Charter Schools Advisory Board Archives - North Carolina Coalition for Charter Schools

Alex Quigley Perspective: For Charters, ‘Slow and Steady Wins the Race’

By News
Alex Quigley, a member of the Charter Schools Review Board and the executive director of Durham Charter School, has a new EdNC editorial out on the charter authorization process. Alex co-authored the article with David Griffith of the Fordham Institute. You may recall that Fordham recently released a report evaluating North Carolina’s charter authorization decisions and later charter school outcomes. Read more about that report in an earlier Coalition blog post.

Alex Quigley is the executive director of Durham Charter School and a member of the Charter Schools Review Board. Photo credit: Alex Quigley.

Here’s an excerpt from Alex’s piece:

North Carolina’s charter school movement is at a crossroads.

The recent passage of House Bill 618 gave the newly constituted Charter School Review Board (CSRB), the state’s only charter school “authorizer,” the authority to create new schools without the approval of the State Board of Education — a move that could lead to even more new schools in the years to come.

Now, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has released a study that looked at the old CSRB’s track record between 2011 (when North Carolina’s charter school cap was lifted) and 2019 (when the COVID-19 pandemic struck) in an effort to understand how the authorization process that defined the last era of charter school growth might be improved.

The evidence

As the study notes, research from other states suggests that charters tend to improve over time, and that some low-performing schools are likely to close. Consequently, it’s hard to draw firm conclusions [about] potential based on initial performance.

Fortunately, because North Carolina does an unusually good job of tracking school performance — despite the disruption associated with the pandemic — it’s possible to see how the performance of recently established charter schools has changed over time.

See our Summer 2023 Q&A with Alex.

Read the rest of the article on EdNC.

New Fordham Report on N.C. Charter Authorization and School Success

By News, Research

Do charter authorizers successfully predict which schools will flourish and which will fail? A new report from the Fordham Institute tackles that very question, evaluating North Carolina’s track record for applications filed between 2012-13 and the summer of 2017. Study authors then followed schools from one to four years, until the start of the pandemic, to see how they fared.

At the time, members of the then-Charter Schools Advisory Board (CSAB) served as frontline reviewers, making recommendations on new charter schools to the State Board of Education (SBE). SBE then voted as the sole authorizer to approve or reject recommendations.  (Now, due to 2023 legislation, the state’s Charter Schools Review Board approves or rejects new applications and renewals. The State Board of Education serves as an appellate entity.)

During the time period researchers studied, CSAB considered 179 applications, representing four cohorts of applications. CSAB recommended 53 of those applications–around 30%–and 43 opened as schools. The State Board of Education acted in line with CSAB’s recommendations for 90% of the applications.

Here’s the application table from the study:

Source: Adam Kho, Shelby Leigh Smith, and Douglas Lee Lauen, “Do Authorizer Evaluations Predict the Success of New Charter Schools?” Fordham Institute, March 2024.

To characterize the strength of an application, researchers assessed five main application domains: mission and purposes; education plan; governance and capacity; operations; and financial plan. What did they learn? Authorizers’ views were linked to several components of charter success–but there was no surefire way to predict a winner. Specifically, schools with more support from CSAB reviewers were better prepared to launch, but not to meet enrollment goals. In addition, reviewer approval was linked to stronger math performance; the quality of applicants’ education and financial plans also impacted math performance.

Here are the more detailed report findings from Fordham:

First, schools that more reviewers voted to approve were more likely to open their doors on time but no more likely to meet their enrollment targets. In other words, there is some evidence that reviewers were able to identify applicants that had their ducks in a row (though many schools that received fewer votes from reviewers also opened on time).

Second, schools that more reviewers voted to approve performed slightly better in math but not in reading. In other words, reviewers’ collective judgment also said something about how well a new school was likely to perform academically (though again, most of the variation in new schools’ performance was not explained by reviewers’ votes).

Third, ratings for specific application domains mostly weren’t predictive of new schools’ success, but the quality of a school’s education and financial plans did predict math performance. Importantly, these domain-specific ratings were based exclusively on evaluations of schools’ written applications (unlike reviewers’ final votes, which also reflected their interviews with applicants and whatever other information was at hand).

Finally, despite the predictivity of reviewers’ votes, simulations show that raising the bar for approval would have had little effect on the success rate of new schools. For example, reducing the share of applications that were approved from 30 percent to 15 percent wouldn’t have discernibly boosted approved schools’ reading or math performance, nor would increasing the number of “yes” votes required for approval.

