Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Charter schools reluctant to open in rural N.C.; online-only charters may not help, as Pa. shows

"One of the goals in erasing [North Carolina's] charter-school limit was for the schools to be able to open in rural counties. Yet more than six years after the legislature removed the cap on the number of charter schools, 40 of 100 counties still have no brick-and-mortar charter," Lynn Bonner reports for The News & Observer in Raleigh.

State leaders are promising to fix that. Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest says he's trying to bring more charters to rural areas. And Dave Machado, director of the state Office of Charter Schools, told Bonner the same thing. Both acknowledged the difficulty in luring charters to rural, high-poverty areas. Forest told Bonner that rural and poor areas are less attractive because charters would have to spend more to provide student support services. Machado told Bonner that per-pupil spending is lower in rural counties. That matters because charter schools get a share of county education funds.

Some organizations are trying to bring more charters to rural counties. "The Carolina Small Business Development Fund announced in May that it is offering up to $5 million in loans to charter and private schools that want to expand. The fund is a community development financial institution that focuses on rural businesses and those owned by women or minorities. Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina will review applicants and pass its recommendations to the lender," Bonner reports.

Some have championed online charter schools as an alternative to brick-and-mortar charters, but that approach is problematic. For one thing, rural areas often lack reliable, inexpensive internet access necessary for online schools. And too, the success rate of such ventures is questionable. "In Pennsylvania, an early adopter where more than 30,000 kids log into virtual charter schools from home most days, the graduation rate is a dismal 48 percent. Not one virtual charter school meets the state’s “passing” benchmark. And the founder of one of the state’s largest virtual schools pleaded guilty to a tax crime last year," Kimberly Hefling reports for Politico.

"The state’s 14 virtual charter schools have flourished in rural communities over the last 15 years — so much so that Pennsylvania, along with Ohio and California, now account for over half the enrollment in the nation’s full-time virtual charters, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools," Hefling reports. "But as the virtual schools have expanded, so have questions about their effectiveness. Large swaths of Pennsylvania kids leaving a brick-and-mortar school for one of the virtual charter alternatives went to one with lower math and reading performance, according to research based on the 2009-2010 school year compiled by the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s Center for Rural Pennsylvania."

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