This week's word that Carolina STEM charter school doesn't have enough students to open this year illustrates a challenge facing Charlotte-area schools and families: More choice brings more uncertainty.
The state approved 11 new charter schools to serve about 3,200 Mecklenburg and Cabarrus county students in 2014-15. A court cleared the way for the Opportunity Scholarship program to proceed, offering low-income families tax-funded scholarships to switch from public to private schools. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools countered with more magnets and other options.
This spring, families interested in a change could put their kids' names in for various schools, see where they got in and make a choice. Now, with a little less than six weeks remaining until most students go back to school, everyone's trying to figure out what those choices are.
For the folks who have spent the last four years trying to make Carolina STEM Academy a reality, that meant realizing that 170 applications translated to only 66 confirmed enrollments, according to a letter sent to families and posted on the school's website. That was 40 to 60 short of what the board believed was necessary to open, so rather than push things to the wire they called it quits for this year.
Carolina STEM was the second Charlotte-area charter school to drop out of the 2014 opening; Stewart Creek High had earlier gotten a one-year deferral because of problems getting its building ready. The question is whether it will be the last. Many are still recruiting students, working on facilities and holding information sessions. The state is monitoring readiness of the remaining schools, and could defer or revoke charters for those that don't seem to be set for a successful opening.
CMS, meanwhile, is trying to staff its schools appropriately. Last year the district underestimated charter growth and overestimated its own enrollment. This year planners project that most of the county's enrollment growth will be in charters. We can only hope that the state's PowerSchool data system works better this year, allowing everyone timely information about where students land.