State lawmakers will begin studying next week how to break up North Carolina school districts, potentially paving the way for splitting large school systems like Wake County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
A newly formed joint legislative study committee is charged with reporting back by May 1 on whether to recommend passing legislation to let previously merged school districts be divided. The committee, whose first meeting is Feb. 21, would also look at the best ways to break up school districts, including whether to require a referendum by voters.
The bill creating the committee passed in June largely along partisan lines with most Republicans backing the legislation and most Democrats opposed. Supporters said the state should look at what’s the most effective size for school districts while opponents said it could lead to resegregation of schools.
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The bill’s primary sponsors are Reps. Bill Brawley and John Bradford of Mecklenburg County and Rep. Chris Malone of Wake County. All three Republican legislators are on the committee with Brawley serving as co-chairman. Republicans account for nine of the 12 members.
Brawley, Bradford and Malone also represent counties where there’s been support from some suburban residents to break up their school districts.
Many transplants to North Carolina are used to individual towns running their own small school systems. In contrast, most school systems in North Carolina are county-based.
Over the years, many school systems in the state merged to try to save money and to integrate schools. The state went from 167 school districts in the 1960s to 115 now.
Wake County is the nation’s 15th largest school system and the state’s biggest school system with 160,429 students. Charlotte-Mecklenburg is the state’s second-largest district with 147,000 students.
The committee will hear presentations on topics such as the current size and structure of the state’s school districts and how single county districts compare to multi-county districts.