Charlotte’s StudentFirst Academy charter school closed in 2014, the first of three Charlotte charters that collapsed within their first year after the state lifted its 100-school cap. Davie Hinshaw Observer file photo
BY ANN DOSS HELMS
April 18, 2018 01:42 PM Updated April 18, 2018 01:42 PM
At a meeting to discuss whether Matthews town officials should pursue their own charter schools Tuesday, facilitator Cyndee Patterson opened with a startling statistic: 50 percent of charter schools fail.
She didn’t cite a source, and no one questioned the number. The uncertainty of investing in an independent start-up school was one of the reasons Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board members urged town leaders to abandon that path and work together to strengthen traditional public schools.
But there’s no evidence that failure rate is accurate.
The Charlotte area has seen its share of charter school failures. After the state lifted its 100-school cap in 2011, three new Charlotte charter schools were forced to close during their first year. Three other longstanding charter schools were shuttered recently after years of struggle.
But that’s far from a 50 percent failure rate in a region that has about three dozen charter schools currently serving Mecklenburg students. Closures are relatively rare in North Carolina, which has 173 charter schools.
When asked during a break about the source of that number, Patterson — hired by Foundation for the Carolinas to facilitate talks between Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the town of Matthews — said Superintendent Clayton Wilcox provided it. Wilcox agreed, saying it was a national number he had heard somewhere.
When the Observer asked Wilcox to provide the source of that number, Wilcox said he couldn’t find anything and “might have been confused with new business starts.” About half of all business start-ups fail within five years, according to national statistics.
Charter schools are independent public schools authorized by different entities in different states. In North Carolina the state Board of Education awards and revokes charters, but in other states that role falls to universities, nonprofit groups and local school boards.
The Matthews town board agreed to decide by Thursday whether it will ask state Rep. Bill Brawley, the sponsor of the bill that would let Matthews sponsor a municipal charter school, to drop that plan. Several town commissioners said that even if the bill remains alive, they’d continue working with CMS and might delay action on opening a charter school.