This week in North Carolina, we’re celebrating a major educational milestone: the 25th anniversary of the state’s charter school law. On June 21, 1996, state lawmakers enacted bipartisan legislation, HB 955, NC Session Law 1995-731, creating public charter schools.
One year later, the first North Carolina charter school opened its doors. A movement was born. Now, 126,000 students attend 200 charter schools in 65 counties, according to the latest annual charter report. In 2020-21, charter schools experienced growth at every grade level, reporting nearly 76,000 students on waitlists.
And 25 years after it began, North Carolina’s charter school movement is thriving.
Back to where it all began
To mark this anniversary, we went back to where it all began: the NC General Assembly. On Tuesday, Senate Leader Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore, Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson, Senator Mike Lee, Superintendent Catherine Truitt, and education researcher Dr. Corey DeAngelis spoke at a press conference. The NC Coalition for Charter Schools, which I lead, and the NC Association for Public Charter Schools helped organize the event. At the press conference, each of these leaders affirmed the importance of charter schools and choice. Senator Berger even released an event press release, with quotes from leaders and charter school advocates.
Senator Deanna Ballard, Senator David Craver, Senator Tom McInnis, Rep. John Bradford, and Rep. John Torbett also joined us at the press conference, along with Amy White, a State Board of Education member, and Dave Machado, Director of the Office of Charter Schools. Students, teachers, and leaders from 23 charter schools as well as representatives from charter management organizations came to the event.
Later that afternoon, in legislative sessions, lawmakers shared statements celebrating the contributions of charter schools.
All of these affirmations about charter school’s impact were so compelling. This highlight video of our anniversary celebration captures some of the comments, as well as the joy, energy, and support for North Carolina’s charter school movement.
For charters, themes of community, family, hard work, and choice
But the best messengers were the students themselves. Tim Taylor, a former charter school student, spoke at the press conference.
Now a healthcare operations leader and married father of three, Tim attended Arapahoe Charter School in Pamlico County, North Carolina. Arapahoe opened in 1997, in the first cohort of NC charter schools. Tim enrolled that year. Now, Tim’s two oldest sons attend Arapahoe Charter.
Tim’s message captured themes I hear repeatedly in charter school students’ stories. He spoke about community impact; the accountability that comes when students feel everyone cares; and a family atmosphere in charter schools that draws out students’ gifts.
“The charter school produces a very special type of student,” Tim said. Teachers and school board members “planted seeds in us when we didn’t even realize they were doing it … Some of those seeds were dedication, hard work, not giving up, choice,” he said.
A number of years ago, Tim was invited to speak at Arapahoe’s graduation. On Tuesday, he shared a question that had been posed to him by a mentor—one that he asked of the graduating class as well: “How do you define freedom in one word?”
“The answer to that is choice,” Tim said.
These are words to live by—not just for North Carolina's charter school movement, but for so many others in states across the country.
Lindalyn Kakadelis is the executive director of the North Carolina Coalition for Charter Schools.