Publisher's note: The author of this post is Lindsay Marchello, who is an associate editor for the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.
House Bill 514
, which would allow four cities in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district to create and run their own charter schools, passed its initial vote in the Senate, 30-20.
The bill will remain on the Senate calendar for Monday, June 4, for final approval. Then it will go to the House, which must approve the amended bill.
Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, introduced the bill in 2017 because constituents in Matthews and Mint Hill wanted to be separate from Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools.
"We often speak of the need to improve education in North Carolina. A lot of us believe more parental choice in education facilitates that,"
Brawley said in a meeting of the Senate education committee
on Wednesday, May 30. "This is permissive legislation that allows towns to address the educational needs of their children if they feel the need."
H.B. 514 passed the House last year by a 78-39 margin, but didn't re-emerge until May. Since then, Cornelius and Huntersville were added to the bill and all mentions of funding removed were through an amendment.
Concerns over the bill ranged from fears of resegregation to higher tax burdens for communities. Some lawmakers said the bill is a slippery slope that could have statewide implications.
Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, said H.B. 514 is a bad bill but a marvelous way to resegregate schools. Lowe questioned what the racial makeup of the four town councils looks like. Sen. Dan Bishop, R-Mecklenburg, didn't have an immediate answer.
"The process of this bill stinks,"
Sen. Erica Smith, D- Northampton said. "This bill is problematic, it has not been vetted, and it has statewide consequences of which we should not support doing today."
The debate became heated after Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, took issue with some of the racial rhetoric around the bill. Cook asked Bishop whether he or anyone involved with the bill were racists, to which Bishop said no and that those who want the bill are looking for relief from overcrowding.
Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, asked whether Cook knows the history of schools in this country and what Brown v. Board of Education was about, but Senate leadership objected to the line of questioning, as it went beyond the scope of the bill.
"The implication that we're all a bunch of racists and all we're trying to do is something evil, that's not true and I find great offense in it,"
Cook said. "To have my integrity and and the integrity of so many others besmirched in the discussion of a bill that has four towns getting schools, it's just beyond the pale."
While a majority of the bill's critics were Democrats, a handful of Republicans have reservations.
"It totally undermines the charter school system being open to all,"
Sen. Rick Horner, R-Wilson, said. Horner pointed to a provision in the bill giving enrollment preference to families in the four towns.
Sen. Dan Barrett, R-Davie, said the bill shouldn't be rushed. Barrett and Horner voted against it.
Bishop said the bill is a moderate, modest step to solving the problem of overcrowding and long waitlists in those four cities.
"I see this bill as a shot across the bow,"
Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, said. "A shot across the bow telling CMS cannot continue to ignore the requests of those who they are purporting to serve."
Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said if the towns and cities want this, then they should be allowed to try.
"They don't know what they're getting into, and cities have no business running charter schools,"
Tillman said. "But if their city councils and citizens want this, why not give them a chance?"