Bad Timing For Charter School

County Superintendent of Education Tim Foley has, for several
months, been working with a group of teachers and parents on a
proposal for a new charter school in San Benito County.
County Superintendent of Education Tim Foley has, for several months, been working with a group of teachers and parents on a proposal for a new charter school in San Benito County.

The timing of this proposal could not be worse. We think he should put the process on hold, at least for now.

Foley said the plan under consideration would be a combination middle school/high school. Since education funding follows students, a new charter school would only exacerbate worsening financial problems for local schools.

The financial strain could be particularly acute for the Hollister School District, which Foley himself has said faces a state take over if they do not fix a $6 million multi-year structural budget deficit.

In addition, it is worth noting that the financial record of charter schools themselves is spotty.

Because they operate independent of the scrutiny to which public schools are subjected, charter schools can, like private businesses, shut down suddenly and without warning. That’s what happened in August, 2004 when the California Charter Academy closed 60 charter schools and left 10,000 students stranded on the eve of the new school year.

There are some 3,000 charter schools nationwide – one in five of them in California. Charter schools are exempt from many of the laws governing public schools, and have more flexibility in curriculums and staffing. The federal No Child Left Behind Act even envisions charter schools as an alternative to public schools that fail.

But the jury is still out on this experiment in the privatization of public education.

A year ago the U.S. Department of Education released a nationwide study which revealed that fourth graders enrolled in charter schools performed about half a year behind their counterparts in the public schools. The results took income into account and were broken down by race and ethnicity. “In virtually all instances,” the New York Times reported, “charter schools did worse” than public schools.

One prominent charter school supporter called the results “dismayingly low.”

Charter school detractors see them as elitist attempts to manipulate the education system. The local parents and teachers involved in this effort likely see them as a way to improve educational opportunity. There may be truth to both views, but the first order of business for San Benito County schools remains to put their fiscal house in order.

It is hard to see how that can happen if a new charter school drains crucial revenue away from the already strained public school system.

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