(WNCT) Nearly three dozen charter schools across North Carolina have been awarded five-year grants ranging from $300,000 to $900,000 by N.C. Department of Public Instruction to attract and enroll more educationally disadvantaged students.

The State Board of Education this month approved the grants, totaling $17.4 million, under an initiative of DPI’s Office of Charter Schools called Advancing Charter Collaboration and Excellence for Student Success, or ACCESS.

The program is funded with $36.6 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education that the Office of Charter Schools was awarded during the last two years as part of the federal Expanding Opportunities Through Quality Charter Schools Program.

The funds are intended for new and existing high-quality charter schools to better meet the needs of traditionally underserved students – those who are economically disadvantaged, homeless, non-native English speakers, students with disabilities, immigrant students, migrant students or are or unaccompanied youth. 

In the initial round of funding in 2019, the Office of Charter Schools awarded nine schools with five-year grants ranging from $250,000 to $600,000.

To date, the ACCESS Program has awarded more than $20 million in subgrants to support equity in charter schools.

Schools use the funds to increase and support their enrollment of underserved students through implementing weighted lotteries and school lunch programs; buying buses and enhancing transportation options; providing professional development and training for teachers; and increasing student access to technology and resources.

The key goals of the ACCESS Program are to:

  • Award 60 competitive subgrants to increase the number of educationally disadvantaged students attending high-quality charter schools and to expand the number of high-quality charter schools available to educationally disadvantaged students.
  • Develop a cohort of 160 charter school leaders who can develop and demonstrate best practices in serving educationally disadvantaged students.
  • Broadly disseminate best practices in serving educationally disadvantaged students and foster collaboration in the charter school community and between charter schools and traditional public schools.

The competitive subgrants are available to eligible charter schools to help fund planning, implementation, expansion, and replication.

The State Board of Education and Charter Schools Advisory Board approve all granting of awards.

The funding from the federal grant also supports the ACCESS Fellowship, an immersive, yearlong professional development experience for charter school leaders intended to provide support and technical assistance to effectively develop, expand, and replicate schools focused on equity.

By the conclusion of the five-year ACCESS initiative, the fellowship will have created a community of 160 charter school leaders who have developed and demonstrated best practices in serving educationally disadvantaged students that will be shared publicly.

The second cohort of leaders will begin their fellowship experience this fall.

North Carolina currently has 200 charter schools, including seven opening for the 2020-21 school year.

Charter schools are public schools of choice that are authorized by the State Board of Education and operated by independent non-profit boards of directors.

State and local tax dollars are the primary funding sources for charter schools, which have open enrollment and cannot discriminate in admissions, associate with any religion or religious group, or charge-tuition.

They must hold a lottery for seats if the school is oversubscribed.

Charter schools operate with freedom from many of the regulations that govern district schools, but charter schools are held accountable through the state assessment and accountability system.