Researchers provide three key takeaways from the study:

  • In general, CSAB was able to differentiate between stronger and weaker applications.
  • Board members’ professional judgment is at least as important as whatever appears in a school’s written application.
  • Raising the bar for approval wouldn’t significantly improve charters’ chances of success.

Finally, researchers make several recommendations for charter authorizers, moving forward:

  • First, closely evaluate applicants’ education or financial plans.
  • Next, include “multiple data sources and perspectives” in consideration.
  • Finally, hold “approved schools accountable for results.”

Read EdNC’s coverage of the study. View the full report by clicking here or below.

Fast Facts on the new Charter Schools Review Board

By News

The state’s new Charter Schools Review Board (CSRB) meets for the second time today and tomorrow in Raleigh. This summer state lawmakers created the Review Board through Session Law 2023-110 (formerly H.B. 618), giving it the authority to authorize and renew charter schools in North Carolina. The law converts the former Charter Schools Advisory Board (CSAB) to the Review Board, maintaining continuity in membership.

Previously, CSAB made recommendations to the State Board of Education on charter applications and renewals, but did not have the authority to make final decisions as a charter authorizer.

At today’s meeting, members welcomed Alex Granados as the State Superintendent’s new designee to the Review Board. Prior to his service as a special advisor at the Department of Public Instruction, Alex served as the senior reporter for EdNC, covering education in North Carolina for more than eight years.

For the 2023 year, the Review Board has set the following leadership offices and committees:

  • Chair: Bruce Friend (committee floater)
  • Vice Chair: John Eldridge

Performance Committee

Policy Committee

  • John Eldridge, Chair
  • Stephen Gay
  • Todd Godbey
  • Eric Sanchez
  • Shelly Shope (also a Coalition Board member)

At this month’s meeting, the Review Board is interviewing 2023 charter applicants and reconsidering two applicants that the State Board of Education denied in 2023. These applicants are American Leadership Academy-Monroe and Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy.

Learn more about the new Review Board’s duties and responsibilities–and the 2023 charter application process by clicking on the image below.

CSRB October 2023 Applications Presentation

Q&A with Charter Review Board Member Hilda Parlér

By News

What’s next for charter schools in North Carolina? What impact will a new law converting the Charter Schools Advisory Board (CSAB) into a Charter Schools Review Board (CSRB)—with the authority to approve and renew charter schools—have on the broader charter movement? To answer these and other questions, the Coalition’s communications director, Kristen Blair, spoke with Hilda Parlér, a longtime educator and charter leader. Hilda is serving her third appointed term as a member of CSAB, now the Charter Schools Review Board.  

 A middle school math teacher for nearly three decades, Hilda is also the founder of two public charter schools: Wake Forest Charter Academy and Wake Preparatory Academy.  She serves as the current board president for Wake Forest Charter Academy, which was named one of Raleigh’s best charter schools by the News & Observer in 2022. She is also the former board president of Wake Preparatory Academy. In addition, Hilda has served as a member of the NC ACCESS Equity Working Group. Created in 2018, the five-year NC ACCESS Program has distributed over $36 million in federal grants to charter schools, to remove enrollment barriers for educationally disadvantaged students.

 We include the full Q&A below.

You began your career in education as a middle school math teacher in both public and private schools. What led you to the charter movement? 

Hilda Parlér: It goes back 70 years to when I was a young girl, seven years old. I always wanted to start my own school because I loved numbers, loved my teachers, and loved going to school. I also used to teach my brothers and sisters when school was out. So, I practiced teaching quite a bit as a young girl!

When I retired on paper in 2013, after really seeing that many students were not getting a quality education and were falling through the cracks to no fault of their own, I researched and researched the possibility of opening a private or charter school. I decided to open a charter school because it would be tuition-free and still a public school, but non-traditional.

I started Wake Forest Charter Academy in 2014; it’s a K-8 school. The second one, Wake Preparatory Academy, a K-12 charter school, opened in 2022. They were my lifelong dream, realized with the help of many.

Hilda Parlér is a member of the Charter Schools Review Board and the founder of two public charter schools. Photo credit: Hilda Parlér.

Given your experience as a charter school founder, how would you characterize the most essential components of a new charter school?

Hilda: Oh, I have such a long list! It ties in with the board, too, as well as the school itself. The founding board members must have a clear vision and mission and be committed to follow through, so that when the school opens successfully the mission aligns with what the school is promising to provide the families and students.

Schools, especially the administrators and the board, should have a working knowledge of charter school finance, accountability, federal programs, legislative updates, local and state [policies]—all of those areas that affect the school. Teacher retention is very important. Schools must make sure that they hire quality leaders and teachers, and ensure they have consistent teacher professional development opportunities so that they can grow, and bottom line, that their students will grow academically and socially. Involve parents where appropriate.

Leveraging your charter oversight and governance background, what would you share with charter superintendents and operators about optimizing their school’s operational and academic success?  

Hilda: They must be very knowledgeable about charter school laws as well as federal, state, and local laws. They should be knowledgeable about the roles and responsibilities of the board and what they are held accountable for. The board holds the charter, and the buck stops with the board. So many times, I’ve heard some school administrators and operators say, “Our charter.” No, they have to know that the board holds the charter because the board applied for the charter. And superintendents or heads of schools must attend board meetings. Reports should be presented at the board meetings which include updates of their ADM [Average Daily Membership] by grade, the waitlist, updates on academics, special programs, teacher professional development sessions, teacher retention, student discipline cases, and any expulsions—all things about the school. And then of course, activities, assemblies, athletics, fine arts, and parent involvement.

In your view, how has the charter movement advanced educational opportunities for students, and what work still needs to be done to remove barriers for educationally disadvantaged students? 

Hilda: I think it has advanced significantly overall. Most people think charter schools are not public schools. But the state report cards and other data prove that many of the charter school students have outperformed the students in the traditional public schools. Charter schools have been able to be innovative with instruction. That has made a marked difference in student proficiency and growth, too.

More of the charter schools are beginning to implement equity plans so that they will help students who are educationally disadvantaged to be successful. Schools are beginning to see the difference between equity and equality—and that using equity plans will enhance learning for all students. If we implement equity plans, it will reduce challenges for the education of educationally disadvantaged students, and ultimately, all students.

 What are the opportunities ahead for North Carolina’s charter schools?

Hilda: Now that we have a Charter Schools Review Board, on which I sit, that can improve the process of boards to apply for charter schools. The CSRB will have the opportunity to approve—or not, of course—boards that have applied for charters. That will reduce the time that it takes for charter schools to open because there won’t be another level of approval. It will speed up the process greatly.

The Charter Schools Review Board members are affiliated with charter schools. There are founders on the board, board of directors [members], heads of schools or superintendents; some have children and grandchildren enrolled in charter schools. I think it will encourage more boards to apply for charter schools, thereby increasing the number of charter schools.

There has been a leveling off of applicants. I remember when the board applied in 2013, for Wake Forest Charter Academy, there were 79 applicants. Now, for [its upcoming meetings on] September 11-12, the state Charter Schools Review Board received 15 applications. So, that’s a huge drop. But I do believe, because we now have the Charter Schools Review Board, more boards will apply.

What are some key or ongoing challenges for the charter movement? You mentioned earlier that many people believe charter schools are not public schools. Is messaging one of the challenges?

Hilda: Well, that, number one, is on my list! There will always be people who do not know the difference, or they choose not to express the difference [between public charter schools and traditional public schools]. So, we have to find ways so that they are not misinformed. Sometimes the media can throw a monkey wrench into the situation. [It would be good] if we could ever get to that point where people realize a fact is a fact—that charter schools are public schools, but non-traditional. A lot of people think we are private, because of uniforms to an extent. No. They say we’re taking money away from the public schools. Number one: We are public. Number two: We get 37 percent less for each kid to operate. Charter schools operate with less and get more positive results.

A lot of people don’t think charter schools are held accountable. In essence, we’re held more accountable because our schools can be closed if they are low performing for a certain length of time. That does not happen in the traditional public school sector.

As you know, House Bill 618, Charter Schools Review Board, is now law. This new law converts the Charter Schools Advisory Board into the Charter Schools Review Board, with authority to grant charter approvals and renewals. Could you share your perspective on how this shift could impact the charter approval process in our state as well as the broader charter movement?

