I-1240: An essential escape route from failing schools

The News TribuneSeptember 12, 2012 

We’ll let Initiative 1240 speak for itself.

The measure would authorize the creation of up to 40 charter schools, public schools freed from many bureaucratic regulations. They are commonly launched and governed by teachers and parents who believe their local schools are failing their students.

If enacted in November, the initiative would:

 • Give priority to charter organizers who want to serve disadvantaged children and students trapped in poorly performing traditional schools.

 • Require that charter schools comply with all state and federal nondiscrimination laws.

 • Allow them to specialize in teaching students at risk of academic failure, including children with disabilities or severe behavioral problems.

 • Forbid any religious influence in admissions, hiring or instruction.

 • Forbid them from charging tuition.

 • Require that they be open to all students, with seats filled by lottery if demand exceeds capacity.

 • Forbid for-profit companies from running them.

 • Require that their teachers meet the same certification standards as their counterparts in traditional schools.

 • Require them to submit to annual performance reviews.

 • Hold them to the same academic standards and student performance assessments as other public schools.

 • Require that they be approved either by the local school district or by a new state charter school commission. The second option is essential; a district with failing schools may be especially resistant to escape routes.

Now for the opposing arguments. Two are screwy:

Charters would divert money from public schools. Nonsense – by definition, charters are public schools.

Charter schools are a conspiracy of Bill Gates and other billionaires. Let’s see: When Gates and other philanthropists fight polio or expand immunization, they are humanitarians. When they support education reforms, they are suddenly villains.

The one objection with a kernel of truth is that the overall record of charter schools in other states has been uneven.

States without the safeguards of I-1240 – especially the annual performance reviews and enforcement of standards – have seen flaky people start flaky schools. States with those safeguards have done better.

Charter schools are not an end in themselves; strong school districts don’t need them. But many charter schools have outperformed traditional schools in educating poor and disadvantaged children, especially in urban districts.

Students with access to fine public schools are fortunate. But not every public school is above average, and the rules shouldn’t be tailored for the most fortunate students.

Struggling children in mediocre schools deserve alternatives. I-1240 would give them one.

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