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This story originally published online at NC Newsline.

Former Democratic lawmaker Tricia Cotham sealed her move to the Republican Party this week by co-sponsoring a bill that would remove the State Board of Education from the charter school approval process.

Under House Bill 618, that approval would be handed over to a new Charter School Review Board, whose members must be “charter school advocates in North Carolina.”

The new review board would replace the Charter School Advisory Board.

Most members of the new review board would be chosen by the General Assembly, which is currently led by state Republicans. The review board’s membership would include the State Superintendent of Public Instruction or a designee, four members appointed by the House, four by the Senate and two members appointed by the state board.

The state board’s appointments to the new panel must come from outside its own ranks.

As Newsline previously reported, HB 618 first appeared as a provision in the House budget. Jamey Falkenbury, director of government affairs for the state board and NC Department of Public Instruction, discussed it last week during the state board’s monthly meeting.

The state board would establish rules for the operation and approval of charter schools, allocate funding, hear appeals generated by review board decisions, and ensure financial and academic accountability.

A charter applicant, charter school or the state superintendent may appeal a review board decision under HB 618.

Asked why the state superintendent would appeal a review panel decision, Falkenbury offered this possible explanation: “This is me just guessing, because I had no part in drafting this legislation. I would assume, that say there is a charter group that had come before that had a lot of mismanagement of funds or did inappropriate things five or 10 years ago and then the charter school review board maybe approved them, then it would give the state superintendent an opportunity to say I don’t agree with that decision.”

The scenario Falkenbury described played out last month when the state board rejected Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy of Wake County’s application to open a charter school in 2024. The application received glowing remarks from Charter School Advisory Board members.

State board member Amy White opposed granting Heritage a charter because she had concerns about the school’s presumed executive director, Kashi Bazemore.

Bazemore had led a charter school in Bertie County that was assumed by another charter operator after state education officials found serious academic, governance and operational issues at the school.

During the state board’s March meeting, State Superintendent Catherine Truitt asked Office of Charter Director Ashley Baquero how Heritage’s application could win charter board approval given Bazemore’s troubles in Bertie County.

Baquero explained that external evaluators initially review charter school applications.

“They are evaluating solely on what’s on that application, so they may or may not know any past history; they probably have very little understanding of what has happened in the agency regarding past schools,” Baquero said. “They are solely looking at that application and what’s in it and the data that’s presented.”

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