The Charter School Wars --- Why Public Schools Hate Charter Schools
By Joel Turtel
Many public school authorities hate charter schools. It's not hard to see why.
Charter schools embarrass local public schools because they often do a better job educating children, for less money. For example, in the 1999-2000 school year, Ohio charter schools got $2300 less per pupil in tax funds than local public schools. Charter schools therefore spotlight regular public schools’ failure to educate students with more tax money at their disposal.
Charter schools also take money away from public schools. Every child that transfers to a charter school makes the child's former public school lose an average of $7500 a year in tax money. This tax money is the life-blood of public schools. It is the source of their power, of their very existence.
Finally, public-school authorities like their monopoly power over our children's education. Charter schools are free from much of the regulations and controls that regular public schools have to put up with. Charter schools therefore threaten the public school monopoly because they introduce a little competition into the system.
So what do angry or frightened local school districts do in response? School authorities often harass charter schools by reducing their funding, denying them access to school equipment or facilities, putting new restrictions on existing charter schools, limiting the number of new schools, or weakening charter-school laws.
They harass charter schools in other ways. For example, they create convoluted application procedures or don’t give new-school applicants enough time to process their applications. They also use city agencies, zoning boards, or fire departments to harass the schools with regulations. For example, the Washington DC school district harassed a local charter school with an asbestos removal issue that forced the school to spend over $10 million in renovation costs. Local school districts have an arsenal of regulatory guns with which to harass charter schools, or reduce their numbers.
Teacher unions initially opposed charter schools. However, when charter schools became popular, the unions changed tactics. They now grudgingly give approval to charter schools, on certain conditions. They often push for district control over the schools, collective bargaining for charter-school teachers, or other restrictions.
Some teacher unions have renewed their open opposition to these schools with their usual lawsuits. The Ohio Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit that seeks to declare Ohio’s charter school laws unconstitutional. Ohio’s charter schools have been dragged into this lawsuit, thereby forcing them to waste valuable time, money, and resources on legal battles. Teacher unions use such lawsuits to try to stop or slow down the charter school movement. Also, Washington State, and some other states, still have no charter school laws partly because of strong opposition by teacher unions and other interest groups who oppose charter schools.
As a result of this harassment by state education bureaucrats, local school districts, and teacher unions, there are not nearly enough charter schools to fill the demand. There is a constant waiting list for these schools, especially in low-income minority neighborhoods. In the 2001-02 school year, the average charter school enrolled about 242 students. About 69 percent of these schools had waiting lists averaging 166 students per school, or over half the school enrollment.
The over 750,000 students currently enrolled in charter schools may seem like a lot, but that number represents little more than 1.7 percent of the approximately forty-five million children who attend public school each year. Yet charter schools have now been around for over ten years.
As with vouchers, how long will it take, if ever, for charter schools to come to your neighborhood? Fifty years? Parents should consider if they want to wait around this long while their children suffer through twelve years of public school.