Advocates for charter schools in Rhode Island have begun emphasizing that they are “public schools of choice.” The careful balancing act in that phrase proves that such schools are treading across difficult terrain.
On one side, traditional public school districts are complaining that charter schools take much more money per student than the district schools save by handing the children off. Charter schools also have fewer of the burdens that apply pressure to school budgets, like state mandates and pension costs, they say.
On the other side, private schools and affiliated organizations are pointing out that charters can skim their clientele. Families that would have gone straight to the private route try their luck with the charter school lottery, first, and with every new “public school of choice” that opens, a private school of choice finds it more difficult to stay open.
The immediate question for Ocean State charter schools is whether they can survive the crossfire over the next few years. In the longer term, the question for residents of the state is whether a charters-only approach to school choice will actually reduce choice while draining funds.