A House committee approved a bill expanding charter schools in a party-line vote over arguments from Democrats that a main element is unconstitutional.
The bill eliminating the 100-school cap on charters is significantly different form the bill that passed the Senate last month. House Democrats were able to add limits on growth and include provisions that would have new charters make efforts to develop transportation plans for low-income children who live within three miles and develop a food service plan for poor students.
Democrats, who said they did not want lack of transportation or food service to keep poor children from attending charters, said the new provisions were not strong enough.
"It moves in the direction of less socioeconomic diversity in our public schools," said Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat.
And Democrats continued their campaign against a provision that would set up group separate from the State Board of Education as the main decision-maker on charters. Democrats argue that the proposed N.C. Charter School Commission is unconstitutional because it gives jurisdiction over a form of public schools to a group other than the school board. The school board could override a commission decision by a two-thirds vote. "
The commission is unconstitutional on its face and thereby renders the whole process unconstitutional," said Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat.
Sen. Richard Stevens, a Cary Republican and the bill's sponsor, said he did not agree with Glazier's interpretation of the constitution.
"I don't think the constitution says what you say it says," Stevens said.
Adding up to 50 new charters a year is going to require a lot more attention than the state board can give, he said.