Following a vote from the State Board of Education Thursday, the schools will no longer be required to adhere to state laws that provide some non-negotiable guidelines on school operations.
Of the 19 schools with the new flexibility, 10 are located in Wake County and nine are in Warren and Cabarrus counties.
Tim Simmons, spokesperson for the Wake County Public School System, said the schools look forward to implementing some changes.
“We’d like to have this kind of flexibility for lots of schools, but the state limits who can apply,” he said. “So those schools were selected, at least in part, based on the state’s criteria.”
Simmons said the schools will now be able to decide for themselves how best to budget their money.
“Traditional schools are allotted certain dollars for certain purposes,” he said. “The restart model allows you to use that money more flexibly across lines.”
The low-performing Wake County schools do not have a specific plan for how they will use their new flexibility, Simmons said, but hope to increase the skill level of their students.
“You can’t assume all of last year’s third graders are this year’s fourth graders, but you do have control over how much they learn in a year,” he said.
Lee Teague, executive director of N.C. Public Charter Schools Association, said it is important to understand the new flexibility does not mean the 19 schools will become charter schools.
“The key thing that a charter school has is independent governance, which these schools won’t have,” he said.
A law passed by the N.C. General Assembly in 2010 allowed low-performing schools to apply for this flexibility, but Teague said the 19 schools are the first to use this law. He said he didn’t know if the program has been proven to be successful, since it is relatively new in the state.
Matt Ellinwood, director of the Education and Law Project at the North Carolina Justice Center, said reforms are needed in many of the schools that applied.
“When you have low-performing schools, you often do need to change something,” he said. “You can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results.”
Ellinwood said giving low-performing schools flexibility is a good solution because it combines the resources of a public school system with the freedoms of a charter school.
“Public schools are the local agencies that are closest to the students and have the best sense of what they need,” he said.
“They really are in the best position to come up with the specifics on how the educational model ought to look.”