Allowing charter schools would expand access to a good public education
The school bell rings, and rows of eager young faces turn expectantly to the front of the class as the teacher begins the day’s lesson.
These students look forward to graduation day, when they hope to embark on a future made brighter by a good public education.
Sadly, for nearly half the students at some public schools, that day will never come. They will drop out instead.
Why would loving parents tolerate a school that fails to educate their children? Often it is because they have no choice. District officials make school assignments and most families can’t afford private school tuition.
Initiative 1240 would help level the playing field and promote fairness by creating a modest charter school program within public education.
The initiative would allow up to 40 public charter schools over five years within the state system of 2,345 schools, with up to eight new schools allowed each year. Priority would be given to charter schools that serve at-risk children or those attending low-performing schools.
Charter schools have existed for over 20 years, and today 41 states and the District of Columbia have charters, serving about two million children attending nearly 5,600 schools.
A further 600,000 students are on waiting lists.
Charter schools are community based, tuition-free and open to all students. They must meet academic standards and provide the same equal treatment and public safety protections as other public schools.
Charter schools allow the principal flexibility in areas such as scheduling, teacher hiring, budgeting, curriculum and community relations.
A charter school can offer longer instructional hours and be open to students on evenings and weekends, regardless of central district rules.
Charter school enrollment would be voluntary. If more families apply than spaces available, students would be chosen by lottery. Charter schools could not discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, disability or other protected category.
Like other public schools, charters could offer specialized programs for at-risk youth, foster children or students with special needs.
Several large-scale studies show charter schools perform better in educating hard-to-teach students than conventional public schools. For example, a Massachusetts study found that, “Charter Schools in Boston are making real progress in breaking the persistent connection between poverty and poor [academic] results.”
Researchers found that in New York City, charter school students scored 31 points higher in math and 23 points higher in English than similar students in nearby schools.
Researchers at RAND found that charter middle school students who went on to a charter high school were seven to 15 percentage points more likely to graduate than those who attended a conventional high school.
And students from a charter high school were eight to 10 percentage points more likely to go on to college.
Charter schools in other states are not controversial, but defenders of the status quo vigorously oppose allowing them here.
Here are responses to the most common claims made by charter school opponents:
Claim: Charter schools drain money from public schools.
Response: Charter schools are public schools; they do not take money away from public education.
Claim: Charter schools would privatize public education.
Response: Again, charter schools are public schools. Charter school teachers are public employees; they receive public funding and they operate under public supervision. For-profit groups would be barred from running a charter school.
Claim: Charter schools “cream off” the best students.
Response: Charter schools are open to all students; administrators are not permitted to discriminate among applicants. Over-subscribed admissions are decided by lottery.
Claim: Charter schools reduce public involvement in public education.
Response: Initiative 1240 would not change how school boards are elected, how conventional public schools are administered, or how elected lawmakers fund education.
Claim: Supporting charter schools is immoral.
Response: It is not immoral for families to choose a form of public education that works best for them. The parents of two million children currently attending charter schools have not made an immoral decision.
Claim: Supporting charter schools is racist.
Response: Charter school students would enjoy the same civil rights protections as children in other public schools. Discrimination in public education is illegal, period. Initiative 1240 would not change that.
Charter schools can play an important role in fulfilling the state’s paramount duty to educate all children. Allowing charter schools would expand educational opportunities, promote fairness and advance real reform.
The vast majority of public schools would be unaffected, but for many low-income and minority children, access to a charter school could prove to be their best chance at a better life.