Hilda: I strongly believe it will cause more boards to apply for charters, the charter movement will stay alive, and we will have far more applications resulting in an increase of charter schools. It will speed up the process. And it takes the politics out of the process, being that the CSRB [members] are pro-charter schools, while keeping the bottom line in mind always that schools are for children.

Is there anything I didn’t ask that you’d like to share? 

Hilda: I will always do what I can to give our children the quality education they need and deserve, with equity. I remain the Voice4schoolchoice!

Charter Omnibus & Charter Review Board Bills Become Law

By Legislation, News

Lawmakers voted late yesterday afternoon to override Governor Cooper’s vetoes of six bills, including H.B. 219, Charter School Omnibus, and H.B. 618, Charter School Review Board. As a result, both bills are now law: H.B. 219 has become Session Law 2023-107 and H.B. 618 has become Session Law 2023-110.

H.B. 219/Session Law 2023-107 makes a number of changes to current law impacting charter schools. The new law allows counties to provide funds for charter school capital needs, and limits enrollment caps to low-performing charter schools, among other things. The new law takes effect for this current 2023-24 school year.

H.B. 618/Session Law 2023-110 streamlines the charter approval and renewal process by converting the Charter Schools Advisory Board into a Charter School Review Board with the authority to approve new charter schools or grant renewals. Board decisions may be appealed to the State Board of Education, and the State Board retains its rule making authority. This change is effective immediately.

The Coalition’s direct role in securing passage of charter bills

The Coalition has worked intensively this session to advocate for both of these bills, and we are very pleased they have become law. Getting any bill passed–from the initial idea to actual enactment–is no small feat, requiring tremendous effort and support from numerous stakeholders. Here’s what that looked like this time around:

  • At the Coalition’s request, member schools began providing input on legislative session priorities, beginning in September 2022–almost a year ago.
  • The Coalition Board’s Legislative Committee then began work to develop a comprehensive legislative agenda for 2023.
  • Following deliberations and conversations with member schools, the full Coalition Board approved the legislative agenda.
  • The Coalition’s communications team worked to develop strategy and messaging around legislative priorities.
  • Coalition Counsel Matthew Tilley wrote these charter bills, submitting bill text to the General Assembly’s bill writers.
  • The Coalition’s Government Relations Team (including Harry Kaplan and Dylan Reel of McGuireWoods and Lee Teague of Teague Advocacy) led intensive lobbying efforts at the General Assembly. This is tireless work, and involves walking these bills through all steps of the committee process. H.B. 219, for instance, had five revisions prior to ratification, while H.B. 618 had three revisions.
  • Coalition members and other stakeholders contacted and met with lawmakers to express support for charter bills and to share input around charter interests.
  • Lawmakers in the House sponsored these bills, while additional lawmakers in both the House and Senate voted to support these bills throughout the process.

Finally, Coalition Executive Director Lindalyn Kakadelis was involved all along the way, working with school members, the Coalition Board, the Coalition’s communications team and lobbyists, and other stakeholders.

Lawmaker support for charter bills

We are grateful to the lawmakers who supported these two bills throughout the legislative process.

Both bills received bipartisan support in the House. We want to thank Rep. Cecil Brockman and Rep. Shelly Willingham, two Democrats who joined with Republicans in supporting these bills and voting to override the Governor’s vetoes. Yesterday, 74 House members voted in support of these bills, while 27 Senate members did so.

  • See how House and Senate members voted on the veto override for H.B. 219.
  • See how House and Senate members voted on the veto override for H.B. 618.

Thank you to these legislators–and to the school leaders and charter parents who contacted legislators to express their views on these bills! Thank you also to Jamila Lindsay, a parent at Lake Norman Charter, who provided the voice recording for a Coalition video promoting H.B. 219.

Coalition statement on veto overrides for charter bills

Last night, the Coalition released a statement from Executive Director Lindalyn Kakadelis on the veto overrides for these two bills. Find the Coalition’s press release with that statement hereABC 11’s story on the veto overrides included Lindalyn’s statement about H.B. 219, as does this Carolina Journal article.

Work yet to do

The finalized version of H.B. 219 did not include the local funding provision the Coalition drafted and sought. We will continue to push for fair funding for charter schools. Our mission is to protect and promote public charter schools–and we know this is steady, ongoing work.

Response to Governor’s veto of H.B. 618, Charter Schools Review Board

By News

The Coalition on Monday released a response to Governor Cooper’s veto of H.B. 618, Charter School Review Board. We are sharing our response in full below. Access a pdf version of the press release here.

