LEGISLATING CHARTER SCHOOLS

September 7, 1995

Voucher programs and charter schools are two exciting and innovative new alternatives to the often abysmal performance of public schools. But the promise of charter schools is being eroded by weak enabling legislation.

Charter schools are independent public institutions that are publicly financed and accountable, but not run by a government bureaucracy. Nineteen states have passed legislation enabling them to be established. Several hundred schools are now operating and more are planned.

  • Some charter schools are regular public schools that seceded and became self-governing.
  • Others are new schools started by parents, teachers, private firms, universities, girls' clubs and an array of other institutions.
  • They budget their own resources, select teachers, schedule time and create their own curriculum.
  • They charge no tuition, have no admission requirements and are attended only by students whose families choose them.
  • Charters are issued by local or state agencies, usually for five years - to be renewed only if the school can demonstrate positive results as promised.

Three prominent failings are evident:

  • They require the prior assent of too many stakeholders - such as teachers already teaching in schools which would be affected - and they contain no mechanism for creating brand new charter schools that do not already possess such stakeholders.
  • They place the local school board, with its often strangling policies and risk-averse mentality, in sole charge of granting charters - rather than creating multiple windows or an appeals mechanism so that no single entity has the absolute power to deny a charter application.
  • They fail to exempt charter schools from enough of the laws, regulations and contractual provisions that burden conventional schools - thus denying them autonomy of action in return for accountability.

Facing the fact that they cannot defeat a public ground-swell for education reform, teachers' unions, school board associations and superintendents do their utmost to cap the number of charter schools permitted in a state, and exert all efforts to keep charter legislation weak.

Source: Chester E. Pinn, Jr. (Hudson Institute) and Diane Ravitch (New York University), "Charter Schools - Beware Imitations," The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 1995.

 

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