Charter School Demand Isn’t Surprising; Narrow Vision Is


It just isn’t surprising that demand for charter schools far outstrips available seats in Rhode Island, but I’m not sure the Providence Journal editorial board draws the right lessons.  After all, charter schools are — or at least people’s perception of them is that they are — tantamount to free-to-the-family private schools, and parents don’t have to be but so motivated as advocates for their children to seek free private schooling for their children.

The peculiarity is that the Projo editors won’t consider the possibility of modestly helping families afford actual private schools, even just a little.  Given the editors’ advocacy for charter schools, they can’t really turn around and argue that real school choice would take money away from schools, because charter schools do that even more.

One plausible argument, I guess, would be that the public maintains some level of control over charter schools, because they’re still public schools, but then it isn’t obvious why the editors would see legislation giving local taxpayers some leverage when it comes to charter schools as an unjust attack on them.

Now throw this into the mix:

The combined hit [of budget and leverage reforms] “would force the majority of Rhode Island’s highly successful independent and district charter schools to shut their doors in a matter of years,” [Timothy Groves, executive director of the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools,] warned.

So, these free-to-the-parents, private-like public schools can’t survive without total subsidization arguably beyond the very-high level of public schools.

One wonders what the demand for charters would be if parents were required to pay some nominal fee to make up the difference.  The Projo complains about Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s intention to reduce district funding of charters by about $700 per student, but $700 per year would be a very low tuition for parents, compared with existing private options.

Frankly, the underlying logic spins the head.  We need “public school choice” so the public has some control, but we can’t let the public make decisions about the schools.  We’re impressed by the demand, but we can’t let parents pay some small tuition.

One gets the impression that, proclamations aside, the advocacy places more emphasis on whatever it is that makes the word “public” magic rather than on whatever it is that makes school choice beneficial for children.  Either that, or it’s more of a statement of “we like these schools and the people who run them, and we think everybody should have to pay for them without much by way of accountability.”

  • Mike678

    Hmmm. No bias here.

    “…or at least people’s perception of them is that they are — tantamount to free-to-the-family private schools, and parents don’t have to be but so motivated as advocates for their children to seek free private schooling for their children.”

    “Either that, or it’s more of a statement of “we like these schools and the people who run them, and we think everybody should have to pay for them without much by way of accountability.”

    Source? Study? I ask because the people I know that send their children to the local charter see it as a better public school for their children. And they also pay for these public schools, even the traditional ones with their overpaid staff and teachers. Moreover, what accountability do you suggest these schools have? They were given less rules (you know–the restrictions we don’t like and complain about) in exchange for improved performance. If these schools don’t perform, they are supposed to have their charters revoked. Sounds like more accountability (if RIDE does it’s job) than many of the current diploma mills have today.

    • OceanStateCurrent

      You’re joining statements out of context as if they’re linked. The second line you quote is my assessment of the logical conclusions of the Projo’s positions. That’s not a subject for which there’s likely to be a study. It’s a conclusion I’m offering as my own assessment.

      Of course people use charters as “better public school.” Parents of private school students see those schools as better schools for their children. The point is, if you give parents a free option for a better school, nobody should be surprised that there’s high demand. It’s simply basic economics.

      As for accountability, you’re pointing right in the direction of the complaint I have about the Projo’s implied position. The “accountability” is in the hands of some political appointees in the Dept. of Education. The Projo is complaining about accountability to local taxpayers whom the state forces to give big money to charters.

      That’s the heart of the point: What makes charter schools great, but real school choice inconceivable? (Private school parents pay taxes, too, you know.) If it’s the idea that charters are accountable to “the public,” how can one turn around and insist that local taxpayers should have no say in the funding?

      I just don’t see an intellectually consistent argument that supports charter schools but not school choice that doesn’t have some priority other than education.

      • Mike678

        I can see why you would think that, but they aren’t linked–just two separate quotes dealt with in order. My point is be careful with over-generalizations.

        I’d love vouchers, but looking shorter term, this is an attack on the Charters. Charters were given less controls in trade for better performance—they can try new things, experiment. If they fail, people will be less likely to send their children to the poorly performing schools and their charters should be revoked. ‘More control by the taxpayers’ is a joke–they mean more control by the elected School Committees who seem to work more for the taxpaying parents with children in the schools than all the taxpayers. These bodies, in many cases, despise the charters as they are beyond their control and often make their traditional schools–whom they have oversight of–look poorly in comparison. This will be the first step in eliminating the Charters.

        Yes–RIDE has the choice to remove or grant a charter, but the rules are pretty clear. If we assume the State won’t do it’s job, why do we assume the local politicians will?

        • OceanStateCurrent

          It is the duty of the people to ensure that their government’s decisions reflect their values. We’ve made this very difficult (in part through our apathy), but it’s easier to reverse course at the local level. Subsidizing free private-school-like options for small numbers of students who win a lottery alleviates some of the pressure while undermining the private-school market.

          Decisions people make out of practical politics are fine, but I think you’re losing sight of what this post actually is: A critique of an argument by an editorial board. If find that argument unpersuasive and designed to obscure some real principle, and the real principles are what we need to be aired.

          • Mike678

            Perhaps, but I agree with the editorial opinion–this is an attack on the Charters. You don’t agree with the charter concept, so naturally you’d disagree. We both have our opinions. I see your opposition driven more by a desire for more sweeping reform. That’s a nice end state, but a bird in hand…

            Please explain how is it easier to reverse course at the local level when most of the regulations/requirements that we deal in the schools with are levied by the State? Does Tiverton have the wherewithal to not take State funds and remove the GA union mandates yoke from their necks? Are implying a grass-roots rebellion that can impact the elite’s bubble?

          • OceanStateCurrent

            I meant that in principle it’s easier to affect policies at the local level, that’s a reason to move policies to the local level, not an assertion that people can change state-level policies through local action. The Projo wants to prevent local taxpayers from having a say in charter schools, because the Projo thinks it can use state government to force people to pay for free private-like schools for other people’s children.

            There are a number of assumptions and a lot of laziness in that view. If, for examples, locals had a say in charter development and funding, think of how much more difficult it would be for the state and unions to disrupt charters if they had proven strong support from local government. And think of what effect it might have on local elections if charter school policy were made at that level.

            A bird in the hand is great, but it’s difficult to aim one’s gun while holding it.

          • Mike678

            We agree to disagree. Additionally, I’m not greedy–one bird is enough as long as it’s a big one :)

          • OceanStateCurrent

            Problem is: You’re not just hunting for yourself.