Recently, a new national survey found that Americans overwhelmingly favor proposals to make charter schools more accountable, accessible, and transparent. The survey also found that Americans want to make sure that neighborhood public schools do not lose funding when charter schools open. Finally, voters strongly support a proposal that would require charter teachers to meet the same certification requirements as educators in traditional public schools. There is more to the story. Read on for basic facts and recommendations for strengthening charter oversight.
Kyle Serrette, Education Director, Center for Popular Democracy and Donald Cohen, Executive Director, In the Public Interest, led a conference call with the Florida League Education Teams. The results of their survey on attitudes about traditional and charter schools support legislation for selecting better charter operators and improving charter management. Thank you to National Education Association’s Cynthia Kain for arranging the call.
Here are some basic facts. There are:
- 98,000 public schools and 6,700 charters
- 54 million public school students and 2.9 million charter school students
- 545 billion in public school funding vs. 21.1 billion charter school funding
- 43 districts that have up to 20% charter schools. They are mostly in urban areas.
There is a need for internal charter management review.
The emphasis of school choice is growth over quality. The federal government agenda is to promote growth, and $3.3 billion has been allocated for incentives to open charter schools. The new Elementary and Secondary (ESEA) bill in Congress includes a 48% increase in funding for charters. Priority for charter expansion has created a low bar on charter authorization. Many states do not require thorough background checks for people who apply for charter school contracts. Many charter operators have poor business plans and little experience. As a result, the percentage of charter closures is high, and charter school laws are frequently broken.
While annual financial audits are generally required, they tend to be simply financial statements that focus on whether or not invoices are provided for expenditures. This does not provide an accurate statement of charter management. What is needed are audits of internal controls on charter management. These audits examine the extent to which laws, ethical and effective management practices are observed. For example, concerns over nepotism, conflict of interest, financial exploitation, governing board independence, and admission and dismissal of students need formal review.
Recommendations to improve charter school management
The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University issued its report on charters called: Public Accountability for Charter Schools. They recommend that traditional district and charter schools should work together to ensure a coordinated approach that serves all children. This coordination is important not only for the development of academic and extracurricular programs and but also for specialized services. The focus is not only to improve charter management and oversight, it also is on the enhancement of programs in public education rather than on unnecessary duplication of programs offered by traditional and charter schools.
Specific recommendation are:
1. Require the state department of education to conduct an annual assessment of the cumulative impact of charter schools on traditional schools districts. This assessment should review the flow of funding between charter and district, student enrollment trends, and educational outcomes. The results should be widely available to the public through the state department of education’s website.
2. Require charter school authorizer to prepare an impact statement before approving any new charter school application. The statement should assess the school’s impact and identify the role that the charter intends to fill within the overall system.
3. Establish minimum academic, social, and educational opportunities and services that all taxpayer-funded schools should provide, including high-level courses; enrichment programs; art, music, and athletic programs; school libraries; career and health counselors; and federally funded free and reduced-price meal programs.
4. Require that each charter chool’s original application and charter agreement be available online on the websites of both the individual school and the charter authorizer.
5. Make charter schools and all authorizers subject to state laws regarding freedom of information, public records, and public meetings; create specific and escalating sanctions for schools that fail to comply.
6. Require full public financial disclosure by charter management organizations of their expenditures and profits related to the operation of each school they serve.