Guest Op/Ed: Why Parents are Choosing Charter Schools

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Article published on March 31, 2012 by the Bradenton Times

A recent article published in the Bradenton Times, “Charter Schools Are Moving the Ball,” spurned a short debate via Facebook amongst teachers and parents. I read the article and can understand some of their confusion and misguided arguments. Charter schools are publicly funded, but they are currently funded at a lower dollar amount per student than traditional public schools. The local effort, derived from tax payer money, is collected by the county and then distributed to the district schools, but not shared with the local charter schools.

The recent legislative effort advocating for equal funding for charter schools is predicated upon equity and parity of funding for all public school students. This is supported by the fact that that charter schools are operating within district guidelines and accountable for the same measures of student performance (school grades and AYP) while maintaining fiscal responsibility. Given the fact that charter schools receive fewer funds, it begs the question, “why is parent support for charter schools growing?”

Charter Schools are indeed moving the ball and gaining support from parents, educators and legislators and for good reason – they are providing parents and students with something that is lacking in district schools. As a parent of four children, I could not afford private school, so I researched every possible option that would allow me to partner with the school to ensure my children get the very best educational experience possible. After exhaustive research, my decision was the charter school option.

When my youngest child was ready to go to school full time, I went back to work in education, first as a teacher, then an administrator, in a charter school. I never considered work outside of the charter school industry because of the experience I had both as a parent and as a teacher. Charter schools are generally smaller than district schools, which allow the staff to work more closely with each individual child and family. The charter schools often require parent volunteer hours, which means parents are on campus, participating in school events and acutely aware of what their child experiences each day.

Charter schools have the flexibility to make and change site-based policy when necessary, with parents playing a key role in implementing and supporting those programmatic decisions. Although academic achievement is the top priority, for Imagine Schools North Manatee, character education, parent satisfaction, and community relations play a major role in parent CHOICE. Charter schools are “choice schools” and parents who choose charters usually do so because we are meeting the needs they or their children have in ways that their assigned district school was not or cannot.

Some charters specialize in unique programs while others simply offer a smaller, familial environment that makes the everyday experience a pleasant one. As an administrator, I have never ignored a parent’s concern or complaint, or neglected to return a parent phone call or email within 24 hours, including weekends and breaks. Since parents must choose our school, parent satisfaction is paramount. Parents choose charters because they have a voice and they want to have the right and the platform to use it. Children can only be successful when parents and educators partner together to do what is best for each child. At Imagine Schools, we assist the parents in educating their child.

Charter schools are held to the same, if not higher standards, as district schools while being expected to meet the same goals and learning objectives for students with less funding. An underperforming charter school can be closed by the school district. All parents want their children to have the same resources and opportunities as every other child. The only way that this is possible is through parity in funding. A certain amount of your property taxes are set aside for public schools. Charter schools are public schools. This year’s legislative session recognized that charter schools are underfunded and has created a task force to make a recommendation to our law makers by December on how to fix this inequity. There is no reason that your property tax dollars should not follow your child to the school of your choice.

Jennifer Lucas is a former teacher and the current Principal of Imagine Schools North Manatee