CHARLOTTE – Four Mecklenburg County towns moved a step closer to having the option of opening charter schools that would be separate from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
On June 4, the North Carolina Senate passed an amended version of HB 514 that would allow Matthews, Mint Hill, Huntersville and Cornelius to begin the process of possibly starting municipal charter schools.
The bill, introduced by N.C. Rep. Bill Brawley (Rep), of Matthews, passed the House last year and was amended by the Senate during the current legislative session, passing on a 27-18 vote on June 4. Five Republicans joined all 13 Democrats in the Senate in opposing the measure.
The bill went back to the House where it passed 64-53. Since HB 514 is local legislation the bill does not need Gov. Roy Cooper’s signature to become law.
N.C. Sen. Dan Bishop (Rep), who represents Matthews, Mint Hill and south Charlotte, voted for HB 514 and said the legislation gives Matthews and Mint Hill a greater say in educating its students and that both towns have in the past made “good decisions” to meet the priorities of its citizens.
“I was talking with (Matthews) Mayor Paul Bailey before the initial vote last week and what he said stuck in my mind,” Bishop said. “We just want to get adequate seats for our kids. It’s a mechanism to facilitate that. I’ve been watching since I was a county commissioner in 2005 and citizens defeated the school bond for the reason that suburban parents were then dissatisfied with the long-standing practice of not building schools sufficient for their students. That had been going on for 10 or 15 years then and it has now been going on for another 13 years.
“The same problem has not been alleviated, it has intensified. I give credit for the towns for saying, ‘please give us a tool so that we can relieve this situation by the use of charter schools.’ It’s a tool of expanding the authority of the towns to help in that situation. I commend Rep. Brawley for the bill, and we had to change it a bit to avoid technical obstacles, and I was pleased to help support it on the Senate floor.”
CMS has lobbied against the legislation.
The district released a statement June 6 explaining that it remains committed to providing a high quality education.
“As impacts of HB 514 are evaluated and possible responses explored, the district will continue to work with leaders, families, parents, teachers, staff and students from across Charlotte-Mecklenburg to help build vibrant futures for children today and tomorrow.”
Others have expressed concerns about how the legislation will affect children of color in the city.
The Public School Forum of North Carolina said “HB 514 threatens to become our state’s education version of HB 2.”
Matthews and Mint Hill both gave their support to the measure heading into the legislative session. Matthews approved a legislative agenda that included support for HB 514 back in April on a 4-3 vote. Bailey and commissioners Chris Melton, John Urban and Kress Query voted for the legislative agenda while commissioners John Higdon, Barbara Dement and Jeff Miller opposed the resolution.
After the vote at the April 23 board of commissioners meeting, the Town of Matthews released a statement the following day.
“Should HB 514 eventually be signed into state law, it only gives the locality the right to create their own charter school – it does not mean that the Town of Matthews will take any action, let alone break away from CMS,” according to the statement. “The town board’s vote was in no way a vote to break away from CMS.”
Mint Hill Mayor Ted Biggers said the legislation gives Mint Hill the option of opening charter schools if that is a direction the town wants to pursue.
“I’m glad it got passed and it is a piece of legislation that Mint Hill and Matthews are looking forward to having in place if we need to use that,” Biggers said. “Right now, I can’t see taking any action immediately or in the near future. The town is pretty happy with the way things are going with CMS. What I see is that the towns will study the bill in depth and we will look and discuss all the consequences involved if a town decides to do its own charter school and see what the ramifications would be on the residents of the town before we would start something like that. Just because it is there doesn’t mean we are going to go out and do it.”