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NC Faith Leaders Launch Dialogue on Value of Public Schools

Students and staff of Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy, a charter school in Windsor. The school closed its doors in 2016. (Kashi Bazemore)
Students and staff of Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy, a charter school in Windsor. The school closed its doors in 2016. (Kashi Bazemore)
October 2, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. – A faith group hopes to get people talking about the importance of public schools, as some counties continue to see a rise in charter-school openings and drop in public-school enrollment.

The North Carolina Council of Churches is launching a series of public discussions across the state.

Allison Mahaley, who chairs the council's education committee, said she hopes public dialogue will reinvigorate the debate for public schools and get local communities thinking about what it means for every child to have fair shot at a good education.

"We believe we can bring the community back together around fully resourcing public schools," she said, "so that if people still opt for a private school or a charter school or something else, they can see that their advocacy for public schools is good for the common good."

Mahaley said the council plans to host dialogue trainings in rural school districts in the eastern and western parts of the state.

Proponents of charter schools have said they increase options for parents who want the best for their children, but educator Dr. Kashi Bazemore said "shopping around" for schools doesn't circumvent long-standing social inequities. Bazemore grew up in Bertie County and returned home to open Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy, a charter school, in 2014.

"I was once a very strong supporter of school choice," she said. "What we're seeing in North Carolina is a pattern of closures for minority-founded charter schools."

Heritage served primarily African-American students living in rural communities. Two years ago, the state Board of Education voted to close the school, citing poor academic performance. It closed in 2018.

Bazemore said she believes Heritage was unfairly targeted, and called the experience of running a charter school "eye-opening."

"I've come full circle," she said, "and what I believe is that we have to invest in our traditional public schools, first and foremost; that we've got to do better by teachers."

Nationwide, charter-school enrollment has jumped. Between 2000 and 2015, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of public school students who attended charter schools swelled from 1% to 6%, and the number of charter schools increased from nearly 2,000 to more than 6,000.

Disclosure: North Carolina Council of Churches contributes to our fund for reporting on Environment, Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Immigrant Issues, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC