Charter schools at a crossroads

Until now, charter schools seemed to have a bright future, as witnessed by their growth to nearly 7,000 serving nearly 3.2 million students.  But two events don’t bode well for their continued prosperity.  Spending on charter grants, presently at $440 million, will be rolled into a $19.4 billion block grant to be doled out to state school systems (“Charter Schools Set for Fight as Funding Flatlines,” The New York Times, Feb. 26).

Further, if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that tuition tax credit programs can be used to help students attend religious schools, it will mean that charter schools, which until now have been the only way most parents can exercise school choice, will lose enrollment.  After all, why would parents send their children to traditional public schools or charter schools if they can send them to religious schools?

I expect to see religious schools and other private schools grow exponentially in the years ahead.  Traditional public schools will be the schools of last resort for many students.

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4 Replies to “Charter schools at a crossroads”

  1. Voters generally oppose govt $ going to religious schools. If the SCt rules that tuition tax credits can constitutionally go to religious schools, the battle shifts to the legislatures (local, state and perhaps federal). It’s possible — even likely — that the prospect of govt $ going to religious schools will so offend so many voters that most of those legislatures will opt to end existing tuition tax credit programs for private schools rather than expand them to include the religious schools. Exceptions, of course, will be local govts/school districts dominated by religious groups that run their own schools — like the super-orthodox Jewish towns north of NYC and possibly a few heavily Catholic areas.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: I’m not so sure that voters will rebel. Traditional public schools in most large cities are not meeting the needs and interests of children. That’s why their parents turn to charter schools. The long wait lists for low-income families are evidence. If they can use public funds to send their children to religious schools, they will likely do so. There will always be exceptions, of course, but I think we are approaching a crossroads in education in this country.

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    1. A majority of voters will support charters (at least in the inner-cities). But, tuition tax credits/vouchers for non-religious private schools are a tougher sell — probably barely 50% support for that (and then only if there is a mechanism to ensure that the $ is not going to the affluent parents sending their kids to the $40,000/yr schools). The overwhelming majority of voters oppose tuition tax credits/vouchers for religious schools — granted, some inner-city parents will support this but the parents who are sending their kids to the charters or neighborhood publics will oppose it and most of the non-parent voters will oppose it. Also, it’s likely that the pro-charter leaders will oppose tuition tax credits/vouchers for private schools (religious or non-religious) because that would be competition for the charters.

      As always, my argument is that the inner-cities should reinstate tracking in the neighborhood public schools, eliminate the charters, and no tax $ for any privates (except the specialty schools serving the severely handicapped/disabled).

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  3. Labor Lawyer: It’s hard to know for certain how the present Supreme Court case will affect voters. There will always be hardcore supporters of traditional public schools, but I think the trend is toward choice, even if that means support for religious schools.

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