This article, written by Elise Franco, originally appeared in the Shelby Star.
North Carolina may soon be responsible for a portion of transportation costs for charter schools, thanks to a new proposed House bill.
House Bill 644 sets up a $2.5 million grant program that would allow eligible charter schools to apply for reimbursement of up to 65 percent of their transportation costs. The state would pick up a portion of the transportation costs where at least half the students qualify for free and reduced lunch.
Marcus Brandon, executive director of NorthCarolina CAN, an organization that supports school choice, said the money would help give low-income students better access to educational opportunities they may not have currently.
“This transportation grant is about equity of access and opportunity. We know that even excellent schools don’t work if our students can’t get there,” Brandon said. “Low-income students attend public charter schools at a 20-percent lower rate than traditional public schools, and lack of access to transportation is a major reason for this disparity.”
While it’s uncertain whether local charters Pinnacle Classical Academy, in Shelby, or Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, in Mooresboro, would qualify for the potential funding – neither operate under a free and reduced lunch program – both headmasters agree that such a bill is long overdue.
Both schools have students from Cleveland, Rutherford, Lincoln, Gaston and other surrounding counties.
“For many years now, there have been efforts to try and bring more equity to this situation,” said Thomas Jefferson Headmaster Joe Maimone. “Transportation has always been one area that charter schools have been shorted on.”
Pinnacle Headmaster Robert Brown said his school doesn’t currently offer busing. Students are either dropped off and picked up or bused in and out by one of the local YMCA branches.
“Without that discreet funding, providing transportation becomes an incredible burden for charter schools,” he said. “Especially in schools in a rural area or a big city, it would allow you to have a farther reach in terms of children who are able to attend.”