The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) is the leading national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the charter school movement. Earlier this Spring the NAPCS prepared a lengthy defense of charter schools nationally, and that organization used a "myth versus fact" approach in doing so.
Over the last 10 years, the public charter school movement experienced a dramatic 80 percent increase in the number of students and a 40 percent increase in the number of schools. Despite that growth, there is still an overwhelming unmet parental demand for quality school options, with more than one million student names on charter school waiting lists nationally. While charter schools enjoy at least some measure of bipartisan support among policymakers and the general public, they also have some vocal critics who continue to perpetuate a number of myths about charters.
The champions of charter schools in Ohio and beyond don't need to be defensive about charter schools, yet it seems we're constantly being put on the defensive by our critics, many of whom have seemingly endless resources devoted to doing us harm.
Charter School Specialists has made the effort to briefly summarize the NAPCS document so that our colleagues in the charter school community have ready access to the best arguments in the debate over charter schools. We believe it's critical that all of us involved with charter schools, at every level of our movement, are armed with the facts and the findings of independent research in making a compelling case in favor of charter schools.
Finally, we stand ready to help you refine your arguments in favor of charter schools. Just let us know how we can help.
MYTH: Charter schools are not public schools.
FACT: As defined in federal and state law, charter schools are indeed public schools. They must meet the same academic standards that all public schools are required to meet. They are tuition free and open to all students; Nonsectarian and do not discriminate on any basis; Publicly funded by local, state, and federal tax dollars based on enrollment, like other public schools; and Held accountable for meeting state and federal academic standards. Charter schools are approved, funded, and overseen by a government-endorsed authorizing entity, just as traditional public schools are overseen by a school district.
MYTH: Charter schools get more money than other public schools.
FACT: On average, charter schools receive less public funding than traditional public schools. Moreover, in many states, charter schools get no facilities funding and don't enjoy the benefits of receiving local property taxes. This national funding discrepancy continues to grow. In our state there are many instances where urban charters receive barely one-third of their neighboring district schools.
MYTH: Charter schools receive a disproportionate amount of private funds.
FACT: It's a plain fact that charter schools receive fewer private funds per pupil than traditional public schools. Since charter schools operate with far fewer funds than their neighboring traditional public schools and often do not receive funding for facilities or property taxes, many charter schools fund-raise to make up this difference. Like traditional public schools, charter schools raise money through school fundraisers, community partnerships, booster clubs, or donations by parents, businesses, or philanthropic organizations. However, a University of Arkansas study debunked the myth that charter schools received disproportionate funding from non-public sources to reduce the gap in the funding disparity.
MYTH: There is a lack of transparency around charter schools' use of funds.
FACT: Charter schools have greater accountability and scrutiny over their finances than traditional public schools. As public schools, charter schools are held accountable for their finances by state law. Though public reporting laws vary by state, charter schools in every state are required to be financially transparent.
Charter schools also have another level of oversight beyond traditional public schools because they are accountable to their authorizers. Public charter school authorizers are required to approve and renew only those charter schools that have demonstrated they can improve student performance in a fiscally and organizationally sound manner. Charter School Specialists, for example, has recommended that several charter schools be closed for those reasons. Closure of district schools happen very rarely.
MYTH: Charter school teachers are less qualified than teachers in traditional public schools.
FACT: Like all public school leaders, charter leaders aim to hire talented, passionate, and qualified teachers who will boost student achievement and contribute to a thriving school culture. But in contrast to many other public school leaders, charter school leaders have flexibility to ensure that the teachers they hire not only are qualified but also are producing results for students and families. These flexibilities include the ability to decide whom to hire, how to pair teachers to best meet students' needs, and how to fairly hold teachers accountable for improving student achievement. Further, the flexibility that public charter schools have to make personnel decisions allows them to draw from a wider candidate pool, including content area experts who may not have followed a traditional teacher certification path. The public charter school model also gives teachers the flexibility to use their talents and abilities to design programs that work better for the students they serve, while at the same time being held accountable for student achievement.
MYTH: Charter schools are anti-union.
FACT: Charter schools are neither pro-union nor anti-union: They are pro-teacher. Teachers in any school should be treated fairly and should be given the due process rights they are accorded under the law. Charter leaders should also be given the flexibility needed to staff their schools with teachers who support the mission and will meet school standards.
