Flexible charter school rules should apply to all

Dec 12, 2013

People have a lot of questions about charter schools as they begin to pop up all over the state.

A local group of parents discovered enough need here in Haywood County and applied to the state to open Shining Rock Classical Academy in the fall of 2015. Charter schools are public schools that receive public funding. Any student in the state can attend tuition free.

Though they receive state funding, Charters are not held to the same state board of educational standards as traditional public schools in exchange for accountability standards outlined in their own charter. Unlike other public schools, charter schools can hire a percentage of teachers that are “highly qualified” but not necessarily state licensed.

Charters can choose a different curriculum that is suited to the school’s specific goals. Shining Rock’s mission is to create productive citizens through service projects as well as prepare students for a rigorous college and post-graduate education. Charter schools customarily don’t provide expensive services like transportation and breakfast or lunch. Parents are responsible for droping off and picking up their children each day, and making sure they get to school with a lunch.

These exceptions for charter schools that lower the cost and provide more flexibility may be something traditional public schools would love to have. So the big question is — if these rules are working for charter schools, why aren’t they good for traditional public school systems?

And no one seems to have a good answer to this simple question. The first charter school was established in the U.S. in 1991 and more than 1.8 million students attend a charter school today.

Charter schools were originally developed to act as research education centers to find new ideas for public education reform. Successful experiments in the charter schools were supposed to be brought back and implemented in the school systems that serve all, not just the few who are lucky enough to have parents in a position to go the extra mile for their children.

However, a mechanism was never established to do that.

While the charter school concept was meant to be a platform for developing better schools, it has morphed into a new type of school and continues to expand in North Carolina since the legislature removed the cap on the number of charters in the state.

The separation and growth of charters has created a rift between charters and traditional public systems as they battle over the legislative language in court and fight over student funding. It is obvious the two entities are not working together as originally intended and that is a shame since the goal of both is to provide the best education available.

It is too soon to know whether the two can co-exist or whether it is moving us in the wrong direction. If charters are finding success with different models, we encourage legislators to work toward integrating those ideas back into the traditional school system.

If public education needs to be reformed — let’s do it and not just find a way to circumvent the system.