RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - The Senate Education Committee favorably recommended House Bill 514 be moved out of committee on Wednesday. Before the committee voted on it, there was discussion between lawmakers. If House Bill 514 passes the General Assembly, it would allow four towns to open and run their own charter school district.
Originally, the towns on House Bill 514 were Matthews and Mint Hill. Lawmakers added Huntersville and Cornelius to the list Wednesday. Lawmakers also fixed part of the bill that would allow teachers who work at a town charter school to participate in the state pension plan. The bill originally had teachers becoming employees of the towns.
Lawmakers called House Bill 514 interesting and a slippery slope. Politicians were concerned the town charter schools would be exclusively for students who live in those towns, and would only open the public charter schools to other students living outside the towns as a last resort.
"This clearly is a departure - it is not from current charter school law that we've had for 22 years," Senator Rick Horner said
Bill sponsor Bill Brawley said it would be a departure from current policy, but town leaders want it. Lawmakers also said at the meeting the controversial bill would re-segregate schools.
"What this bill does, it might be unintended - but it provides a perpetuation of inequities of county with some of our city school systems with more access to tax resources," Senator Erica Smith said. "When you are looking at four of the more affluent areas in our state and looking at attendance zones - you are depriving and rolling back what has been accomplished with Brown vs. Board of Education."
Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District (CMS) representative, Charles Jeter, attended the committee meeting and tried to convince the committee to vote the bill down. He believes House Bill 514 could put other charter schools out of business. Jeter believes town charters will have a steady flow of income to support their charter schools, leaving others behind.
"All the other traditional charters get hoodwinked in this deal," CMS Government Relations Coordinator Charles Jeter said. "They are catastrophic closed - because they cannot compete financially."
Also mentioned in the committee meeting is despite the fact that majority of taxpayers who approached leaders opposing House Bill 514 - town commissioners voted to approve it anyway.
"Once this genie is out of this bottle, you will not be able to put it back in. You have heard unanswered questions and concerns," North Carolina School Boards Association Leanne Winner said.
Some committee members asked their colleagues to slow the process down and vet the bill better before allowing towns to be able to increase taxes in order to run their own charter schools.
"These cities don't know a damn thing about running charter schools," Senator Jerry Tillman said. "However, if these four cities want to screw themselves, I am going to vote for them to do that."
Despite the concerns presented at the meeting, lawmakers approved the bill to be moved to the next level. Politicians had no problem recommending it. They say this is a local issue and will help parents educate their kids. They don't see a problem with that.
"Anything that gives parents another option in getting the best education for their children is a good thing," Senator Bill Cook said.
Committee members say they are not through fighting this bill. They will continue to oppose it and let other lawmakers know their reasons why.
"I think we need to scrap this Bill 514 because it's not a good bill," Senator Joyce Waddell said. "You got double taxation. We've not thought through it - have not looked carefully at what's involved."
House Bill 514 will go to two more committees, then it's back to the Senate and House for final approval.