Most of us have heard of charter schools, but do you know what they are?
“Charter schools are publicly funded, but can be privately run. They’re often based around the idea of a promise: people who want to create these types of schools can get more flexibility to do things like experiment with curriculum, personnel, even the structure of a school, in exchange for producing results aligned with a charter document that outlines a school’s mission and goals. Additionally, charter school teachers don’t have to be union members, which gives administrators more leeway over who they can hire, how to pay them and how to judge their teaching.”
By publicly funded, it means that they are part of the public school system but do not necessarily operate like the public schools. In many instances today, they seem more like private schools, yet they are funded by the public schools. That also means there is no tuition like private schools, so you could say that many charter schools are tuition free private schools paid for by taxpayer dollars, which is why so many public school officials have fought against them.
The origin of charter schools seems to vary upon which source you turn to. According to the New York Times:
“…the original vision for charter schools came from Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.”
According to Public School Review credit is to be shared between Shanker and Ray Budde:
“The concept of ‘charter’ schools originated in the 1970s and is generally credited to New England educator Ray Budde. Budde suggested that groups of teachers be given contracts or “charters” by their local school boards to explore new approaches. Albert Shanker, former president of the American Federation for Teachers, also receives credit for helping move the charter school concept along in the late 1980s.”
Regardless of who is responsible for charter schools, they are growing in popularity and success. Philadelphia publics schools began experimenting with what they called charter schools in the late 1980s. Their charter schools were a school within a school.
The first official charter school, City Academy High School opened on Sept. 7, 1992 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Since that time there are over 6,100 public charter schools as of the end of the 2012-13 school year, with 2.3 million students or nearly 5% of all public school students.
The success of charter schools depends on the individual schools.
“Charter schools get overwhelmingly positive press and make a lot of claims about their success. But actually, numerous studies confirm that their achievement is indistinguishable from that of traditional public schools. Some are very successful, some are troubled and struggling, and the rest are somewhere in between just like traditional public schools.”
This is one of the arguments used against passing legislation to allow charters schools and appropriating the funds to establish and maintain charter schools. Currently 42 states have passed legislation to allow public charter schools.
Sadly, Kentucky, where I now reside, is not one of them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by various people, including fire department, heath department and others that Kentucky has long been a ‘good ole boy’ state that protects landlords, husbands, public schools and the traditional ways of doing things. Years of good ole boy traditions are hard to break and so far they have been successful in protecting their public schools. There have been a number of attempts to pass charter school legislation in Kentucky, but none of the efforts have made it pass the good ole boys wastefully occupying space in the capitol building in Frankfort.
However, that may change. Advocates for charter schools are hopeful that they can finally get legislation approved with the help and support of our new conservative Republican Governor Matt Bevin. Legislation for charter schools is expected to be introduced again sometime this year. Republicans hold a sizeable 27-11 lead in the state senate, but currently trail Democrats 46-50 in House. That margin in the House maybe whittled down in March as there are 4 vacancies that will be filled by special elections.
Hal Heiner, a Republican former member of the Louisville Metro Council lost the primary election to Bevin, but upon being sworn in as governor, Bevin appointed Heiner to be the commonwealth’s Secretary of Education and Workforce Development Cabinet. Both Heiner and Bevin share support for charter schools and plan on working hard to help the necessary legislation get passed this year.
Heiner told WCPO News:
“My hope is that we try a pilot program in Kentucky, and as it shows success, expand the system. If you look across the country, (charter schools) have been effective as a whole.”
Currently, they are hoping to start charter school pilot programs in the counties that include Louisville and Lexington, the two largest cities in the commonwealth. The only question is whether they can get House to cooperate. For the sake of the children whose education and lives will benefit from attending a charter school, I pray that Heiner and Bevin are successful.