Another change in North Carolina's education system came in 1996 when the General Assembly ratified Chapter 731 House Bill 955, which allowed the opening of Charter Schools in North Carolina. Charter Schools are deregulated public schools and have more freedom and flexibility than regular public schools have through magnet status or waivers. The schools have open enrollment with no discrimination, no religious associations, and no tuition. Often Charter Schools are smaller than regular schools and have a specific academic focus. The Charter Schools Advisory Committee assists the State Board of Education in providing technical assistance to chartering entities or potential applicants and overseeing the review of the educational effectiveness of charter schools. The State Board has the final decision on granting charters, but the Board is limited by law to approving no more than 100 charter schools statewide with an additional stipulation that the Board not approve more than five charter schools per local school district per year. By 2001, all 100 of the available charters had been granted, and it is expected that the General Assembly will eventually authorize additional charters.
The Excellent Schools Act
North Carolina will need approximately 8,000 additional teachers every year in the foreseeable future. This teacher shortage is due to the growing student population and teacher turnover, and it has led to an increase in the number of alternatively licensed teachers. The General Assembly ratified the Excellent Schools Act in 1997. The act was designed to increase student achievement, reduce teacher attrition, and reward teacher knowledge and skills. The act called for higher standards for entering and staying in the teaching profession, and it aimed to reduce teacher attrition through higher pay and better training. The act also directed the State Board of Education to "develop enhanced requirements for continuing certification" for teachers in the public schools, and it specified that these new requirements reflect "rigorous standards." In response to this act, the State Board of Education implemented Performance-Based Licensure, which requires that second-year teachers fulfill certain criteria before being issued a continuing license. The Performance-Based Licensure Program requires teachers to submit lesson plans, a 15-minute video of their work in the classroom, portfolio entries of their work in three areas, and reflective writings on their teaching experiences. Beginning teachers are provided paid mentors to assist them and to guide their induction into the profession. To reward these teachers for meeting the higher standards and continuing in the profession, the Excellent Schools Act provided for "significant bumps" in the teacher salary schedule after the third and fourth years.
While the Excellent Schools Act increases current base salaries, it also offers rewards and incentives for teacher performance and professional development. Teachers are encouraged to continue their personal education and to achieve a National Board Certification. North Carolina has more National Board Certified teachers than any other state. Also, as a result of the Excellent Schools Act, colleges and universities developed and implemented enhanced Masters Degree Programs. In 1999, the Department of Public Instruction began issuing an annual Institutions of Higher Education Performance Report to evaluate teacher education programs. The report includes information on the quality of students, the number of students entering the teaching force in North Carolina, and the satisfaction of program graduates and employers with the preparation program. The report also assesses programmatic initiatives to work with the public schools, to encourage individuals to enter teaching, to ensure the technological competence of prospective teachers and to serve lateral entry teachers. NC Teach, a comprehensive statewide program that includes a five-week Summer Institute, was implemented to facilitate lateral entry and to ensure that teachers from non-traditional programs are prepared for the classroom. The Board has a major role in implementing the Excellent Schools Act, which in conjunction with the ABCs program, promotes improvement in North Carolina's schools.