Much discussion has taken place in many states about the value of charter schools. Studies find them, as a whole, to perform academically below the level of public schools, but legislative support remains strong for them. Michigan legislators give charter schools more than a billion taxpayer dollars a year while most public schools struggle financially.
The status of charters is changing in the state of Washington and perhaps similar rulings will follow in other states. Earlier this month, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that charter schools are not actually public schools. The concept of a taxpayer-funded charter school is unconstitutional in Washington. It's a ruling that borders on common sense for many critics of publicly funded charter schools.
What makes a public school public? It's much more than a simple matter of where its funding originates.
How is a charter school different than Morenci Area Schools? Charters are able to:
• limit public access;
• set enrollment levels;
• refuse new students mid-year;
• set behavior and academic standards that promote the exclusion of students;
• have a school board that tends to operate in an advisory role, with the actual operations determined by a private management organization.
If taxpayers are funding charter schools, then the public should be given full access to financial records and to all meetings of those governing the school. If charter schools wish to be considered public, they must answer to the public—the true owners—and not to a private for-profit company investing in the operation.
Charters began in the early 1990s as laboratories to experiment with techniques that could be adapted to regular schools. That approach gave way to competition with the traditional public school rather than cooperation. After all, there’s money to be made in the operation of a charter school.
If the Washington state ruling follows in other states, charter schools will have to change significantly in order to operate on the public's money. School choice must remain a fair choice.