Charter schools are an attempt to revitalize the decaying remnants of our public school system by allowing new "schools" (just corporations, really) to operate under special "charters". These schools receive government money for each student who attends, and are subjected to a relatively simple set of state and federal standards. Otherwise they can pretty much do what they like.

This can sound good on paper. Certainly, our public education system does need to be gutted and rebuilt. Unfortunately, there are two problems with this:

  1. Rebuilding public education will not happen without simultaneously rebuilding public education funding. Charter schools do not do this. Instead, they divert and divide funding, leaving themselves, as well as the public schools they are meant to "compete" with, with less overall. If this sounds stupid, that's because it is. As usual, in our government, it's anything but actual reform.
  2. The primary purpose of it is to break unions.
Education, similar to health care and the military, are not fundamentally profitable enterprises. You cannot make money selling a decent education. It's too costly per student for that student's family to pay on their own. However, as a society, it makes sense for us all to pitch in and help, because a better educated society is good for everyone, and a poorly educated society is bad for everyone. Attempting to "privatize" American education is merely an invitation for rather harrowing "profit taking" schemes by the (opportunistic) charter school corporations... and another political ploy which, apparently, Americans may be poorly educated enough to buy into.

As supplimentary information:

The state which is widely credited for creating and supporting the idea of Charter Schools the most is the state of Minnesota.

Edison Schools is a large, publically traded (stock ticker EDSN), charter school system. To quote from their web-page:

Edison Schools, founded in 1992, is the country's leading private manager of public schools. After engaging in three years of intensive research and development to design innovative schools that could operate at public school spending levels, Edison opened its first four schools in August, 1995, and has grown rapidly in every subsequent year. Edison has now implemented its school design in 113 public schools, including many charter schools, which it operates under management contracts with local school districts and charter school boards. More than 57,000 students currently attend Edison partnership schools.

Edison, aside from most other charters, fully admits to be out to make a profit. It may or may not be bullshit. But it will be an interesting journey for the company, share-holders, and children none-the-less.

A charter school is in essence a public school that has shed its bureaucratic red tape. Categorizing them as private schools is misleading because they still receive public funds in the form of grants. The most important difference between the run-of-the-mill public school and a charter school is that charter schools can be held accountable for bad student performance while public schools have no such responsibility. In addition, charter school administrators have much more control over the school, when public schools administrators must go through several layers of entrenched, liberal bureaucracy to change anything at all, charter schools only answer to the parents and results. Quite democratic really.

Another difference between public schools and charter schools is that they often refuse to hire unionized teachers. The reason for this is that most teachers' unions have very comfortable relationships with public school boards, the most vocal opponents against charter schools, as they present competition to their monopoly. School boards answer to no authority except the unions. This allows unionized teachers to escape the usual responsibilities of maintaining quality education. Many studies show that union teachers are no better, if not worse, than non-unionized teaching staff. Charter schools wish to retain the ability to judge its staff on merit, not association, and unions do not serve that purpose. Many people blame teachers' unions as a reason for the decline of public school quality, but that is another matter.

In 1998 New York state passed an educational charter law, allowing organizations to obtain school charters from either school boards (good luck!) or the New York state university system. Charter schools are given a grant of $6,630 for every student it enrolls, as compared to the $8,500 the public school system spends on every child. The charter school provides the building, equipment and teaching staff. One such charter school system, Community Partnership, was organized by Beginning with Children Foundation and many parents from different social classes 3 years ago and it has already shown impressive results, at a lower tax cost nonetheless. Last year there were 12 applicants for every spot, mostly from middle to lower-middle classes. Their parents were all too willing to pay a small tuition to rescue their children from the public school system.

The most significant advantage of the charter school system is that it helps the children, which is what education should be about. Charter schools have no need to appease the teachers' unions, the administration is free to fine-tune the school to their heart's content. In addition to this, charter schools are cheaper from a tax perspective. New York state saves around $2,000 for every student enrolled in a charter school, allowingh more money to be spent on each public school student. Charter schools are relieving the burden placed on the public school system.

The most vocal opponents to charter schools have been the school boards, teachers unions and big city liberals. In San Francisco, the school board is attempting to shut down Edison Academy and force its 503 students back into public schools. San Francisco school board president Jill Wynns said they were "philosophically opposed to for-profit management". They were not shutting down the school because of performance, they opposed it because they were not running it. Most of the student body supports Edison along with their parents because, as the liberal Salon.com puts it, "It's almost unheard of to see the level of improvement Edison has achieved in two years."

Back in New York City, an attempt to turn five failing public schools over the Edison for management was stopped by a vicious United Federation of Teachers propaganda campaign. Even ultra-liberal San Francisco turned a number of their worst schools over to Edison management, and yet, the teachers' unions insist on maintaining their atrociously low quality of education and depriving poor children of their gateway to success because they were ideologically opposed to private management.

Edison Schools and Community Partnership have demonstrated that you can sell an education, even to lower-middle class families. State grants subsidize charter schools and encourage them to enroll poorer children. Public schools are funded by tax money, and charter schools ease the tax burden and provide higher quality education at the same time. Big city liberals bitterly oppose school choice for the poor while sending their children to exclusive private schools. What is education all about? The children? Or maintaining the public school/teachers union monopoly of power and funding their low quality schools?

Instead of applauding the ability of charter school systems to provide quality education at a lower cost, relieve tax burden and still turn a profit, liberals are trying to shut them down because of their own ideology.

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