By Sara Riggins
North Carolina Family Policy Council
On Thursday, the North Carolina Senate voted not concur with changes made by the House of Representatives on SB 8—No Cap on Number of Charter Schools by a unanimous vote of 47-0. Citing some “bad changes” made to the measure by the House, bill sponsor Sen. Richard Stevens (R-Wake) asked his Senate colleagues to vote not to concur— thus sending the measure to a joint conference committee, where appointed House and Senate conferees will be tasked with working out differences between the two versions of the bill passed by their respective chambers.
Although the bill was originally filed as a simple, one-page measure that only proposed lifting the state’s cap of 100 charter schools, a new, more expanded version of the bill was adopted for consideration by the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee. The revamped 22-page bill proposed a comprehensive overhaul of the state’s charter school system, including a new independent commission to provide primary oversight to charters, under the umbrella authority of the State Board of Education (SBOE).
The comprehensive proposal quickly met resistance, as some opponents claimed the bill did not do enough to ensure racial and socioeconomic diversity in charter schools by not including requirements that charters provide the transportation and food services that public schools are required to offer. After passing the Senate by a vote of 33-17 amid contentious debate on February 24, the bill went under the political radar for weeks, as sponsors worked to try and gain more bipartisan support for the measure.
When the bill surfaced in the House, key concessions had been made, including a provision to limit the number of new charters to 50 per year. The bill also included new provisions, requiring that any charter schools approved after July 1, 2011 have plans to provide food service and to provide transportation for enrolled students living within three miles of the school and having an income below 185 percent of the poverty level.
Despite those concessions, the bill passed the House on a mainly party-line vote of 68-51. Now that the Senate has voted not to concur with the House version of the bill, the measure goes to a conference committee, consisting of a group of legislators from both chambers. After the conferees agree to a compromise, the conference report must be approved by a vote in both chambers.
This story was used by permission of the North Carolina Family Policy Council.