Why America still can’t agree on charter schools after 30 years

Whether it’s forgiving student loans or banning books, educational policy in the United States can become divisive.

One controversial education policy dating back to the 1990s is the charter school.

A charter school is a publicly funded school founded by a private group. The Group enters into an agreement with state and local authorities that sets out specific accountability requirements. The government has the right to close a school if it does not meet these standards. Moreover, these schools are not subject to certain state laws and regulations that traditional public schools must follow, but are expected to meet educational standards.

“We have more autonomy to be able to have a more flexible budget and make different academic decisions,” said Natalie Wiltshire, COO of KIPP Philadelphia Public Schools.

According to the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, KIPP, which stands for Knowledge is Power Program, is the largest charter management organization in the US.

Approximately 3,000 students attend KIPP schools in Philadelphia. Admission is determined through a lottery system, with 97% of students identifying as Black or African American and 76% eligible for free or reduced lunch.

“KIPP has made a huge difference in my life,” said Daniel Harris, a KIPP alumnus who now teaches at KIPP Elementary Academy in West Philadelphia. “My family had a lower income, but I know that’s not the point. [my teachers] saw me like this. They saw me as someone who cared about his education, cared about his future, and wanted the best for himself and the people around him. That’s what KIPP is.”

However, on an organizational level, critics say that charter schools are hurting the wider public school district due to funding and transparency issues.

“I’m opposed to publicly funded charter schools being privately run,” said Joseph Roy, superintendent of schools for a school district in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “Don’t tell me you’re a public school unless you’re run by the public.”

When a child leaves a public school operated by the district, tax dollars follow that student to a charter school. Opponents of charter schools say that even if a student leaves a school, it does not reduce the cost of a traditional public school.

“The end result is a downward spiral because as money is spent on children, there are fewer and fewer services the county can provide,” said Carol Burris, executive director of Network for Public Education, an advocacy group that frankly against charter schools. “Therefore, more and more parents are leaving for charter schools. And this puts some areas in a critical position where they are really not able to serve their children.”

“Right now we are using parallel school systems and at some point they will break,” Burris said.

Look video See above for why charter schools are still such a controversy.

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