Charter Schools

Parents want the best of everything for his or her kids, but when it comes to education, sometimes it is hard to know how to make that happen. Private school? Public school? Charter school? What is the difference and which can provide the most effective chance for our individual children, as well as for the strength of our economy and our country. While several individuals think that Charters are Private schools, they are, after all Public Schools. Throughout the 70's, innovative district schools were founded in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and St. Paul. These faculties rejected the notion that "one size fits all" and sought to form distinctive schools that give choices to parents and students. In the Nineteen Eighties, Minnesota allowed public funds and looser administrative requirements for brand new schools, laying groundwork for the first official Charter School legislation in 1991.

The charter school began with the idea of simplifying the district's organizational structure to a relationship between teachers of a school and their local school board. Ray Budde's idea was lifted into public discussion in 1986 when Albert Shanker, then head of the AFT, mentioned it in a speech at the National Press Club. Minnesota passed the first charter school law in 1991. Similar laws have been adopted in 40 states, which permit charters to pursue outside funding, but are restricted from charging tuition or hand-picking students. Unencumbered by local district requirements, charter holders claim they can employ best management practices to improve student outcomes. The results have been mixed.

Teacher unions initially opposed charter schools. However, when charter schools became popular, the unions changed tactics. They now grudgingly give approval to charter schools, on certain conditions. They often push for district control over the schools, collective bargaining for charter-school teachers, or other restrictions. Some teacher unions have renewed their open opposition to these schools with their usual lawsuits. The Ohio Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit that seeks to declare Ohio's charter school laws unconstitutional. Ohio's charter schools have been dragged into this lawsuit, thereby forcing them to waste valuable time, money, and resources on legal battles. Teacher unions use such lawsuits to try to stop or slow down the charter school movement. Also, Washington State, and some other states, still have no charter school laws partly because of strong opposition by teacher unions and other interest groups who oppose charter schools.

The distinction is that every charter school has its own mission, or "charter" within the community it serves. This charter, approved by the government, is custom fit to fulfill the requirements of a specific student population or offer a unique academic philosophy, approach, or curriculum not obtainable elsewhere. So, for a child who is not succeeding in the classroom because she or he has an unconventional learning style, there is likely a charter school option. Or alternately, a child that is succeeding, but is not being challenged enough might find a charter school better suits her needs. These are some of the charter school benefits - choice, customization, parent involvement, smaller class sizes, innovation, accountability based on performance and market forces. Many parents who might have had a bad experience with an educator at a public school openly embrace the charter school's ability to hire and fire without Union ramifications and District regulations, but based on performance alone. However, the flip side of that coin ends up in insecurity for teachers, potential for favoritism, and with loose administrative requirements to encourage innovation, it can sometimes mean lack of educational background informing decision making.