WILLIAMSTON, N.C. (WNCT) — When it comes to charter schools, there are those who love them, hate them or simply don’t know much about them.
So 9 On Your Side took a look at Bear Grass Charter School in Martin County to get a better idea of how they work.
“A charter school in North Carolina is a public school, but it’s a public school that has some latitude,” said Charlotte Griffin, who is on the Bear Grass Charter School Board of Directors.
How charter schools function and how they are funded is not always clear.
“We are traditional in the sense that this is a public school,” said Griffin. “It’s non-traditional in the sense that people that come here choose to be here.”
Charter schools in North Carolina date back to 1996, with a limit set at 100 statewide.
Many area charter schools took off in 2011, when the limit was removed.
There are 18 licensed charter schools in eastern North Carolina.
“We have students from Martin County, Beaufort County, Washington County and Pitt County,” said Griffin.
The Bear Grass Charter School Board of Directors is similar to a board of education, but with fewer restrictions
“If you don’t carefully look at every aspect, it’s not a desire to do it,” Griffin said. “You’ve got to have all of the business aspect of it in place.”
Over the years, 9 On Your Side has covered story after story of failing charter schools throughout the area.
Griffin said money often gets in the way.
“You have to know going in what your limitations are,” Griffin said. “You have to know, ‘Will I be able to have buses to begin with? Will I be able to support a cafeteria?’ You set your school up based on what you know you will realistically be able to deliver.”
Critics say charter schools take state funds away from public schools, but Griffin argues that’s not the case.
According to the National Education Association, the state’s per-student spending is around $8,500 a year.
That money follows a student whether they attend a public or charter school.
“Here at the charter school, it’s much more personalized,’ said Bear Grass Charter School student Jenna Davenport.
As a 10th grader at the school, Davenport said the small class sizes make a difference for her.
“We can have anywhere between 12 to 20 kids in our classes,” said Davenport. “At a public school, there is anywhere between 20 to 30 kids.”
Davenport drives nearly 40 minutes one-way to attend Bear Grass Charter. When she grows up, she wants to be a dentist.
“I just realize that science is something that I am passionate about,” Davenport said.
Teacher Amy Edwards is passionate about her role at the school.
“It’s a choice to come, and it’s a choice to stay,” Edwards said. “And if they want to stay, they realize they are a part of this family. And that’s why our kids are successful.”
Edwards worked more than 20 years in a public school before switching to charter.
“I’m excited to be here,” said Edwards. “Usually here by seven and leave by five, and I don’t mind that.”
A common criticism of charter schools is they are selective in who can attend, but Griffin said that is not necessarily the case.
“Every student that is here has made an application, met a deadline and was placed into a lottery just like you would see with a certified CPA,” said Griffin.
Each charter school sets how many students they can except each year based on their allotted budget.
Students not selected in time go on a waiting list in case a spot becomes available.
“Here at Bear Grass, unlike other schools, there’s not a group that’s going to exclude you,” said Davenport. “There is a place for everybody to fit in here.”
Students and teachers said they are focused on what’s special at Bear Grass Charter.
“Everybody knows everybody,” said Davenport. “All the teachers are personable with you. They will help you. It’s just a great place to be.”
Students enrolled in charter schools still have to take the state end of course tests but how teachers prepare them for those tests can be a little different.