Two million reasons to support charter public schools
Today, The Stand, the AFL-CIO union newsletter, published an article titled “21 reasons to oppose charter schools, Initiative 1240.” They are concerned that voters may pass Initiative 1240, which would lift Washington’s ban on charter schools and allow up to 40 charters. Initiative 1240 gives priority to poor and disadvantaged children, who have been ill-served by traditional one-size-fits-all urban schools.
I can think of two million reasons to support charter public schools. That’s the number of children whose parents have decided a charter school is the best educational choice for their child.
Today there are 5,600 charter schools in the 41 states that don’t ban them. Enrollment is growing at a rate of 7.5% a year. The number of students on a charter school waiting list has jumped to 600,000, enough to fill an additional two thousand schools.
As an educational reform, charter schools are successful. In the last two years, 23 states have expanded their charter school laws, created new, independent entities to authorize them, and helped charters secure more funding or better facilities. The state of Maine just became the 41st state to lift its ban on charter schools.
In 20 years, no state has regretted passing a charter school law.
Most charter school students are from minority (52 percent), at-risk (50 percent), or low-income (54 percent) families. Forty percent or more of charter schools serve student populations that are over 60 percent minority, at-risk, or low-income. Many charter schools in cities like Washington D.C., Boston and Detroit serve student populations that are 100 percent at-risk, low-income or minority.
The Economist recently reported:
“Charter schools have been successful because they offer freedom to shape the school to the pupils, rather than the other way round. Schools can change the length of the school day, fire bad teachers and spend their money as they wish. At Harvest Prep the school year is continuous, with short and relatively frequent bursts of holiday, because that keeps learning on track and kids out of trouble.”
Lifting the ban on charter schools in Washington is simply a question of fairness and equity. Parents with money can send their children to private schools or move to Mercer Island or Bellevue public schools. But parents without these advantages are forced to send their children to the local public school, even if that school persistently fails to teach students.
Naturally those who are heavily invested in the status quo oppose change. They fear they may lose their privileged position. For children, though, it’s a different story. Charter schools address inequities in the current system, and allow families trapped in failing urban schools to choose an alternative, if they want to.