Lens Readers Argue For Charter Schools

'The free market delivers much more accountability through consumer choice.'

Lens Readers Argue For Charter Schools
Students from Summit Sierra Charter School in Seattle (above) were among hundreds of students and parents who came to Olympia last month to successfully lobby state government to keep Washington charter schools open. Image: Summit Sierra Charter School.

As we reported here at Lens Friday night, Washington Governor Jay Inslee has let stand a bill approved by the legislature in the recently-concluded session to provide a funding lifeline to eight authorized charter schools that were already in operation under state law.

SB 6194 responded to a state supreme court ruling last fall that the charters couldn’t receive state general fund monies to help pay for their operations because they were not ‘common schools” overseen by an elected school board, although they are authorized by the state and overseen by their own boards. The bill found money from the state’s lottery fund.

Ten Democrats in the state House ensured the bill’s passage. Yet despite voter approval in 2012 and the bi-partisan legislative rescue of funding after the court ruling, opponents in Washington state say a real Democrat would never support public charter schools.

The sentiment has been widely expressed on social media. As well, the Seattle alternative news site The Stranger opines: Governor Turns His Back on the Democratic Party, Won’t Kill Charter Schools Bill.

We’ve seen a number of highly critical responses to Inslee’s decision, in the Facebook post on our latest charters article at Lens. Many commenters express the view that charter schools should not get any public money, especially with the state legislature having delayed until next year a major infusion of state money to regular public K-12 schools as directed in another state supreme court decision, the McCleary case.

What’s Best For Students

Yet in almost no case, do critics discuss what’s best for students. Their focus is on money, and re-directing it back to a system that in many instances is failing children. In contrast, the commenters at our Facebook post who defended charter schools, focused on children, and outcomes.

Michell Darnell: “I am curious. Why are charter schools or profit in education so voodoo? I don’t get it. Sure some may fail but so are public schools and teachers and parents will vote with their feet. I don’t see where more choice is a bad thing although mediocrity will be flushed out…If the school educates the child and offers a model that parents, teachers and students are pleased with, so what if they make a profit? Many goods and services we like are profit-driven. We need to get past the “sacred cow” idea with regard to education. We need to decentralize and revolutionize education.”

Laura Anne Line: “Great for all those kids!! Amazing how so many posting here don’t give a hoot about the kids and are ignorant of what charter schools really are and how they are funded. Innovation is desperately needed in our schools. Love that some step out and do it.”

Nick Kavadas: “I’m all for organized labor, but these people have been playing politics with our kids’ future for too long by blocking any meaningful reform. The free market delivers much more accountability through consumer choice. Parents aren’t stupid; they know which schools are good and which ones are terrible by the results they get from their students. ‘A good tree bears good fruit; a bad tree bears bad fruit.’”

Curtis Neilson: “The truth is Catholic schools and charter schools are success stories. You can throw twice the money at the public schools (and will get) the same result….Thank God charter schools survived this mayhem.”

Norma Joseph: “We have teachers telling our children to drop out of school at grade 8 and 9. We do not have an opportunity for a quality education for the children. Charter schools are an option in a remote rural location.”

Kate Gale: “IF and I say IF, our public schools were doing so well and teaching the students correctly, there would be no need for home schooling nor charter schools. Think about it. IF these students are reaching out to TRY and do their best, if it means going to a charter school to become better, then let them. At least they are doing what is right for them.”

Jason Mercier at the Washington Policy Center today takes aim at the notion that to support charter schools goes against Democratic Party values.

He points out that President Obama, the Democratic National Committee, and even the national arm of the teachers union support charter schools.

What Constitutes Public Education?

It’s time to get beyond proprietary conceptions of what constitutes public education.

Robin Lake of the Center On Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington-Bothell told us: “The question from here is will we shift gears and think of these as another type of public school. They’re all our kids.” Lake added that leaders could help set that tone of moving beyond labels by placing equal importance on charter school students.

There are public charter schools in 43 states and the District of Columbia. Washington was the 43rd state. They number some 6,700 and 15 percent have been closed for cause, showing that accountability is strong, overall. The Center for Education Reform reports charters boost achievement and can have a “ripple effect” on performance at traditional public schools due to competition.

Only 13 of the 43 states have strong charter school laws. Washington is clearly among those with a weak law, but even that is too strong for some.

The furor in Washington over a small-scale and badly needed experiment to shake up public education with competing models is far out of proportion. It seems charter school critics fear their success.

Yet success of students, particularly the many at-risk students in Washington charter schools, is exactly where the focus belongs.


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