OPINION: Ending Charter Cap Can Close Achievement Gap

From Sen. Malcolm Graham, D-Mecklenburg, and Rep. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, writing in the Charlotte Observer:

We cannot continue holding our children hostage.

Thousands of students are languishing in an educational system where the achievement gap continues to create a divide between African-American students and their peers.

When will it stop?

As African-American legislators, we have heard from our communities and determined that enough is enough. Modern day segregation, in the form of the achievement gap, has placed our students into a quagmire that has led to clear signs of disparity – nearly half of North Carolina’s African-American males do not graduate from high school.

This is no longer simply a problem, but a state of emergency for our communities.

So when we say we support eliminating our state’s charter school cap, we’re not speaking as the lone African-American Democrats who have voted for this measure. We speak as elected officials who are sticking to our campaign promises of supporting public education. We speak as representatives of communities who have seen too many students drop out of school every year.

It’s been said that “one dropout is one too many,” but how devastating is it when thousands of children drop out of school across our state?

As we participated in multiple community forums, school tours and events held by Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina and other groups, we’ve heard from our constituents who demand more public charter schools.

Charter schools in North Carolina have lived up to their intended purpose – to be beacons of innovation for our traditional schools and our students. The truest test of these innovative public schools is their ability to close the achievement gap for low-income and minority students. It is now clear that many charter schools have found the solution to shrinking that gap, thus giving our children hope.

So why are we maintaining a cap on these successful school models?

We are not blind to the fragile state of our traditional public education system. As legislators, we are grappling with the problems of budget cuts and layoffs. These are challenging realities that could hurt the future of our children. However, we must not ignore the fact that charter schools, which are also public schools, have produced strong results in recent years. Because of this high performance, more than 20,000 N.C. families are on charter waiting lists.