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
. Quite democratic
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.