Someone in my own small town of Doylestown, Ohio had the idea that they might want to start a little charter school. The Gilcrest Wellness Center already houses a daycare center, a senior daycare facility, a fitness center, and a rehabilitation center. The planning commission recently approved a conditional permit (pending a detailed site plan) for 2-3 modular units with two classrooms per unit. Oh my!
This prompted the Chippewa School Board, the Chippewa Education Association, and even the local Catholic school, Saints Peter and Paul, to move swiftly and decisively to eradicate this menace to our bucolic way of life. Within days, the village council had 25 letters of opposition to the dreaded mini-charter school that threatened to suck the life out of our public and private schools.
The Chippewa School board's unanimous letter to Council President Anthony Lindeman said the school would, "divert local taxes to a for-profit company," and that charter schools "are not held to the same standards as public schools and often lack highly qualified teaching personnel."
The Chippewa Education Association's (CEA) letter said,
"We understand that some communities need to develop charter schools to offer an alternative to a failing system. However, Chippewa Local is not failing....This is a time for the community to rally its resources around what is best for our children, not take them away...We are also concerned that our children may not receive instruction from someone highly qualified...There are too many unanswered questions for this school to be effective."[for an explanation of how little it takes for a school to receive an "Excellent" rating see my previous blog post]
These are common concerns and arguments against charter schools. Unfortunately, they're not factual. Let's look at them one by one.
First, let's get a couple terms right. In Ohio, charter schools are legally called "community schools." And they are public schools. The state pays for them, the students take state-mandated tests and the state has the authority to close them if they fail.
The first assertion is that they "divert local taxes to a for-profit company." The fact is that community schools receive their funding from the state through the per-pupil foundation allocation. Many also receive funding through grants and other government and private sources. The formula amount for FY 2010 was $5718 per pupil. Some students came with additional funding due to IEP's, special education designation, poverty-based assistance, etc. There is no funding formula or per pupil funding that "diverts local taxes to a for-profit company." That statement by the Chippewa Board is simply untrue. Surely Superintendent Higgins, who has been a very outspoken critic of state budget cuts and lack of local funding, is aware of the flow of local dollars and is also aware that local tax dollars are not sent to charter schools.
The only possible "local taxes" that could be used on behalf of community school students would be transportation costs if the parents insist that their children be transported to the new school at district expense, as is their right. Of course, if the child decides to attend a community school or private school 29 minutes away from Doylestown, the district must also pay for that transportation, so that's probably not the expense the school board is complaining about here, since choosing a community school in Doyestown over an out of town school might save the district money.
The second allegation is that community schools "are not held to the same standards as public schools and often lack highly qualified teaching personnel." Wrong and wrong again.
All Ohio certification and licensing requirements do apply to community schools, with the exception that teachers may teach outside their areas of certification. Teachers must be highly qualified.
As for the standards, community schools are required to follow the Individuals with Disabilities Act, No Child Left Behind, Ohio Core graduation requirements, and students take all state-required assessments. Community schools are identified for improvement based upon performance and required to participate in the Ohio Improvement Process, just like every other public school in Ohio. They are subject to closure criteria based upon ratings of performance.
The main difference is that the teachers have more freedom in curriculum development and implementation.
The letter from the Chippewa Education Association (the union) said, "This is a time for the community to rally its resources around what is best for our children, not take them away." [emphasis added]
This is the biggest myth of all - that teachers, school personnel, bureaucrats, government officials, that anyone but the parents know what is best for their own personal children. In fact, this is the very reason that many families choose alternative forms of education, including homeschooling, because they want want to be the ones influencing and making decisions for their children.
I have no doubt that the Chippewa School Board and the CEA believe that they are providing an education far superior to anything a community school could ever provide. And perhaps they are. But you don't prove that by bullying the little competitor out of town and shouting down any voices with alternatives ideas. We live in an exciting time when education is exploding in a hundred different directions across many platforms. We should encourage expansion rather than limitation in the best interest of the children and the community. This isn't about building kingdoms, it's about the building kids.