the teachers, and we can't blame the school systems for all the failures. Some of it has to be at the foot of the parents and the students. But one thing that we do know is that if we give parents a choice, then they are more likely to be involved.

Q: What do you say to the argument that the system could quickly lead to more segregation in terms of economic or racial background?

“Statistics do not prove that. There are 100 charter schools in the state. Twelve of them have 99 percent-plus minorities. So that's a bogus argument. This is just an empty argument to try to thwart the effort of bringing competition into our school system. You ask the parents in Washington, D.C., where they have a waiting list years long to get students into charter schools, and they're namely minority populations. The same thing applies in Charlotte and Winston-Salem.

“It's just a bogus, empty argument to say that it's just another way to segregate people on the basis of their race or socioeconomic status or whatever. To get into a charter school is a lottery. The school should not know the race or the socioeconomic status of an applicant.”

Q: If a student does go to a charter school, whether or not it is outside the county, after 20 days the funding will follow that student. But if the student is then kicked out of the charter school and he returns to the LEA the money does not follow him back. This was a concern discussed by local officials and members of the school board at a recent joint meeting. Is this actually the situation as you understand it?

“If they stay more than 20 days, the money stays with the school. But then they can come back, and it works both ways. Whether you're an LEA public school or you're a charter school, if you stay more than 20 days, the money stays. And the reason for that is that school, whether it's a charter school or a regular one, they have to plan for space and teachers and everything else. We felt that was a reasonable amount of time and that the school system itself should be allowed the opportunity to plan for that school year. Our goal is to have the money follow the student.

“S.B. 8 has been modified some in the House, and like I said, it's been modified some for the better. Nobody on either side of this issue is going to be completely satisfied with the results. Everybody, regardless where they are, in government or in private enterprise, wants to preserve their fiefdom.

“And I am a strong believer in public schools – I'm a product of public schools, my sons were in Macon County, and my granddaughters are out at Cartoogechaye, and I would match Cartoogechaye K-4 School with anybody. So, I would never do anything to intentionally undermine the program that they've got going. I'm a strong believer in it.

“But our education system does have problems, and we need to be able to address them. What we've doing ain't working, so we've got to explore other options for these kids. They deserve better.”

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