Stoops said charter schools’ freedom benefits public schools.
“One of the advantages to implementing a strong system of charter schools is that they can serve as ‘laboratories of innovation’ that inform instructional practice in district schools,” he said.
For a charter school to open, it must be legally authorized. Douglas Lauen, an associate professor of public policy at UNC, said North Carolina’s authorization process is highly regulated compared to other states.
When N.C. charter schools were first created, some of the schools hoped they would serve the needs of more disadvantaged students, said Helen Ladd, a public policy professor at Duke University.
A study conducted by Ladd and two other Duke researchers showed an increasingly disproportionate number of middle-class white students attending charter schools.
Lauen said initially charter schools had disproportionately large African-American student populations.
However, the proportions of minorities have drastically changed in N.C. charter schools because of parental preferences, Ladd said.
“Some of the charter schools are better than traditional public schools, which is a strong incentive for white middle-class parents to choose the charter school option,” she said.
Jennifer Lucas, co-chairperson of the North Carolina Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said the schools offer parents a choice for their children’s education.
“When my oldest daughter was ready for kindergarten, we lived in a great neighborhood and had a great school system and I still opted for a charter school,” Lucas said. “Some people have this misconception that people choose charter schools because they live in a bad district.”
Ladd said N.C. charter schools, unlike public schools, do not offer transportation or meals.
“It sends a signal that charter school is not very open to disadvantaged students, because most disadvantaged students need public transportation to have access to their education,” she said.
The difference in poverty rates between a majority of N.C. charter schools and district schools is the biggest poverty rate disparity in the country, according to a study conducted by Nat Malkus, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Barnett Berry, founder and CEO of the Center for Teaching Quality, said charter schools are turning public education into a private commodity.
“When you compete for those dollars, the kids are the losers, and that’s not good for our society and it’s not good for our democracy,” Berry said.