Matthews, Mint Hill, Huntersville, Cornelius get green light to open charter schools

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - The house passed a municipal charter school bill in the Mecklenburg County area Wednesday.

The bill, HB 514, will allow the towns of Matthews, Mint Hill, Huntersville, and Cornelius to open a charter school district. The bill passed the representatives 64-53.

Those for the bill argued that the bill was not about attacking Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, but about giving parents options.

Representative Kelly Alexander told his colleagues the bill reminded him of a time when North Carolina schools were segregated.

"Either we are doing it on purpose and that may be the intent of some folks, or we are going to do it by accident when it becomes law," Rep. Kelly Alexander said.

Representative Scott Stone took issue with Alexander's comments and accused politicians who are associating race into HB 514 as borderline questioning the integrity of those who supported House Bill 514.

Bill sponsor Representative Bill Brawley told his colleagues this bill has nothing to do with race - it's all about providing more options for parents when choosing a school for their kids. Brawley believes this will be good for the educational system in North Carolina and it's ok to be bold.

"Are we thinking of something new. Yes we are," Rep. Bill Brawley said.

Another concern was the bill would allow towns to raise taxes to support the charter schools without approval of the taxpayers.

"I just wished that we would back up and remember what we are doing and how we do it here," Representative Beth Carney said. "Not leaving people out that important debate on taxing authority."

Bill supporters say this was not about attacking Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), but about giving parents more options.

In the end,  no Democrats voted for the bill while most of the Republicans did.

CMS School Board Chair Mary McCray says she's disappointed in elected leaders passing HB 514.

The House passed the bill last year but had to revote because the Senate made changes to the bill.

Last week, CMS sent out an email to parents telling them to say no to House Bill 514.

CMS released the following statement after the bill passed Wednesday:

"Our community and state must always try to do what is best for our children and we owe it to future generations to stay focused on their needs. 

Today and every day, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools remains focused on providing high quality education for all CMS students in the community and to upholding the critical value of public education in the lives of children and families. 

HB514, legislation permitting select cities and town in North Carolina to open, fund and fill seats for charter schools, has been passed into law by both houses of the North Carolina General Assembly. 

As impacts of HB514 are evaluated and possible responses explored, the district will continue to work with leaders, families, parents, teachers, staff and students from across Charlotte-Mecklenburg to help build vibrant futures for children today and tomorrow."

There are still some issues with the bill, the current bill doesn't allow teachers who would work for the town charter schools to enroll in the state pension plan. Also Governor Roy Cooper vetoed a part of the budget that would allow towns to raise taxes in order to support the charter school district.  Supporters of the bill say those details will be worked out.

Matthews Mayor Paul Bailey released a statement just before 6 p.m.

With the passage of HB 514, we now have the right to provide another public school option for families in Matthews, should it be needed in the future. While we are fortunate to have excellent schools in Matthews, the problem is there are too few of them and CMS has indicated that new schools in our area are decades away. HB 514 will allow Matthews the option to build schools, while partnering with CMS to educate our students.

While Matthews is waiting to establish a charter school district, if other towns want to start a charter school - they have to follow the process like other charter schools.

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