Gov. Cooper Wrong to Denounce Charter School Supervisors

Raleigh, NC – On Friday afternoon, Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill to streamline the approval process for public charter schools by creating a new Charter Schools Review Board.

In his veto message, Gov. Cooper used unnecessarily charged language to attack public charter school supervisors, calling the new board a “commission of political friends and extremists.”

We’re a bipartisan organization that has praised, endorsed, and otherwise supported both Democrats and Republicans. But when a policymaker, even the Governor, makes such a wrongheaded public statement, we feel compelled to respond.

The new board created by House Bill 618 would be appointed in the same exact manner as the body it partly replaces, the Charter Schools Advisory Board (CSAB).

CSAB is not comprised of hacks and “extremists,” as Gov. Cooper would have people believe. Taken together, CSAB’s eleven members have 295 years of combined education experience, including in managing and overseeing public charter schools.

CSAB’s chair, Bruce Friend, has been an education professional for 30 years. One member is a professor at N.C. State University with a doctorate in financial economics. Another operates one of the longest-serving charter schools in the state and has a doctorate in education. The list goes on.

It appears that Gov. Cooper’s basis for attacking the new Charter Schools Review Board is the fact that the legislature would appoint a majority of its members.

Even though Gov. Cooper appoints a majority to the State Board of Education, we have not, nor would we ever, call that body a “commission of political friends and extremists.”

The Board of Education’s chair is an engineer by training. Its vice chair is a partner at a law firm. Despite those backgrounds, we consider both to be qualified and capable members, not mere “political friends” to the Governor.

And despite past controversies involving the State Board of Education, we do not consider its members to be “extremists.”

Gov. Cooper’s statement about public charter school supervisors was off the mark. Public charter schools offer North Carolina children innovative curricula. They complement, rather than compete with, district schools.

Those who oversee public charter schools approach their work with rigor and good faith. They deserve to be treated as the professionals they are.

Contact: pat@ryanpublicrelations.com

Meet Alex Quigley, the newest member of the Charter Schools Advisory Board

By News

At its July meeting, the State Board of Education voted to approve Alex Quigley’s appointment to the Charter Schools Advisory Board (CSAB). An eight-year veteran of CSAB until 2021, Alex is also the executive director of Durham Charter School, a Teach for America alumnus, and the father of four children.

 Kristen Blair, the Coalition’s communications director, spoke with Alex as he prepares to return to CSAB. We share the full interview below, featuring Alex’s views on school transformation, the state’s charter movement, and legislation converting CSAB into a Charter School Review Board. 

You began your career in education as a teacher. Could you share more about those formative years and how your path led you to public charter schools?

Alex Quigley: I started out through Teach for America, teaching second grade in rural Mississippi. I worked in one of the lowest-performing schools in Mississippi, with a student population that was 100 percent African American and 100 percent low-income. Working in one of the poorest areas of the country was a transformative experience. I met so many amazing kids and parents who cared deeply about their child’s education but did not have the opportunity for an excellent education. That’s Teach for America’s mission: All students will have the opportunity to obtain an excellent education. I drank the Kool-Aid on that! Being in the Delta created in me the real conviction that all kids can achieve at the highest levels, and that all parents want the best for their kids.

I worked in one school with terrible leadership and another school with amazing leadership. Both had the same demographics, so I saw the impact a principal could have. I realized that was what I hoped to do long-term, instead of becoming a lawyer like my mom wanted. I’m really glad I’m not a lawyer!

After our first child was born, my wife and I moved to North Carolina to be closer to family. Teach for America asked me to run this region. I wanted to be a principal or an assistant principal, but it was hard to find a job in a traditional public school, coming from out of state. At Teach for America, I worked with school leaders and superintendents to put corps members in their schools, and I built a relationship with a charter school leader. A couple of years later, he called me as he was transitioning out and said he wanted a Teach for America alum to run Maureen Joy Charter School. I said, ‘I think I might have someone for you,’ meaning myself! The board took a chance on me.

I was inspired by charter schools, given my work in a high performing organization with clear metrics, goals, and accountability. At Teach for America, you’re responsible for getting it done; you produce results and there isn’t a lot of red tape. So, I was attracted to charter schools because I felt like I would have an opportunity to be creative and not be beholden to a school district. And Maureen Joy served a student population that was similar to students I had worked with before.

