BY DENISE MARSHALL You know who first advocated for the creation of charter schools? Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers. Back in 1988, he called for public-school reform that allowed teachers to apply for and obtain charters from local school boards. Then the teachers would try innovative education techniques, free from many of the regulations and restrictions of traditional public school, and they would share their successful innovations with the public schools. That way, all students would benefit.
That’s not what we have now in North Carolina. Here are a few reasons why you should be concerned by the idea that charter schools are the future of public education in this state.
For-profit corporations¬ make lots of money off of them. All charter schools must be run by nonprofit organizations. Technically. But in some cases, those nonprofits hire for-profit companies to run their schools. They also hire companies to do their accounting, maintain their facilities, develop their curricula, and handle their records. Unlike school districts, most charter schools don’t have employees on staff who have the expertise to handle these tasks. And because each school must pursue these services individually, they don’t have the bargaining power of a district and, therefore, pay more for them. So taxpayer money that is supposed to go toward our children’s education instead goes to corporations.
Children from poor families are shut out. Charter schools don’t have to provide transportation, and they don’t have to participate in the federal free and reduced-price lunch program. So odds are, if you’re a low-income parent who relies on the bus to get your kid to school or who uses the lunch program to make sure your kid gets at least one solid meal a day, a charter school is not an option for you. Bear in mind that these are the kids charter schools are supposed to serve – those most at risk for academic failure.
Charter schools have painfully little oversight. Just look at the case of Quality Education Academy in Winston-Salem. This tiny school with fewer than 100 high school students is a basketball powerhouse. It’s won three national high school championships, and more than a dozen former players have gone on to Division I colleges. How do they do it? NC Policy Watch found out: “Two-thirds of the players on Quality Education Academy’s basketball rosters from 2008 to the present came from other states and nations to attend the K-12 school.” That’s right – this school was using North Carolina’s education dollars to recruit internationally for its basketball team.
There are many more reasons why North Carolina’s charter school system is worrisome. Children with disabilities are often excluded. Schools get no money from the government until after they open, so only those with the time and connections needed to raise or borrow funds can be successful. They promote racial and socio-economic segregation.
Not all charter schools are bad, but there’s no denying that the current system has fundamental flaws that leave the state’s most at-risk students underserved and waste education dollars. It certainly is not a system that promotes innovation or serves those most in need.