A huge blow struck the charter school system in Washington this past week. A Washington supreme court ruled that charter schools are unconstitutional . This comes pretty close after a decision in North Carolina in which their Supreme Court ruled that vouchers for students to attend charter schools are constitutional (Hyper link) . In addition to these cases, a Baltimore charter school is suing the Baltimore school system claiming that the funding system is unfair to them and they deserve more money.
Charter schools have been the source of numerous debates between teachers, parents, legislatures, and educational reformers. These court cases cause doubts about the future of charter schools.
Charter schools are public schools that receive tax dollars to operate and service a small population of students. Public schools must accept every student that applies and lives within the required boundaries. Charter schools only accept students until they are at capacity. Some charter schools are in high demand and have lotteries to get admission. This can be seen in the documentary, Waiting for Superman. Charters schools were meant to give parents a choice and to cause competition to improve public schools.
Parents have plenty of choices in their child’s education. They may choose a public school in their district. They may also choose a magnet school which is a public school which draws in students that live anywhere in the district. Many public schools also offer open enrollment so parents may choose a school that is outside of their living boundaries. Besides public schools, parents may also choose to home school their child or to send their child to a private school. Because of all of these choices, the argument for charter schools offering choices to parents is pretty weak.
As far as competition, there has been no proof that shows that charter schools are improving public schools or that charter schools out perform public schools. In their book, 50 Myths and Lies that Threaten America’s Publics Schools, authors David Berliner and Gene Glass stated that 80% percent of charter schools performed the same as or worse than public schools. In our capitalistic society, competition has proven good for the market. It keeps prices down and increases customer service in competing stores. The difference with competition between competing stores is that each business funds itself. FedEx is not offering money to the United Parcel Service to keep their trucks gassed and the United State Postal Service is not giving stamps to FedEx. Why are taxpayers funding two competing school systems? If one is broken, invest in it and fix it.
If charter schools want to operate, there needs to be a shift in the funding. One of the major points in the Washington ruling is that charter schools operate under boards who have not been elected by voters and therefore do not have any financial transparency or accountability to voters. Public schools operate under school boards voted on by eligible voters and public schools keep strict financial records which are a matter of public records. Resources and materials purchased by public schools are owned by the school district. Schools are not allowed to profit from things purchased by tax payers. In a recent blog, Diane Ravitch wrote about a ruling in Ohio in which the Supreme Court ruled that all materials purchased for a charter school belong to the owner of the charter. Even though it is a failing school and the materials were purchased with taxpayer money, the owner may sell the resources if the school fails and pocket the profits. Sound fair? These are most likely items the nearest public school is in desperate need of.
There is a limited amount of money available to public schools. It makes no sense that charter schools are able to take a slice of these funds. It means there is even less money to help our students achieve in school. As the number of charter schools increase, there are more and more sources draining the funds from public schools. The Center for Education Reform said 1,200 students were still attending charter schools in Washington this week awaiting an appeal in the Courts. I would bet that the number of students who attend public schools in Washington is far greater than 1,200. Wouldn’t a better use of tax payer money be spent on the majority? In the case of the Baltimore charter schools, they are asking for even more money. Why do these charter schools deserve more money?
Authors Berliner and Glass stated that, “Charter schools may not be the solution to our public school problems and in many ways, the increased funding for new and new types of charter schools, especially those with unproven records of success, may exacerbate problems with our public schools.” Until these funding issues are addressed, our students will continually have to do with less as charter schools take more.
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