Alex Quigley is the executive director of Durham Charter School and the newest member of the Charter Schools Advisory Board. Photo credit: Alex Quigley.

Tell us more about your work with disadvantaged students and your current role leading Durham Charter, a Title I school. How have those experiences affected your ideas about what works in education?  

Alex: My ideas about what works have been most impacted by studying and replicating best practices at charter schools, primarily around the Northeast. Urban charter schools have been the most successful education reform in the last 20-plus years. The data back this up. People can say such practices are not scalable—and obviously, there are a lot of criticisms of charter schools, like they’re creaming the kids—but all of the studies run counter to those beliefs. So, I spent a lot of time visiting high performing charters, particularly in the Northeast but also in California. A number of Teach for America alumni are part of these charter schools, so I have a rich network of people I can reach out to and learn from.

Replicating those practices—along with everything that has come out of Uncommon Schools and Relay School of Education—has been absolutely instrumental. I also studied schools here in North Carolina, like Henderson CollegiateKIPP Gaston, and Sugar Creek Charter School, to figure out how to replicate their best practices.

The number one thing that school leaders can do is go to schools that are working and replicate what they’re doing. Unfortunately, I don’t think that happens very much in public education.

Why do you think that is?

Alex: One reason is an inattention to results. There are a lot of feelings in education. I don’t mean that in a bad way. A lot of it is about how people feel about schools, and a lack of attention to what a school is accomplishing in terms of outcomes and school culture.

In addition, visiting schools isn’t a traditionally accepted mode of professional development. Most professional development—conferences or training—isn’t delivered well. Good professional development can be valuable, but most of it is a waste of time. We should be in schools learning from both high performing traditional [schools] and charters. I have looked at the data spreadsheet and identified a number of traditional public schools I’d like to visit because I know they are doing amazing things for kids. To me, it’s quite simple: Let’s identify the top 10 percent of all high growth schools last year—schools that, like mine, actually performed better than before the pandemic in both growth and proficiency—and do an intensive analysis. We should have people from DPI (the Department of Public Instruction) coordinating visits for school leaders that want to learn from what’s happening on those campuses. We should invite researchers from our state’s universities to do extensive data analysis and help us codify the practices further that drove results. The solutions exist because it’s being done.

That’s one reason I’m a huge believer in charter schools.  All of the decision-making, innovation, and planning is concentrated in one school, unless it’s a network. But even those networks grew out of a school. It’s hard to make change when it isn’t at the school level. Charter schools allow the flexibility for individual schools to make change. There’s risk associated with that, of course: A bad leader can taint a charter school more than a district. But any initiative in the state is only as good as the principals on the ground. They’re the ones who decide what gets done and what doesn’t.

In 2022, Durham Charter was recognized as an ESEA School of Distinction after years as a low-performing school. What are some strategies you employed to alter the growth and performance trajectory of this school and other charter schools in which you have worked?

Alex: There are so many different pieces to it. Power to hire and fire, which is lacking—even though it’s harder to fire people now because you’re worried you can’t replace them. As a school leader, being able to make decisions about staffing is huge. It’s everything. Power to move money where it needs to go to drive academics. Power to select curriculum that will drive student achievement.

Curriculum, budget, HR/staffing: Those are the three most important things. And then you have the ability to set expectations and operations to support academics. Pivot everything in the school toward academic growth.

Shifting to charter school oversight: You’ve been appointed to CSAB again. As you prepare to reprise your role, what do you hope to accomplish for the state’s charter movement?   

Alex: Education was always important—and innovation in education has been a priority—but coming on the heels of the pandemic, that’s truer now than before. Results and outcomes for kids in America are tragic. Kids from low-income backgrounds suffered the most from the pandemic. We have to do better for them. For me, charter schools have always been a lever to move, to help low-income kids achieve higher outcomes. I’ll continue to have that be top of mind for me.

The other piece is that we have to be highly disciplined about who gets through the charter school pipeline and the selection process. I’ve always said authorization is the number one tool in terms of accountability. If we lower the bar for authorization and complain when a school isn’t good, that’s a problem. If we have a high bar for entry, we will have fewer issues for schools. It’s a lot harder to close a school than it is to not move one forward. I’ve always been an advocate for rigor in the selection process, and also because it’s a huge investment of taxpayer dollars. So, I advocate for a high bar for authorization, a high bar for renewal, and an aggressive approach to closing low performing schools that cannot over time get better.

