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NEWSWIRE: June 24, 2014

Vol. 16, No. 25

For two decades, charter school leaders, parents and educators have forged ahead to deliver the promise of a better educational opportunity for our nation’s children in the face of relentless attacks. In light of a Detroit Free Press series calling for more charter school oversight, it has once again become necessary to set the record straight surrounding the high-demand schools that serve over 2.5 million students and counting. 

CHARTER SCHOOLS ARE PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Regular readers of Newswire are acutely aware of this fact, but it bears repeating amid recommendations for inordinate amounts of scrutiny that undermine charter schools. Increased accountability is one thing, yet those calls never seem to be echoed when it comes to securing equitable resources for charter students compared with their traditional school peers. Disproportionate treatment of charter schools allows opponents to perpetuate the mindset that charters are unwelcome outliers of the public system. More regulation in the name of oversight would misguidedly destroy the very autonomy and freedom families sought out in the first place.

CHARTERS ARE ACCOUNTABLE FOR RESULTS. The hallmark of charter schools is performance-based accountability. Through a wide range of management structures and mission statements, charter schools not only adhere to state standards, but are driven to deliver results knowing full well closure is a distinct possibility, and that families can vote with their feet by leaving the school at any point in time. It is for this reason that charter schools are accountable to families first and foremost. The research shows both in Michigan and across the states that charter schools deliver substantial learning gains in math and reading. Accountability in education can never be truly achieved without parental choice, and charter schools are just one way in a vast mixture of alternatives to deliver that promise.

CHARTER SUCCESS IS CONTINGENT ON STRONG LAWS. Of course, the laws and safeguards are one of the biggest determinants of whether or not charters function in an environment where they can thrive. Ethics regulations to which charter schools are already subject accomplish nothing to lift student outcomes and replicate existing laws that address malfeasance. Instead, charters operate best under independent authorizers, usually in the form of universities that have a vested interest in student success. Central Michigan University epitomizes the university authorizer model, equipped with the resources and infrastructure to hold educators and school leaders accountable, allowing it to oversee a large multitude of successful schools.

CHARTERS ARE UNDERFUNDED. On average, charter schools nationwide are underfunded by 36 percent less than traditional public schools. A major obstacle particularly in Michigan is a lack of dollars for charter school facilities, meaning dedicated operators often have to become creative and improvise to secure an adequate learning space for students. In some cases, this means partnering with organizations that make categorically high-risk investments into schools intended for underserved students. Not exactly the most surefire way to take care of the bottom line, but it’s achieved through increasing student achievement. The ability to do more with less public resources speaks volumes about the dedication of charter operators, and should open the door for a conversation about how these schools could serve even more students with funding equity.