Mark Edwards, superintendent of Mooresville Graded Schools, posed a question to the state Board of Education on Wednesday: What is the state doing to ensure that charter schools reflect the demographics of the surrounding school district?
Edwards, who serves as the state board's superintendent adviser, raised the demographics question during a discussion of the pending approval of 26 new charter schools. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Heath Morrison has been asking the same question in talks with state and local leaders.
State board member Wayne McDevitt noted that while the state's charter law used to say that charters should reflect the district's demographics, it has been revised to say they "shall make an effort" to reflect the racial composition and poverty levels of the surrounding area. The real question, McDevitt said, is whether charters are truly reaching out to all types of students.
MeckEd has compiled racial breakdowns for Charlotte-area charter schools. A scan of that report shows that some suburban charters, such as Community School of Davidson, Corvian Community School and Socrates Academy, are more than 80 percent white. Meanwhile, urban charters such as Sugar Creek, KIPP, Kennedy and Crossroads are more than 90 percent black.
Neither group reflects the overall demographics of CMS, which was 42 percent black, 32 percent white and 18 percent Hispanic last year. (What's this year's breakdown? Good question. Halfway through the school year, CMS continues to insist that lingering problems with the PowerSchool data system prevents the district from reporting those tallies.)
The thing is, CMS schools follow the same pattern. Only two elementary schools, Davidson and Beverly Woods, topped 80 percent white last year. But plenty of suburban schools have strong white majorities (and low poverty levels) while even more urban schools show the opposite pattern. And test scores tend to track demographics, whether in traditional public schools or charters.
Joel Medley, director of the state Office of Charter Schools, told the state board that while charter schools don't have to provide buses or free lunches, they are required to ensure that any child who applies and gets in through the admission lottery isn't denied access for lack of transportation or parents' ability to provide lunches. Strategies can include helping parents create carpools, paying for van service for kids who need a ride and having some type of meal on hand for kids who don't bring a lunch or can't afford to buy from vendors.
As a practical matter, I've heard from parents over the years that some charters discourage disadvantaged families from applying when they emphasize the need to provide your own meals and rides.