It's the time of year when school districts across the country are working on budgets and considering proposals for new charter schools. In case you're not familiar, charter schools are publicly funded independent schools. They're free to attend and some have a niche—such as an arts or science focus that helps distinguish them from other public schools in the area. In full disclosure, my daughter has attended a charter school since kindergarten—one that offers a foreign language, longer school year, and more rigorous academics. In some ways, it's like a private school without the $25,000 per year tuition, which we couldn't afford.
Throughout the country, charter schools have been widely criticized. In Chicago, where proposals for seven new charter schools were approved this week, a mom told the Chicago Sun-Times, "The board will follow the mayor's orders and approve these charter schools, ignoring parents and taxpayers." Most of the critics, however, aren't parents. In fact, research from Gallup shows that about 70 percent of parents support charter schools. Often, opponents tend to be members of a local school board or employees of a school district, who feel that charter schools are robbing resources from public schools. In fact, one superintendent recently tweeted that doing away with charter schools would bring millions of additional dollars into his district's budget. Then he took a stab at charter school performance.
It's true that some charter schools underperform. The same, of course, could be said for some public schools. And there have been cases where charter schools have been a big burden on the school district, like ones that close their doors in mid-school year. So charter schools aren't without some risk. But I think it's in parents (and kids) best interest to have them around. For me, it all boils down to school choice. The more options you have, the more chances you'll have to find a school that aligns better with your child's passions (like the arts or science) or even your family's needs (half-day vs. full-day kindergarten, for instance). And a little "healthy competition" among schools in the districts encourages them to bring their A-game so education is better for all kids.
I think a middle-ground lies in a thoughtful approval process for charters. For instance, in Chicago, only seven of the 17 proposals were approved. Charter schools need to demonstrate how they would be significantly different from existing schools in the area and how they will be financially responsible. Only those that meet those requirements should be considered further. What do you think about charter schools? Tell me in the comments.