The debate about charter Schools vs. public Schools is one that continues to heat up. Many critics say that charter schools focus on making sure that students have all the tools they need to operate at a high academic level and that they take up the slack that some public schools leave behind. Sounds great but as charter schools continue to grow, one must ask where does this leave public schools and more importantly their students?
The National Center for Business Statistics defines a charter school as a publicly funded school that is typically governed by a group or organization under a legislative contract (or charter) with the state or jurisdiction. Charter schools are free to attend. A public school is a free institution that is open to anyone and is funded and completely controlled by the government. Even though the government funds charter schools, unlike traditional public schools, they are considered exempt from certain local rules and regulations.
A charter school is tasked with meeting certain guidelines or standards, which are outlined in its charter. In turn charter schools retain a lot of flexibility and control over how the school is run. Their charters are reviewed periodically, usually around every 3 to 5 years to ensure that they are following their set guidelines and meeting their agreed upon standards. The group or jurisdiction that originally granted the charter handles the review, and they have the authority to revoke the charter and close the school if the criteria are not being met.
Since the inception of the first charter school in 1992, Law and Legislation concerning charter schools has currently been passed in 42 states, and the District of Columbia and the number of charter schools continues to grow. Charter schools are in a league of their own. Unlike public schools, charter schools vary vastly not only in their design but also in their results. Each charter school operates around their own set guidelines and performance goals.
Educators and policy makers designed charter schools with the student in mind. With the criticism around the nation’s public schools, charter schools were developed to improve the pubic school system and offer parent’s better options when it came to their child’s educational well-being. More importantly it was a way to hold the educational system specifically public schools more accountable for student learning and achievement.
Charter schools were to be teacher-run schools that operated without the ugly eye and bias of outside bureaucracy and politically led city boards. They were supposed to make sure that no child was left behind and that even those students from poor backgrounds or failing school districts had a chance to receive a quality free education. Charter schools are also not based on proximity to the school that is the case with most public schools. Parents ultimately can choose the charter school they want their child to attend. It sounds like a win-win situation. Sending kids to school for free, making sure they follow high academic standards and preparing them for the next level.
The big question is with the growing popularity of charter schools where does that leave public schools. Numbers have shown that students are leaving public schools to attend charter schools for various reasons. Some parents are transferring their kids out of failing schools, and others are looking for a more private school setting including smaller class sizes without the premium price. Charter schools get government funding on a per student basis, so the more students they have, the more money they get. This ultimately means that less money is going to public schools while charter schools are increasing their government dollars.
The additional money that charter schools receive for increased enrollment is generally at the expense of nearby public schools. While public schools continue to struggle with a limited budget as well as continuous budget cuts, some charter school thanks to private funds have a seemingly unlimited budget. Also, the number of public school teachers has seen a steep decline as many are leaving to teach at charter schools. There are some perks to teaching at charter schools including smaller class sizes and better pay.
Many specialty programs such as art, music and some athletics programs lack funding and have to be shut down. Meaning that public schools lose these teachers as well as students who transfer in search of these programs. As seen in the news lately cities such as Chicago, are finding themselves forced to close some of their public schools. Of course it’s not fair to place all of the blame on charter schools a number of factors can play into a school’s closing. However, since they do take students and money away from pubic schools in some areas, they are part of the problem.
Occurrences such as this have many wondering how will public schools continue to survive. Many charter schools also operate without input from parents, and unlike public schools do not have to answer to the public since they are privately run. More importantly kids classified as special needs are often left behind because many Charter schools don’t have programs or specific curriculum geared towards these types of students. Many public schools do offer these special programs but due to limited resources they are in danger.
Though charter schools can be great, should it be at the expense of public schools? Why not reform public schools so that all students can have a chance at a great education? While charter schools might be great for some people for others, their local public school might be the answer. One thing is for sure as critics continue to battle it out win the popularity vote, in some areas public schools are becoming an endangered species and it's clear that further change is needed to make sure that no child is truly left behind.