Don't believe disinformation about charter schools

Wayne Lewis
Wayne Lewis

Those hoping to block charter schools in Kentucky have used intense rhetoric, propaganda and, at times, blatant lies to mislead the public.

But as difficult as charter-school opponents try to make the issue seem, the charter-school concept is actually very simple. Charter schools are public schools; not some of them, but all of them. They receive funding in the same way that traditional public schools do: based on the number of children that attend. They do not charge tuition.

Any child may attend a charter school. In the event that applications for seats are greater than the number of seats available, names are randomly drawn to determine which students will be admitted. Charter schools are schools of parental choice; meaning no child is assigned to attend a charter school.

Charter-school opponents have said that charter schools are expensive and would divert funding from traditional public schools, but this is false.

Charter schools across the country on average receive fewer tax dollars than traditional public schools in the same school districts. The only public funding that charter schools receive is that which follows the children that attend charter schools.

This truth has tremendous significance for school funding; if no parents enroll their children in a charter school, that school would receive no funding and be forced to close.

That makes charter schools directly accountable to parents. If parents are unhappy with a charter school, they simply disenroll their child and send him to another public school.

Another tale spread by opponents is that charter schools lack accountability. In addition to the previously mentioned direct accountability to parents, the charter-school concept is fundamentally about performance accountability. In most states, charter schools are given some operational freedom that traditional public schools do not have — including freedom from collective bargaining agreements of teachers unions — but this freedom comes in exchange for increased academic accountability.

In Kentucky specifically, any reader of House Bill 77, which is under consideration by the House Education Committee, can see that a charter school would be held directly accountable for its performance to its charter authorizer, such as a local board of education or a state charter-school commission. Charter schools that do not meet agreed-upon standards would be closed. This is a much higher standard of accountability than any traditional public school.

Even with the passage of charter-school legislation, not one dollar would be moved to a charter school by the Kentucky General Assembly. The only way funds are transferred to a charter school is if a parent decides to enroll a child. So this debate is really about you. People like the president of Jefferson County Teachers' Association do not want to give parents the choice of sending children to a charter school. But why?

According to the recent commentary, Kentucky does not need charter schools. If this is the case and if parents are already happy with the quality and number of public-school options, parents will not enroll their children in the new schools. So why are JCTA and Kentucky Education Association leaders worried?

They know that while traditional public schools serve some children very well, thousands each year fall through the cracks in the system. And they know the parents of those children, if given the option, might jump at the opportunity to enroll their children in a new, innovative public charter school that meets their child's specific learning needs.

Giving the parents of children who are not being served well the opportunity to choose something different than their assigned traditional public school scares these leaders.

And while the teachers in those charter schools might not be dues-paying members of KEA or JCTA, and principals are not bound by the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, success in these schools could be a dose of reality union leadership just assumes parents never see.

So please don't be fooled by their rhetoric. They are fighting for their organizations' lives, not for what is best for Kentucky's children.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader