Charter school growth forces closure of two Granville public schools

Oxford, N.C. (WRAL) — As neighboring school districts work to build more schools to accommodate growth, Granville County Schools is closing down two campuses.

District officials blame nearby charter schools, which are pulling students – and the state funding that follows them – out of the public school system.

"It is a drain on the school system," district spokesman Stan Winborne said Thursday.

The number of students in Granville County has remained fairly stable over the past seven years, but the school district's enrollment has dropped by almost 13 percent since 2012-13 while the number of local students attending charter schools has grown almost six-fold, from 231 to 1,410.

"No one tells them they have to go there. It is 100 percent choice," said Brian Jodice, of charter school advocacy group Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.

Jodice said there are a number of reasons families make the move to charters, such as smaller class sizes, specialized studies or more calendar flexibility.

"They want just different styles of education for their children," he said. "Let's prioritize the outcome of children and families over systems and schools."

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Nearly 112,000 students attend 185 charter schools across North Carolina, including two online charters.

As students leave, Granville County Schools also loses state funding. This year, the district had to transfer more than $2.6 million to charter schools that local students are attending.

"That is funding that doesn't come to our school district, while at the same time, we still need to maintain the same number of campuses," Winborne said. "That is one of the issues we have been facing, this reduction in the overall efficiency of our district."

Falls Lake Academy in Creedmoor and Oxford Preparatory High School account for the majority of the funds the school district is sending to charter schools because they have the largest numbers of local schools. But Vance Charter School in Henderson, Voyager Academy in Durham and Franklin Academy in Wake Forest also are among the 27 charter schools that students from Granville County attend.

The loss of students and funding forced the school board to decide recently to close two of its 18 schools: Joe Toler-Oak Hill Elementary School and Mary Potter Middle School, both in Oxford.

"It was very, very difficult," Winborne said of the decision.

No decision has been made regarding the future of the two school buildings.

District officials don't want to demonize charter schools, Winborne said.

"We want to compete," he said. "We are stepping up our game. We are offering more choices, more opportunities."

For parents like Jessica Baker, the school district has shown enough for her to choose those schools and not a charter for her children.

"All the teachers are really friendly, really nice, really helpful," Baker said.