A recent Wichita Eagle Editorial Blog post mentioned charter schools in Arizona. A comment writer wrote “Arizona found out, ‘Charter schools tend to be fly by night’ schools operated by entrepreneurs looking for new profit centers at the giant expense of the public school system.”
I looked for evidence that Arizona had trouble with charter schools. I found an Education Week article from 2004 (Progress, Problems Highlighted In Arizona Charter Study) which seems to present balanced news about Arizona charter schools.
It appears that there have been a few problems with charter schools. Certainly not a tendency, as the comment writer suggested.
In fact, it would be difficult to imagine that there could be widespread dissatisfaction with charter schools that would last for any length of time. That’s because, even though charter schools are still government schools, the students that attend them are there by choice. And if the charter school doesn’t meet their needs, they have another choice: return to the regular public school system.
Contrast this with the existing public school system. It operates, at least in Kansas, with a government-granted monopoly on the use of public funds for the provision of schooling. Parents who are not satisfied with these schools have little recourse unless they have enough money to move somewhere else, or unless they can afford private or parochial school tuition — and they’ll still have to pay to support a system they now realize they can’t use.
This type of monopoly power is considered unjust and immoral when wielded by private industry, but is somehow acceptable when possessed by government.
This leads to another complaint expressed, obliquely, by the comment writer: these charter schools are looking to make a profit! I wonder if this writer knows that in the absence of a government-granted monopoly of the type that the public schools in Kansas enjoy, the only way a business can earn a profit is by satisfying customers, and doing so efficiently. And businesses have to earn that profit. They have no guaranteed source of revenue, as do government agencies. They have no stream of customers forced to use their service, as do the public schools.
Finally, the comment writer states that charter schools operate at the “giant expense of the public school system.” Two points: Charter schools are part of the public school system. They could be in Kansas, if we had a better charter school law. Also, charter schools typically receive much less funding per student than do the regular public schools. They almost always operate more efficiently, and therefore save money.