Just the Facts on School Choice: Understanding School Choice Programs, Part 1

While the age of the internet provides us with access to more information than ever previously imagined, the internet and, as we all know, some organizations are disseminating misinformation. The sheer volume of information and the task of discerning real facts from misinformation can be overwhelming for parents who already are busy with children, work, their children’s school and outside activities, and other family demands. Clarity on the issue of school choice will enable parents to understand the pros and cons, as well as intricacies associated with school choice.

The blog post will define school choice and the options available under school choice programs. There is no partisanship here, just the facts. Sources for information contained in this blog are found at the website for the National Conference of State Legislatures: http://www.ncsl.org/research/education/interactive-guide-to-school-choice.aspx#/

School choice describes programs that enable parents of K-12 students to use public funds to send their children to non-traditional public schools, such as charter or magnet schools, or to private schools, which are either non-denominational or religious. Part 1 will describe the charter and magnet school options under school choice programs.

Charter schools are created by state law and are publicly funded schools. As such, they do not charge tuition. The student body, however, is not limited by geographic boundaries. Charter schools are not operated by the public school system. Rather, charter schools are privately managed with an entity that has a contract with a charter authorizer.

The charter authorizer is an entity that reviews applications for charter schools, negotiates contracts with the charter school, sets benchmarks and oversees operations of the charter school, and decides whether to renew the contract or close the charter school at the end of the contract period.

While the level of autonomy of the charter school varies among states, charter schools have more control over decisions related to budgets, staffing, and operations, and they are exempt from some requirements that are imposed on traditional public schools. State laws dictate the level of autonomy given to charter schools across the nation.

As of November 2016, 43 states and the District of Columbia allow charter schools to operate.

Magnet Schools are operated by public school districts. The students are not restricted by geographic boundaries. While many magnet schools use a lottery system to determine enrollment, some magnet schools impose admission requirements. Most magnet schools incorporate pervasive themes into their programs such STEM or programs for gifted students. As of December 2017, 31 states allowed school districts to operate magnet schools.

Part 2 will discuss private school choices and the funding mechanisms at issue for the private school option.






The importance of investing in education

I visited a private school this week.  Wow!  It was a wonderland of small classes and more resources than even I could dream about!  What an amazing place.  Then I thought, why don’t ALL kids have these opportunities in school.  Most kids in public schools sit in over-crowded classrooms, my son included.  It’s time to re-evaluate our priorities.

The U.S. government spends only 3% of its budget on education and 16% on defense.*  If we switched that and spent more on education, we would have a tremendous “win-win” situation for our country.  Investing in education would start with training and hiring of more teachers, building more schools, and developing greater resources for different types of learning because not all kids learn the same way.  I don’t see a down side to this.  If we invested significantly more money in education, ALL our children would have equal opportunities in the classroom to become an extremely well educated workforce that contributes to society.

In fact, educating generations of smart adults might even bring to our government, a staff who understands history, culture and diplomacy, and has learned from our past mistakes of going to war where no one wins and everyone loses.  Think about it:  education is the only way forward and everyone deserves that right!  Talk to your state and county officials and let’s demand more dollars to educate our kids!  Let’s start a movement that would ultimately make its way to the upper echelons of the government budgetary process to shift greater amounts of resources toward education.  Education should be a priority for a brighter global future!

Carolina Olivieri, Feb. 24, 2017

*Source: 2015 figures from the Office of Management and Budget, FY 2017 Historical Tables