State legislatures determine whether or not charter schools are required to be unionized. Even when state law doesn't require charters to be unionized, teachers still can voluntarily decide they'd like to unionize. Most of the time, when given that choice, public charter school teachers decide not to unionize.
MYTH: Charter schools aren't accountable to the public since their boards aren't elected.
FACT: Charter schools are directly accountable to the public. They are approved and overseen by a government-endorsed authorizing entity (St. Aloysius, for example). If they do not serve the public by producing results, they can be improved or closed far faster than other schools.
Charter schools are also funded with public funds, just like all other public schools. In fact, charter schools are uniquely accountable to the public because they sign contracts with a government-endorsed authorizer explaining how the schools will operate and the results they will achieve. If they don't produce these results, their authorizer has the power to work to immediately fix the schools or close them. 11 states have automatic closure laws for charters that fail to meet their obligations. Traditional public schools can fail for years-even generations-and never be closed down for bad performance.
In addition to being accountable to their authorizers and being subject to fixing or closure for poor performance, charter schools are accountable because:
- Charter students must take the same tests as students in traditional public schools;
- Charter schools must meet state and federal academic standards that apply to traditional public schools; and
- Charter schools are required to undergo financial audits.
FACT: Public charter schools are generally required to take all students who want to attend. If there are more interested students than available seats, the schools are generally required to hold lotteries, which randomly determine which students will be enrolled. Unlike magnet schools overseen by school districts, public charter schools cannot selectively admit students. According to federal law, they must accept all students, including students with disabilities and English Learners, regardless of previous academic performance.
MYTH: Charter schools don't enroll children from underserved families.
FACT: Public charter schools enroll more students of color and from low-income backgrounds than traditional public schools. According to the most recent national demographic data, public charter schools enroll a greater percentage of:
- Students of color: Black students comprise 29 percent of charter school enrollment and 16 percent of the traditional public school student population.
- Charter schools have a 27 percent Hispanic population, while traditional public schools have a 23 percent Hispanic population.
- Low-income students: 53 percent of charter students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, compared to 48 percent of traditional public school students.
FACT: There is no significant difference in the percentage of English Learners served by traditional or public charter schools. The most recent U.S. Department of Education survey data showed that 10 percent of charter school students are English Learners, compared to 9 percent of students in traditional public schools.
MYTH: Charter schools serve fewer students with disabilities.
FACT: According to the most recent publicly available data, 10 percent of charter school students are students with disabilities, compared to 12 percent of students in traditional public schools. Beyond these largely comparable numbers, students with disabilities are thriving in charter schools. Stanford University found that in terms of achievement, students with disabilities attending public charter schools gained 14 days of learning in math compared to their traditional school peers.
MYTH: Charter school students do no better than traditional public school students.
FACT: Between 2010 and 2013, 15 of 16 independent studies found that students attending charter schools do better academically than their traditional school peers.31 The Stanford University study found that overall, students in public charter schools are outperforming their traditional public school peers in reading, adding an average of seven additional days of learning per year, and performing as well as students in traditional public schools in math.
MYTH: Competition from charter schools is causing neighborhood schools to close and harming the students attending them.
FACT: No research has shown that the presence of public charter schools causes neighborhood schools to close. Neighborhood schools close for a variety of reasons, including declining student enrollment due to changing community demographics or shifting population centers.
MYTH: Charter schools take funding away from traditional public schools.
FACT: Public school funding is sent to the public school that a student attends. If a student chooses to leave one traditional public school for another traditional public school, funding goes to the new school, which is now responsible for educating that student. The same is true if a student chooses to leave a charter school to attend a traditional school. The previous school, no longer responsible for educating that child, no longer receives those funds. However, if a student leaves a traditional public school for a charter school, only a portion of that student's funding goes to the new school.
So, in fact, charters are at a disadvantage when they receive an unequal portion of funds for educating the same child. Charter schools don't affect districts financially any more than district student transfers do. There's no question that resources are strained in American public schools. Bottom line is that charter schools allow public resources to stay in the public school system and help ensure that taxpayer dollars are well spent by requiring schools to perform well or close.