(The Center Square) – A bill that would help increase the number of high quality charter schools is under consideration in the N.C. Senate.

Proponents of House Bill 616 said it would make it easier for good charter charters to be replicated.

“A public charter school that would be fast-tracked for replication would be a high-quality charter school with equal to or greater student outcomes than the [local school administrative units] where the school is located and would be able to provide three years of sound financial audits," N.C. Association for Public Charter Schools President Rhonda Dillingham said.

HB 616 would allow charter school management organizations to apply for and proceed with new charter school replication, even though they have underperforming schools in their charter network.

According to the National Association of Charter Schools Authorizers, "replication is the practice of a single charter school board or management organization opening several more schools that are each based on the same school model."

Terry Stoops, director of the John Locke Foundation's Center for Effective Education, said since charter management organizations oversee multiple charter schools, it can be challenging to replicate. HB 616 would take into account the performance of the majority of schools in the network over three years instead of comparing the overall academic outcomes of the students in the local schools in the area.

Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, one of the bill's sponsors, said current policy blocks charter school replication in needy areas.

“A charter organization with all As and B' schools, but one inner-city D (school) is denied the right to replicate," Torbett said last week during House debate. “They have an incentive to close the D school so that they can replicate some of their A schools. If they have an A and a B school, they would not risk putting a replication in a needy area, which might take a number of years to catch up. We should be focusing on allowing them to replicate and let them work intensively to bring that D school up to a B or an A school.”

Rep. Susan Fisher, a former school board member, said the state should focus more on funding traditional schools instead of replicating charter schools. Fisher said she "embraces the idea of charter schools," but they should be used as models for traditional schools.

Fisher also argued that charter schools promote segregation.

"I can give you an example, locally where a charter school has worked tirelessly to integrate their school," said Fisher, D-Buncombe. "It's not happening, but so why would we want to make another charter school that makes segregation even more prominent."

The House approved HB 616, 86-30, on April 28. It was referred to the Committee On Rules and Operations of the Senate.

The bill must be approved by a full vote in both chambers of the General Assembly before being sent to Gov. Roy Cooper for consideration.

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