Charter schools have been in existence since 1988. The original idea was to use them to help public schools by creating smaller learning environments where new ideas and programs could be tested before implementing them on a larger scale. In contrast, many charter schools are now being used to replace public schools by moving funding away and often into the hands of private, for-profit corporations that are managing the schools.
Even though many charter schools are non-profit, they funnel money to for-profit entities through management companies. These for-profits are often heavily affiliated with politicians and/or their family members. Public education supporters are concerned that this model misuses public tax dollars because the schools do not have as many regulations or financial/managerial accountability as traditional public schools.
While some charter schools are providing excellent academic experiences for children, the massive expansion of these schools is contributing to the destruction of public education in the following ways:
- Per-Student Funding
While the per-student funding is the same for charter schools and traditional public schools, traditional public schools were built to operate based on a certain number of students. When a student leaves a traditional public school to attend a charter school and takes the per-student funding with them (currently just over $7,000 in Florida), the original public school’s costs are not reduced by $7,000. The school still has to pay for overhead costs such as A/C, maintenance, some staff, and school-wide programming. What happens instead is that the school has to cut programs such as arts or extra-curricular activities. This video, while focusing on CA, explains the concept visually.
- Capital Funding
Charter schools received a disproportionate amount of capital (i.e. buildings and facilities) funding from the state for a number of years. This caused many public districts to turn to local communities to fund much-needed facilities improvements.
Charter schools can be considered public schools because they are funded with public tax dollars. Contrary to what some may say, charters are required to use the Florida Standards and the same state-mandated high-stakes standardized tests that public schools use. The difference is in the way the schools are managed and in how they operate. Charter schools have less requirements for transparency about their management and operations. This can lead to mismanagement, financial misrepresentation, and in some cases downright fraud.
- Selective Admissions
Charter schools often have less restrictions for admissions decisions. Traditional public schools are required to accept all students; charter schools are often selective of their student population in indirect ways, such as stating that they don’t have the ability to serve special needs students.
Charter schools often buy facilities such as abandoned shopping malls or other institutions using public funds. Because the charter facilities are not owned by the school district (their ownership is described in their charter, and is most often the management company), it can be difficult – if not impossible – for the public to retrieve those funds back when schools close (which occurs at an average rate of 20 per year).
Here are some questions to ask when considering a charter school, to ensure it’s the best fit for your family.