Senate approves more funds for charter schools

By Kathy Chaffin -

The N.C. Senate voted 25-19 Monday night to approve House Bill 593, which would channel more funds traditionally allocated for public schools to charter schools.

Sen. Shirley Randleman, who represents Surry, Yadkin and Stokes counties in the N.C. Senate, voted against the bill.

“I voted ‘no’ because of uncertainties in the bill and what appeared to be unanswered questions,” she said from Raleigh Tuesday. “Several House and Senate members had been working on the bill for some time, and I’m not sure if those discussions were reflective in the version which was brought before the Senate.”

The House was expected to vote on the bill as early as Tuesday afternoon.

Elkin City Schools Superintendent Dr. Randy Bledsoe, who opposed the bill, said he was pleased Randleman voted against it. “Senator Randleman has always been a supporter of our traditional public schools,” he said, “and I applaud her for her efforts in asking the local school officials and people in the community what their thoughts are on this piece of legislation.”

Merry Armstrong Lowe, director and principal at Bridges Academy, a State Road charter school which would receive more funding through the legislation, said she was pleased the bill passed the Senate. Lowe said she had heard the Senate changed some of the bill’s language, “so I don’t know how it’s going to affect us.”

House members also could opt to revise the bill before voting on it. If so, it would be returned to the Senate for review.

Lowe said Bridges Academy serves students from three area school systems. “We serve children that have unique styles and unique needs,” she said, “and we have a high poverty rate. We provide transportation and lunch, while the majority of charter schools do not.”

The legislation calls for charter schools to share in school lunch reimbursement funds previously allocated only to traditional public schools for their support of the federal school lunch program.

“Why isn’t money flowing to our students?” Lowe asked. “That’s my question. All we’re asking is for their fair share. Charter schools will not be getting money for students served by the traditional public schools, only money for students served by the charter school. Parents’ tax money should follow the student.

“We’re only taking money for the children that attend our schools. That’s how it would be distributed.”

The school’s leadership team has recommended that any extra funds allocated to Bridges Academy be used to hire afternoon tutors, pending board approval.

Lowe said she was surprised Randleman voted against the bill, but does not question the senator’s support for charter schools. “Sen. Randleman is a supporter of our school as well as its mission and has been on our campus,” she said.

Rep. Sarah Stevens, who represents all of Surry County and part of Wilkes in the House, said in a story for Monday’s Tribune that the legislation is not taking anything away from public schools. It’s important for people to understand that charter schools are also public schools, she said. “We don’t send any funds to private schools at this time.”

Contact Kathy Chaffin at 336-258-4058.

By Kathy Chaffin

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