Growth of Charter Schools Increases Educational Options

*Originally posted in Smart Girl Nation, linked here.

Many state legislatures around the country are addressing school choice legislation this year.  One of the most successful types of school choice options is charter schools.  According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools: “This year marks the largest single–year increase ever recorded in terms of the number of additional students attending charters.  There are now approximately 5,600 public charter schools enrolling what is estimated to be more than two million students nationwide.”

Charter schools are public schools that must follow state and federal academic requirements just like traditional public schools.  They do not charge tuition and must allow all students to apply.  Students are admitted based on random lotteries because charter schools are usually oversubscribed.  Parents, advocates, and legislators are calling for more charter schools all over the United States as many traditional public schools fail to provide successful educations for students.

Charter schools are free to innovate and meet individualized needs of students.  They may use different curriculums, focus on a specific field such as technology and science, reward teachers, or offer extended learning time.  They are run by independent boards but are held accountable to a local or state board according to a contract or charter that is reviewed after about five years.  They are funded through taxpayer dollars that are simply reallocated to follow the student to the parents’ school of choice.  Public charter schools generally operate on fewer educational dollars than do traditional public schools.  Best of all, charter schools often achieve their greatest success where the need is the greatest- in communities where the schools are low-achieving and families have lower incomes.

Currently, there are ten states that do not allow charter schools.  Alabama has been one of those states, but this year that may change.  Gov. Bentley along with legislative leaders offered a bill that will allow charter schools and will also provide superintendents the option to apply for waivers from state mandates in exchange for new accountability requirements.

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana is striving to overhaul the educational system in his state.  The sweeping charter schools expansion bill, HB 976, has passed the House of Representatives and is headed to the Senate where it is likely to pass as well.  The bill gives the state board of education the power to allow entities, such as public universities and local nonprofits, the ability to approve new charter schools.  Additionally, a parent trigger is included for failing schools.  The bill would also expand the pilot voucher program to include certain low-income students statewide.

Florida is one of the leaders in the charter school movement.  There are over 500 charter schools operating in Florida.  During the Florida legislative session this year, major bills such as the Parent Empowerment in Education bill failed to pass.  But there was a great victory for school choice supporters as the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program -HB 859- passed, raising current caps on these scholarships, and was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott on March 23rd.  New legislation also expanded Florida’s virtual schools options.

Charter schools are an important component of school choice.  States must examine new approaches to deal with massive educational systems that have frequently come up short on delivering the success that is promised to and expected by families. Much of a state’s budget goes to fund education, and well-prepared students are necessary for a strong workforce and economy.  As state legislatures seek solutions for families who are desperate for new options, school choice will continue to grow and provide students with a renewed zeal for learning and achievement.

-Rhonda Gatch

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