Forest wants revamp to too-negative charter school report

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — State education leaders sidetracked a report describing the overall student population at North Carolina's charter schools as whiter and more affluent than student bodies at traditional public schools after Lt. Gov. Dan Forest complained it was too negative.

Forest said Thursday he wanted the State Board of Education's annual report on the status of charter schools rewritten because it lacked sufficient balance. The board was scheduled to approve the report to state lawmakers on Thursday ahead of a deadline next week specified in state law. However, school board members decided Wednesday to postpone a vote.

Forest, a supporter of the alternative form of public school, said that in the three years since his election and addition to the state school board, "it's rare that you ever hear a good word about charter schools, even though there's a lot of charters doing some great things out there."

Charter schools operate under fewer rules than other public schools, and some parents believe they offer a better academic and social experience.

Forest said a primary concern about the report was that it cited a study last year by Duke University researchers who wrote that "the charter schools in North Carolina are increasingly serving the interests of relatively able white students in racially imbalanced schools."

The report, prepared by the charter school office of the state Department of Public Instruction, said while black and white children attend charter schools and traditional public schools in similar proportions overall, individual charter schools are more racially segmented.

That could be because more charter schools are being organized in poor neighborhoods that serve heavily minority populations, a detail left out of the draft report, Forest said.

"In my mind, we need to have some qualifications on some of the statements that I believe were editorialized in there," Forest said. "We should mention the good things too."

Charter schools also consistently serve fewer low-income students, the report said, but they are exceeding targets for student and overall classroom performance set by the state school board.

State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey said he expects lawmakers will accept a delay until the report is revised.

Charter schools, created in North Carolina almost two decades ago, now number 158, enrolling nearly 78,000 students. State funding has grown from just over $16 million in 1997 to more than $366 million last year, the report said.

Enrollment in traditional public schools has stayed steady at about 1.5 million students.


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