North Carolina Legislative Building. Photo Credit: Dave Crosby, via Flickr. Licensed CC.

By Ann Doss Helms,
Originally published by The Charlotte Observer

RALEIGH, N.C. — The N.C. House approved a charter school bill 62-36 Friday after partisan debate over whether it exposes gay students to discrimination and provides appropriate disclosure of salaries paid with public money.

Republican supporters and Democratic critics agree that the bill, which passed the Senate unanimously Thursday, excludes administrators, teachers and others hired by for-profit charter management companies from public disclosure of names and pay.

Charter schools are run by nonprofit boards that get state approval to receive public money. Some of those boards contract with a management company, such as Charter Schools USA or National Heritage Academies, to run the school, while other boards run their own schools.

Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, compared the management companies to technology companies that get a contract from a school district to upgrade the computer system. In both cases, he said, the contract is public record but salaries for the private company’s employees are not.

“We heard you loud and clear: You want the charter schools held to the same standard as traditional public schools,” Lewis said. “That’s what this bill does.”

Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg, said the exemption for employees hired by management companies opens the door to inappropriate hiring and overpayment of administrators.

Cotham, a former administrator in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, said she could create a charter school and “I could hire my friends and family – maybe even some of you.”

“If even one is doing it with taxpayer money, shouldn’t that be a concern?” she said. “If the money flows, then we should know where it goes.”

Lewis and Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, said the final version of the much-revised bill, which covers several issues related to charter schools, also provides lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students the same protections afforded to other public school students under N.C. law.

But some Democrats said the bill exposes such students to discrimination because it removed language in the version approved by the House in June. That version said charter schools “shall not discriminate against any student with respect to any category protected under the United States Constitution or under federal law applicable to the states.”

Rep. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, cited the case of a Wilmington Christian school that decided not to accept taxpayer-funded Opportunity Scholarships because the school requires families to promise they won’t support or participate in “sexual immorality, including homosexuality and bisexuality.” If a publicly funded charter school were to take a similar approach, Brandon said, students wouldn’t be able to sue under state law.

“We have protection for every child except the LGBT child,” he said. “Don’t fool yourself. That stuff is not in this bill.”

Charter schools are required to accept all students, using an admission lottery if there are more applicants than spots. Lewis said that process doesn’t allow for excluding LGBT students.

“Discrimination against anyone for any reason is wrong,” Lewis said. “It’s already forbidden by state law.”

The bill will go to Gov. Pat McCrory, who said recently that he would “veto any attempt to hide the names of charter school employees from the public record.”

Cotham said she hopes he will veto this bill for that reason. McCrory’s office has not yet responded to requests for comment.


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