Plan for the Best

By Kelley D. Carey

People tire of public school issues that reflect contemporary societal problems or poor management -- or both. Nothing, with the exception of school violence, upsets parents more than repeated redistricting due to demographics or overcrowding.

Charter schools have become a popular alternative over the past two decades, endorsed by President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan as an innovative and viable way to boost student achievement and get children out of low-performing traditional public schools. And while there have been success stories, just as there are in traditional public schools, charters also can present real problems for school boards and districts that are struggling to make ends meet.

Typically, state charter school legislation allows the diversion of local school tax money without oversight by the local school board. Some charters are under district oversight, but the general aim is for separate management both at the local and state levels. Recently, the Georgia Supreme Court held that having a state commission devoted to these schools violated the state constitution, enraging charter interests.

Charters do not have to take all comers, are not redistricted as demographics shift, can ease out poor learners, and can manage themselves or hire a private firm. The result can be using tax money to escape from support for operating the local public school district.

In South Carolina, for example, legislation provided that a charter’s racial makeup should reflect the district or the “targeted” area. What public school district gets to “target” the area it will serve, given what that can mean in terms of racial and socioeconomic balance?

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