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JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2014 READER PANEL SURVEY RESULTS
School Boards Tackle Charter School Authorization
It seems that school boards are gearing up for charter school authorization.
When asked whether your district is making use of all the provisions currently available to you under state law to help your district vet prospective charter schools and monitor the performance of existing charters, your responses were virtually split right down the middle: 51.6 percent of you said “yes,” and 48.4 percent of you said “no.”
Most of you (67.7 percent) say that you are not taking advantage of charter authorizer support and training available from state school boards associations, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, or other similar organizations. Only 32.3 percent of you are tapping into these resources.
Here is just a sample of your charter school authorization and oversight stories:
We are quite fortunate that Maryland state law recognizes the importance of having the locally controlled school board be the sole authorizer.
David Stone, school board member, Maryland
We don't have charter schools in the state of Montana. To have a charter school, state law requires that they be under the control of the local board of trustees in the district where the charter school would be built. Also, there has not been enough funding for K-12 public schools in our state for several years, and there is currently a moratorium on any new high schools in the state. We have seen an increase in private school marketing with two private schools in the greater valley area, but most of the people who live in our area are unable to afford the costs. Overall, the schools in our state perform better than the national average, which dispels the efforts behind charter schools.
Barb Riley, school board member, Montana
We have actually created a charter high school in our elementary school district. We had pushback initially from our feeder high school district. Funding for charter schools, at least in our area, comes directly from the high school’s state funding granted per child. After many court dates the charter school has opened and will have its first group of graduating seniors walk down the aisle to accept their four-year diplomas in 2014. What continues to be the unresolved dilemma but presented as a statement of fact is our public high school has such a high percentage of students who don't exceed or meet state standards when tested and need a chartered school to be successful. The answer to correcting or resolving the dilemma is not in critiquing the public high school thus creating a so-called better charter school but digging into and resolving unmastered reading and math skills in the elementary school students level thus creating a stronger eighth-grade skill set that is ready for a high school curriculum and thus creating successful high school students that will meet and exceed state testing in any educational setting.Public high schools doors must be open to all students, and charter schools have selectivity.
Karen McCray, school board member, Illinois
Until this year our county had only one charter school, and we were relatively unimpacted by charters. This year, a new K-5 school opened and drew 475 of our students. That school will eventually expand to K-12, so we can expect more students to transfer there. There are also several new charters proposed for the following school year. It is too early to have any oversight stories. Our bigger concern is the impact this will have on per pupil funding. Our county gave us a small boost that will cover about half of the money [we] are required to transfer to the new charter school. However, we have now effectively added a new elementary school in our county without adding funding to cover its "fixed costs" such as property insurance, utilities, and mowing of the school yard. It is similar to a family buying a beach house while not having an increase in income. How will they cover the upkeep of the new property without cutting into the upkeep of their existing home? Perhaps our most unique issue is that two or three years ago an organization approached our board about being the chartering organization for a "virtual charter school" that would be based in our county but serve students throughout the state of North Carolina. They agreed to give us 4 percent of their funding in exchange for providing administrative support services, as is allowed by state law. Their proposal created a real ruckus which has ended up in the court system. It also made our board a pariah among the other school districts as they felt we would be grabbing their students and funding. So I guess you could say we have had experiences on both sides of the charter school debate.
Jeff Phillips, school board member, North Carolina
As a school district, we can advise the state organization that authorizes charters but we do not authorize them ourselves, nor is our judgment binding on anyone. Until recently, our board did not talk much about charters. In part that was because there was a state imposed limit of 100 charters North Carolina. Since that limit has been lifted, we have had and expect to have a number of charters opening each year. We still, however, have no power regarding charter schools.
Tom Tate, school board member, North Carolina
To date, all the charter schools have been through the state process. Our school district proposed a public-private charter school for one of our poorly performing middle schools but it was turned down. We were told that they did not like the fact that the local district would have the power to appoint members to the management advisory committee. We think that the charter school organizations were concerned that other public districts may interfere with their opportunity to be management groups. The district then entered into an agreement with a local organization whereby we joined to appoint members to an advisor committee that works with the local district on educational issue. The school opened with a sixth-grade last year, added a seventh grade this year and will add an eighth grade next year. The enrollment with two grades already exceeds the enrollment when the school was closed and attracted students from outside the attendance zone.
Edward Higgins, school board member, North Carolina
Pennsylvania is currently looking to change the law so that colleges, universities, and other entities can start public charter schools without any input from the local school districts even though the local taxpayers will be footing the bill. Now, charters apply to the local district and if denied, they have the right to contest at the state level and the local district is not invited to any kind of hearing on the approval or to explain why they rejected them. Additionally, the other sending school districts (charters can accept students from many local districts not just the one in which they are located) have no say in the approval process.
Robert Lumley-Sapanski, school board member, Pennsylvania