Charter schools trade accountability for autonomy. The deal that we’re giving charter school boards and leaders is, ‘We give you autonomy. Don’t mess it up. If you do, you don’t get another chance.’

How would you characterize the opportunities ahead for North Carolina’s charter schools?

Alex: The opportunity is to continuously improve the charter sector in the state and close gaps between high performing schools and lower performing schools. Part of the process of that is closing schools that cannot make the leap. We need to ensure we have rigorous authorization processes so that only the best schools get to open.

We should work collectively with public schools and the State Board of Education to move the needle for kids in the state. There is still a disturbing lack of collaboration between charters and traditional public schools. This isn’t at the DPI level. We have a great Superintendent and I think the State Board has been excited about quality charter schools that are getting things done for kids. There is a lot of opportunity for us to learn from each other in the future and I would hope that plays out. I remain optimistic about that, and I always have been.

What do you see as key or ongoing challenges for charters?

Alex: There are a number of issues. There remains a perception problem for charter schools. People purposely lump charters together as a monolith and use broad strokes to paint the movement. It isn’t possible because charter schools in North Carolina are really diverse in how they are structured, who they serve, and how they serve those students. It’s convenient and effective for detractors to oversimplify. That’s an issue, and it’s going to continue to be a challenge.

I’m also worried about the scope of work of the Office of Charter Schools. They have too much work and not enough staff, especially with the ACCESS grant sunsetting. The additional staff for the grant is going away. That staff works very hard, but it’s difficult for them to meet all the needs as the large number of charter schools has ballooned. More and more, schools need support, training, and accountability. It’s difficult for the Office of Charter Schools to execute on all of these three priorities effectively. I believe Ashley Baquero has done a superb job taking over from David Machado—also a great leader—but the job continues to get increasingly complex. They simply need more staff.

Additionally, newly approved schools need longer to get open. We’re seeing lots of charters struggle to open and then request a delay, which then increases the number of students they need to recruit when they do open. Let’s give them an option to select a two-year planning period.

Finally, with the ACCESS grant going away, charters not connected to a CMO (charter management organization) or EMO (education management organization) will have an increasingly difficult time opening effectively. Schools need funding to start up. We need to figure out a way to get them an infusion of capital as soon as they earn approval. Once the state gives them the green light, we should do everything possible to get them to open successfully. A big part of that is about money. It’s nearly impossible to open without start-up funds if you don’t have a CMO or EMO supporting your launch. Even if the state were able to give schools a low-interest loan rather than a grant that schools would pay back over a 10-year period, it would be better than nothing.

H.B. 618, Charter School Review Board, has passed the House and Senate. That bill converts CSAB into a Charter School Review Board, with sole authority to grant charter approvals and renewals. Could you share your perspective on work ahead for the Review Board? [Note: On Friday afternoon, July 7, the Governor vetoed H.B. 618.]

Alex: I would hope that if we are a Charter School Review Board, we have power to close schools and we do that. We also need to be rigorous in who we give opportunities to have a charter. As a State Board of Education appointee, I see that part of my role is to understand the positions of the State Board and represent those as best I can, while also advocating strongly for the charter sector, as I always have.

What would you like Coalition members and other charter operators to know about you and your approach to leadership? Is there anything I didn’t ask that you’d like to share? 

Alex: I am a deep believer in school choice, and I have exercised it for my own kids. Charter schools provide school choice in a manner that can respond to communities—and demand for choices in a manner that the state retains some measure of regulation. They also provide it easily to parents who would otherwise never be able to afford a house zoned for a high performing school, private school tuition, or even homeschooling. People love to talk about equity in education. How can it ever be equitable if only middle and upper income parents have school choice? I believe school choice is the only way to liberate parents from a system made up of increasingly politicized school boards and bureaucratic school districts that make decisions from a distance about the future of their children.

On a personal level, I have four children, each of whom has had a unique educational pathway. Across our kids, they have collectively attended a traditional public school, a private school, a charter school—and all of them have been homeschooled at some time. Clearly, I have leveraged the power of school choice to meet my children’s needs. I want all parents, regardless of their race, income, native language, or immigration status to have the same power.