Chartered: Myths and Facts About Charter Schools

Charter schools are an attempt to fix the perceived problems of public education. Like any system implemented on the fly and with inadequate oversight, charter schools have had a bumpy ride, not helped by the more recent problems and corruption in the news. Right now, there are a lot of scandals flying around about the charter school industry, mostly about oversight and cost of the programs to taxpayers. While the charter school idea was a decent one to start, to survive and thrive it'll have to undergo several changes to right itself and show it can be trusted alongside the older, public school model. Here's are some myths and facts to mull over and add to the debate.

8 Active Myths | Suggest a Myth
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MYTH: Charter schools do not offer services for special education students.

As a public school they must provide what any other public school would, and they often put money into providing more. This is because there are many students who need special education help that attend charter schools because they are dissatisfied with their school district and their services. Again, some charter schools have found ways around accepting students with special needs, as this drives up costs and affects profits. 

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MYTH: Charter schools are private schools.

A very common myth is that charter school are private schools. However, this is not quite true. Charter schools are public schools that use tax money to fund themselves and are free to attend. Charter schools sometimes offer different curriculum and can another option for those who are dissatisfied with their local school district. They are not, however, always under the control of the local board for the most part. Many are run by private, for-profit businesses who will also be running other schools. This can make needed oversight difficult.

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MYTH: Charter schools have the same scrutiny public schools do

While this was thought to be true, the dozens of recent scandals have proved this false. There have been many instances of fraud in charter schools that would have been caught sooner in public institutions, even cases of schools being set up, millions collected and then the schools closed, overnight, with no warning and the money gone. As many of the charter schools are run by private companies, outside the public system, oversight can be difficult.

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MYTH: Charter schools only admit high performing students.

This can be true about some charter schools. However, it has recently come to light that some charter schools, while claiming not to filter students, have been carefully weeding out any students that might drive down test scores, thus keeping their numbers high while using an advantage that public schools don’t have.

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MYTH: Charter schools take money from the local school district.

Also, sort of true, sort of false. Students each have an amount of money that is given to the school district on their behalf. This money moves with a child so it does not impact other students or the local public school’s budget. States will also often reimburse the local school districts for students that move to charter schools for the first year in order to help the district adjust to the change. But this takes that money out of the public system and gives it to the for-profit charters, whose very model is to supply a low cost education, yet charge the taxpayers more for it. 

This is the national model, but there are different models in different states, so that money does come out of the budgets and away from the public schools one way or another.

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FACT: Local communities have no voice in the charter school approval process.

Some do, some find they really don't. This is a problem in some locations, as reformers mange to push through charter schools without a public vote. New Orleans has an all charter school system that was never actually voted in, but was engineered by advocates after the disaster of Katrina. New York is having some of the same problems; with advocates taking over school board elections and introducing charter schools without a larger vote.

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MYTH: Charter schools have less waste and fraud

It has come to light recently that the charter system has been rife with fraud and waste, and less accountability than public institutions. Many of the businesses running charter schools (yes, many of the schools are run by for-profit businesses) have been found to be shady at best, and run by some of the very people making the funding decisions over those schools.

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MYTH: Charter Schools are anti-union.

Each state determines whether a charter school is required to unionize. Oftentimes charter schools will unionize if the majority of their teaching staff wants to take that path. As most charter schools are for profit businesses after all, and unions might cut into profits, unions are often discouraged.