What are charter schools?

Charter schools are tuition-free, public schools that operate independently from the district system. While charter school laws are a bit different from state to state, some of the key differences are that charter schools are

  • Allowed to develop their schedule, calendar, and curricula
  • Allowed to serve students from neighboring counties
  • Allowed to hire teachers for short-term contracts
  • Allowed to hire non-certified teachers
  • Not required to have transportation for the students (although many do)
  • Not required to provide meals to students (although many do)

The charter school educational model was first proposed in 1974 by professor Ray Budde at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The premise remains that by allowing teachers more autonomy over policy and curricula, a more nimble type of school would lead to discoveries of new successful practices and push education forward. The first state to adopt the charter school model was Minnesota in 1988.

The history of charter schools in North Carolina

North Carolina first enacted charter school law in 1996.

The purpose of the North Carolina charter school movement was as follows:

  1. Improve student learning;
  2. Increase learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for students who are identified as at risk of academic failure or academically gifted;
  3. Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods;
  4. Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunities to be responsible for the learning program at the school site;
  5. Provide parents and students with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system; and
  6. Hold the schools established under this part accountable for meeting measurable student achievement results, and provide the schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems.

A year after the birth of the North Carolina charter school movement, there were 27 charter schools. Charter schools in North Carolina experienced a setback that year: An amendment to the charter school laws gave local boards of education a say in new charter school proposals in their district. Still, by 2001 the state had reached its 100-charter school cap. At that point, the Charter School Advisory Board advised raising the cap by 10% each year. In 2011, the 100-school cap was removed.

In contrast with district schools, public charter schools in North Carolina and nationwide have more flexibility in their structure and curriculum. They can therefore try bolder, more innovative approaches to education. An example of that is Doral Academy, which allows middle schoolers to take on advanced coursework, even starting their high school coursework while still in middle school.

North Carolina charter schools tend to have a specific educational area of focus. Schools are focusing on gifted students, athletics, military children, virtual teaching, and more.

Even though there’s been concern about charter schools diverting funds from traditional schools, an MIT study published in 2020 stated that the real problem is the lack of proper funding of education as a whole due to state and federal policies.

A Stanford University study released in 2009 showed that charter schools perform significantly better than their traditional public school peers in reading but lower in math. This was published in a report issued by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO).

A study published by the University of Chicago in 2019 suggests that Black and economically disadvantaged students experience more achievement growth in charter schools than white and not financially disadvantaged students.

As of 2019, there were 188 charter schools in North Carolina, serving over 110,000 students (a bit over 7.3% of the total public school enrollment in the state).

(Based on data from the NC Association of Public Charter Schools.)

The unique challenges of growing a charter school in North Carolina

Two points of controversy have long existed about charter schools in North Carolina: One of them, fueled largely by a 2006 study by Robert Bifulco and Helen Ladd, which reported that charter schools underperformed compared to district schools. Charter school leaders in North Carolina countered that charter schools tend to serve at-risk students, which explains the difference in test scores. The other concern has been racial imbalance: Since over one-third of all North Carolina charter school students are Black, some critics raised concerns over a trend of resegregation. Charter school leaders dismiss that claim, again emphasizing they serve at-risk students, often in financially disadvantaged neighborhoods, and these neighborhoods have a vast Black representation.

However, the consensus is that charter schools in North Carolina tend to have smaller class sizes, fewer discipline problems, and a better all-around learning environment.

Still, with charter schools being a heated political topic, acceptance has been mixed. According to a survey conducted by Reach NC Voices in 2019, 38% of North Carolinians support charter schools, 52% oppose them, and 10% neither support nor oppose them.

Starting a school in North Carolina

In North Carolina, only the State Board of Education may authorize new charter schools. Once authorized, charter schools are given a charter that is renewable every ten years.

You can learn about the process of starting a charter school in North Carolina here.

The Office of Charter Schools has a list of questions and answers for charter school leaders here.

You’ll find the North Carolina charter schools resource page from the Charter School Center here.

Growing Your North Carolina Charter School

The Charter School Center offers a resource page for expanding a charter school in North Carolina. However, these are our key recommendations for growing your North Carolina charter school:

Organic Initiatives:
  1. Focus on academic excellence. Aside from being a point of pride, this will accomplish two practical goals: It will satisfy requirements set by authorizers and generate word-of-mouth as parents share their scholar’s successes with other parents. This will lead to organic growth.
  2. Network with local organizations, such as the local Boys-N-Girls Club, scouting organizations, gymnastics centers and other institutions focused on forming young minds and bodies.
  3. Print and distribute flyers.
  4. Have a weekly or monthly school tour (this is described in our blog post about the “Ground Game”)
  5. Have a recurring “Back to School” presentation (see our blog post about the “Ground Game”
Digital Initiatives
  1. Advertise on Google Ads and Facebook Ads
  2. Create and manage an active Facebook page for your school
  3. Design and manage an easy-to-navigate website structured for enrollment.
  4. Publish blog posts that convey your vision
  5. Engage in email marketing campaigns

Charter School Capital has a full-service, pay-for-performance solution that covers all of these digital initiatives. Rather than spending weeks perfecting the craft of digital enrollment marketing, you have the option of entrusting this function to us. With our pay-for-performance model, there’s no stress and no risk – you pay only for results.

Funding a Charter School in North Carolina

While the state funds charter schools through the local boards of education, the bureaucratic process can be sluggish and somewhat frustrating. Additionally, state funding does not account for growth since the state funds schools based on previous school-year enrollment. In the face of this, charter schools need to secure additional lines of credit.

While today our company offers enrollment marketing, facilities financing, energy efficiency, clean air solutions and more, Charter School Capital got its start as a funding partner for charter schools. We have over a decade of experience tailoring financing solutions that fit each school’s unique situation.

Give us a call today.

Give us a call today!


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Since the company’s inception in 2006, Charter School Capital has been committed to the success of charter schools. We help schools access, leverage, and sustain the resources charter schools need to thrive, allowing them to focus on what matters most – educating students. Our depth of experience working with charter school leaders and our knowledge of how to address charter school financial and operational needs have allowed us to provide over $1.8 billion in support of 600 charter schools that have educated over 1,027,000 students across the country. For more information on how we can support your charter school, contact us. We’d love to work with you!

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