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State charter panel votes to stop funding for low-scoring Gastonia school

Gastonia's Ridgeview Charter School is located at Friendship Christian Church. The principal wants to find a larger, more visible location.
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Gastonia's Ridgeview Charter School is located at Friendship Christian Church.

North Carolina’s Charter Schools Review Board voted unanimously to cut off public funding for Gastonia’s Ridgeview Charter School, a high-poverty K-8 school with consistently low test scores.

Ridgeview opened in 2019. It was immediately disrupted by the pandemic, and has never scored higher than an F on school performance grades. The principal asked for more time to improve academic performance.

But members of the Charter Schools Review Board, most of whom run charter schools themselves, said Ridgeview’s reading and math scores have been so far below those for Gaston County Schools that they can’t justify continued funding.

Data presented at Monday’s meeting showed Ridgeview was 35 percentage points below the district’s average for the past two years. Some of that is likely tied to high poverty levels; economically disadvantaged students consistently log lower average scores than more advantaged peers.

However, the charter school’s students didn’t do as well as economically disadvantaged students in Gaston County Schools. In math, 9.3% of economically disadvantaged students at Ridgeview earned grade-level scores, compared with 37.7% in Gaston County Schools. In reading, proficiency for economically disadvantaged students was 16.5% at Ridgeview and 37.7% in the district.

Charter schools are run by independent nonprofit boards. Some members of the Charter Schools Review Board said Ridgeview’s board didn’t seem engaged in efforts to turn the school’s performance around. For instance, they said most board members did not appear at two meetings to discuss the Office of Charter Schools’ recommendation to cut off funding.

The vote means public funding stops at the end of this school year, although the school can appeal to the state Board of Education. It currently has about 230 students.

North Carolina has 211 charter schools. They must make the case to renew their charter every three to 10 years, based on their academic, financial and compliance history.

This year 17 schools — eight in the Charlotte region — were up for renewal. The Office of Charter Schools recommended renewing 15 of the charters.

The other school recommended for termination, Children’s Village Academy in Kinston, will be up for a vote next month as staff continue to review the school’s financial and compliance records.

Before 2020, the state gave new charter schools 10 years before their first renewal review. Now new schools get five years. Next year 38 charter schools will be up for renewal, a mix of new schools and others that are cycling back for review.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.