*This editorial originally appeared in the "Our View" Section of the News Journal on April 8 on the website and April 9 in print. We are reposting the News Journal editorial because it asks a serious and profound question: Why do those who despise charter schools not at least ask what it is about charter schools, and school choice in general, which makes parents WANT to move their child from a traditional public school elsewhere? Twenty legislators have asked the state Board of Education to consider the possible harm five new charter school applications pose to the Red Clay Consolidated School District. The legislators are worried that too many charter schools will take money and students from Red Clay schools. They argue this would be a detriment to the district and to public school education. They have a point. Looked at from the institutions point of view, these charter schools do pose a threat. However, what does it look like from the point of view of the parents who would send their children to these schools? What do they see? What is the need they are trying to fill? The charter school debate generally has ignored questions like these. Most of the arguments from the legislators and others focus on the concerns of the institutions and those who run them. The viewpoint of the typical parent is missing. Public schools have been, are and will be the backbone of the American education system. However, for generations, people with money could sidestep any faults they saw in the system by sending their children to private schools. However, since the advent of laws allowing charter schools, middle- and low-income parents have had the ability to leave the public school system as well. Most likely, these parents do not see themselves as leaving the system. They are just trying to get a better education for their children. The parents, in other words, are voting with their feet. Instead of complaining, the public school establishment and their legislative supporters should be asking why. People who run private businesses study their customers. When the customers stop coming back, the business operators find out why and do something about it. They do not blame the competition. As one businessman recently put it, Pepsi does not try to shut down Coke when the customers stop drinking Pepsi. Pepsi fights back. Do the leaders of Red Clay or any other public school district know why parents want to take their children out of the district public schools? The districts cannot blame the growth of charter schools on the flight of middle-class white parents. Many of the charter schools are extremely attractive to lower-income minority parents. Why? What prompts them to leave? What attracts them to the charter schools? If the school leaders know what the reason is, why isnt it on the table for discussion? Suppose the problem were discipline in the classroom or curriculum. Shouldnt that problem be the topic for discussion? Shouldnt the legislators be trying to assist the school administration to find a solution for the problem, rather than complaining about alleged unfairness? We applaud the legislators for their concern, but they would have a better argument if they could speak to the parents concerns as well.
Subscribe to receive CRI Policy analysis, updates, and event notifications!