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Local View: Charter schools are high-quality option

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by Katie Linehan
Lincoln Journal Star
February 4, 2016

Much has been written recently regarding charter schools. To be clear: charter schools are public schools, open to all students, accountable to the public, and authorized by the state.

Charter schools do not cost taxpayers more. Rather, funding follows the student.

While many parents in Nebraska enjoy some ability to choose among existing schools, high performing public options are often at capacity.

Parents of means enjoy the opportunity to then choose among private school options. Low income parents, however, are left with fewer options and, far too often, their only options are low performing schools. Frequently, this results in a child’s zip code determining the quality of education she receives.

Despite increased spending and good intentions, student outcomes in Nebraska have failed to keep pace with the average rate of improvement in other states. Meanwhile, the achievement gap between white and minority children in Nebraska has grown and is now among the largest in the nation.

Charter schools are one example of a reform that has proven to benefit students, and under-served students in particular. The highest performing charter schools in the country are not only closing the achievement gap, but reversing it.

Given their positive outcomes, the charter school movement is growing. After twenty five years, charter schools are working for more than two million children in America, doubling the number of students served over the past decade. Forty three states and the District of Columbia have passed charter school legislation.

No charter school law has been repealed and weak laws, like that in Ohio, have been reformed. In 2015, students attending charter schools in Arizona performed as well as all students in the state of Massachusetts (the highest performing state in the country) on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP).

As a laggard in the charter school movement, Nebraska can benefit from best practices and high quality implementation from the start.

The thousands of families being served by charter schools across the country have proven the need for more high quality school choices for their children. The results of urban charter schools, in particular, speak to this need: on average, students attending urban charter schools gain an additional 40 days of learning in math each year and an additional 28 days of learning in reading each year compared to their traditional school peers.

Children in Nebraska, and particularly the children attending schools with a combined math and reading proficiency of less than 20%, deserve these options.

Great schools for all children, regardless of race or income, whether they be public charter schools or traditional schools, is pro-every student, not anti-public school.

As a state, we should band together and support the highest quality educational options possible for every student. For most, great traditional public schools will fill this need. For many, charter schools would offer a needed, high quality option immediately. For all, charter schools will raise expectations for children, regardless of race or income.

Katie Linehan was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. She has spent more than a decade working with underserved youth, primarily in North and South Omaha, and most recently as a middle school teacher at Success Academy Charter School in Harlem, NYC.

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