Limited government. Reduced regulations. Local control. Free markets. These conservative principles have long been mainstays of the N.C. Republican Party.

But they’re generally a little harder to translate into the education arena. North Carolina’s public school system is the state’s largest investment, and it’s also arguably the most heavily regulated organization. School districts must abide by scores of state laws that govern everything from salary schedules to the start date of class.

A new project sponsored by the General Assembly is changing that. Their “Renewal School System” program is testing out whether local control and limited government can offer students a better education.

In essence, it gives the local school district money and then gets out of the way.

GOP education leaders are excited about the project. Former state Rep. Craig Horn, a chief architect of North Carolina’s education legislation, said on Twitter it could “fundamentally change how we deliver education in our state.”

What is the “Renewal School System” program?

Created by House Bill 986 in the summer of 2018, the Renewal School System is intended to make children more ready for college and careers by leaning on those conservative principles.

School districts have been asking for charter-like flexibility for years. This plan basically says, here you go — let’s see what you can do.

School districts of at least 10,000 students and that met low-income designations were able to apply for the program. The Rowan-Salisbury Schools district was approved to begin in 2018-19.

What freedoms does it offer school districts?

Basically, Rowan-Salisbury Schools only has to follow a small subset of education laws during this experiment. These include accommodations for students with disabilities, food service rules, attendance policies, employment benefits and privacy laws.


  • Teachers are putting together their own curriculum not geared toward standardized tests. They can try new teaching methods that work best for their students.
  • The district gets its money in a lump sum, rather than multiple pots of money dedicated for certain things.
  • Principals can hire teachers with industry experience for special classes, regardless of their teaching license.
  • Schools can choose start and stop dates that work for them.
  • The district can set its own salary schedule, paying for performance or offering bonuses.

Will this work?

We’ll see. If things go incredibly awry, the state can immediately terminate the experiment. But there’s a major review scheduled for the end of the 2022-2023 school year. The state will be looking to see if this yields better student performance results.

If so, expect this type of plan to get expanded to more parts of North Carolina.

Cover image via Rowan-Salisbury Schools


  1. Isn’t it ironic that NC traditional public schools are eager to embrace charter school flexability and ideas yet the very same school leadership oppose charter schools coming to their area. I hope the experiment works but the drug of having control may be too much for the State Superintendent’s Association to voluntarily, without a fight, get itself off of.


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