Charter Schools 101

 

I will admit that I do not know a lot about Charter Schools and there are currently only eight charter schools operating across Washington State. With Charter Schools and Vouchers in the news both nationally and locally,  I hope you find this information of value. 

"Most Americans misunderstand charter schools," was the finding of the 2014 PDK/Gallup poll on public attitudes toward education. The survey found broad support for charters, but also revealed that 48 percent of Americans didn't know charter schools were public. Fifty-seven percent thought they charged tuition. And nearly half thought charters were allowed to teach religion.

The term "charter" refers to the decision by states to turn public education into a two-sector system. One is a traditional school district, centrally managed. The other, charter schools, are independent, not owned by a central school board. Both are public, but they're organized in very different ways. A local school district does not tell charters what kind of curriculum to use, what company to contract for supplies and they may hire and fire teachers without a contract. It also leaves the charters and their oversight committee responsible to make sure all student's needs are met including ESL and special services.

There are currently 6.900 charter schools across the U.S. They are publicly-funded, privately-run schools with the first one opening in St. Paul, Minn., in 1992. Today, they enroll about 3.1 million students in 43 states.

Fifteen percent of the nation's 6,900 charters are for-profit.  Depending on the state laws, a charter school can hire a for-profit company to manage its school. In Michigan, 80 percent are for profit, more than any other state.

Funding for Charter Schools - I had a hard time finding information on the funding of Charter Schools.  The funding appears to vary by state -  with a potential mix of local, state and federal dollars. Each state has its own laws and regulations for distributing that money to districts and individual schools. A major concern is that charter schools will take money away from the already underfunded public schools. 

Evaluating Charter Schools - In general, they're evaluated based on test scores, graduation rates, finances — the same as traditional public schools. There is a big inconsistency state-to-state in how well that's done. One of the debates is the need for better oversight of charters. Charter supporters don't want a lot of oversight.. When a charter school is not doing well, the state has to step in with most closures occurring due to financial reasons and poor management.  There are numerous incidents of charter schools closing suddenly and disrupting the student's learning. When this occurs, it requires the public schools to admit an entire school and classrooms of students mid-term.  

Charter Schools and Washington State:

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled last year that charter schools were unconstitutional in our State.  In Aprli 2016, the state’s charter schools were allowed to continue by a legislative bill that Gov. Jay Inslee allowed to become law without requiring his signature. 

Currently, eight charter schools serve 1600 students across the state.  With the opening of three more charter schools planned to open the Fall of 2017 - one in South Seattle, one in West Seattle and one in Walla Walla.   A majority of Washington State charter schools serve students of color with reduced-free breakfast and lunch programs.

#