Thursday, November 1, 2007

Charter Schools: Good or Bad?

The Oct 31 issue of Hilliard Northwest News ran a story titled: "Charters Cost Hilliard Schools over $1 Million"

Let's take a look at some numbers:
  • According to the District website, the total spending per pupil is $9,860/yr
  • The above article says $1.2 million in state aid was "diverted" to charter schools to fund 175 students.

Doesn't $1.2 million divided by 175 students work out to about $6,860 per student?

Why is it that the charter school can get a kid educated for 70% of what it takes our school district?

Isn't it true that if a kid withdraws from Hilliard City Schools and transfers to a charter school, the district is relieved of $9,860 of cost, but loses only $6,860 of funding? Doesn't that mean the district is $3,000 better off?

Some will say that I don't understand the difference between fixed costs and variable costs, or that this needs to be analyzed on a marginal-cost basis. Actually I understand these concepts quite well, and will be the first to say that my comparison above is not alone sufficient to draw a conclusion. But the facts suggest that having kids go to charter schools and take a little funding with them does not cause harm to the school district.

Why are parents pulling their kids from our district schools to send them to charters anyway?

Dick Hammond, a incumbant Board member and candidate for re-election, was criticized by the teacher's union for sitting on the Board of a for-profit charter school. He defended his position at the 'Meet the Candidates' night, saying charter schools "could not exist if public schools were doing all they could be doing for all the kids in the district." I agree. "Hilliard," Mr Hammond went on to say, "has few students in charter schools, because needs are being met."

If out of a population of 15,000 students, 175 (1.2%) choose to attend charter schools, does that signal a failure of the school district?

Of course not, but it may mean that the school district is failing to serve particular kids. As a parent, I understand that my first priority is my kids, and the viability of the school district a distant second. I don't really care, many will say, if the school system is serving your kids well, but I will certainly fight for mine.

As long as it is only a small fraction of the kids who are transfering to charter schools, what harm is there to the district?

The fear is that these first charter schools are the tip of the iceberg. After all, if 500 elementary kids transfer to charter schools, the district could conceivably shut down an entire elementary school and lay off all the teachers, administrators and staff employed there. That makes it easy to understand why the teachers' union would be opposed to charter schools. Doug Maggied is often heard to say "It's all about the kids." Is it really?

I don't understand why any Board members would take a position in opposition to charter schools. Why not instead try to figure out why those 175 kids chose to leave our school system, and see if there is a common theme?

One of these days we'll break out of this mode of thinking where public schools with exclusive service territories is the only way to organize public education.


  1. Paul,
    I agree with you that the number of students exiting to charter schools is just the tip of the iceberg. Some of these charter school are just getting established - especially the high schools. As parents and students discover through friends and neighbors that the children are the #1 priority in these charter schools and that their curriculum is much more advanced than the HCSD, I believe that many more will exit. Once word of mouth spreads and as parents are aware of the wonderful alternatives to HCSD they will be less apt to fight for their children in Hilliard and go elsewhere where they are welcomed with open arms. The charter school s are so refreshing. The teachers want to teach (no unions and teacher contracts), and the children can excel at their own pace. It is truly wonderful what a child can accomplish when s/he is not stifled by the bureaucratic nature of this district.

  2. My children are both enrolled in a charter school because Hilliard refused to accomodate the academic needs of my child with learning disabilities. A district administrator told my husband and I that we would have to let our child fail before the HCSD would provide some simple accomodations. We were also told that we expected a "Cadillac" education for our "Ford" child. Our charter school has been wonderfully supportive, and my child is thriving academically. My child's learning differences are supported and embraced by our charter school. In fact, I didn't even have to ask for services and accomodations; they were offered to my child upon enrollment. A teacher even meets my child weekly for one-on-one tutoring sessions at our local library at no charge to us.
    Now that is what I call a "Cadillac" education!

    I have written countless letters to our elected officials, detailing my child's story. I even received a handwritten personal letter last year from Governor Strickland.
    And I can only hope that my testimony last year during the Ohio House of Representatives's sessions on the state of public education and school choice was relayed on to the HCSD's administration by Brian Wilson, HSCD Treasurer, who was a member of the audience that day.

    Some families in the HCSD are forced to look for alternative educational programs, offered by charter schools, because Hilliard does not or cannot accomodate children with learning differences.

    Not supporting these exceptional children costs the district more than mere funding: it is costing the district its reputation. Despite being one of the better school districts in central Ohio for average learners, an ever-growing group of parents and medical and educational professionals recognizes that the HCSD has the reputation of being one of the worst school districts to live in for accomodating child with learning differences.

  3. Thanks for your comment. The bigger the district gets, odds are that it becomes less effective at dealing with the needs of kids with unique learning difficulties. If such kids can be well-served by a charter school, why shouldn't public funding be allowed to follow the kid?

    It would be pretty tough to make the argument that the funds diverted to the charter schools are causing a diminishing of educational services to the kids who remain in the school district.

  4. As I re-read my anonymous posting above, I will share some good news with you. After waiting more than 3 years, my son was offered a spot in an inclusion classroom at a charter school that provides services to children on the autistic spectrum. Now our former charter school and our new charter school are working together to provide an IEP for my son.

    After being refused an IEP in Hilliard City Schools, the idea that both charter schools are collaborating is something to celebrate.

    The HCSD administrator who oversees special education in Hilliard recently had a "fit" of anger because she couldn't understand how my son was placed in that school since she didn't do the placement herself. Once we withdrew from HCSD, why would I expect her help, especially when she refused to provide it while we were enrolled in the district?

    We had only been motivated to seek an alternative to HCSD more than three years, when his name went on the wait list for his new school, because she refused to serve our child's needs. What a wonderful feeling now, after six long years of my tax dollars supporting the district that did nothing but cause my family hardship. Does she not realize that her denial of my child's right to a free appropriate public education only propelled my determination to find a school that supported him? son. I can only thank her for my feeling of "self-efficacy" once I began educating myself about my son's legal rights. And I only have her to thank for the personal power I have as a parent in advocating for my child.

    Once I found schools that exceeded HCSD's relatively low standards (now being on both sides, and comparing, there are much more difficult curriculums out there), my child has only exceeded my high expectations. He also exceded her own low expectations for him when she so rudely stated that I was seeking a "cadillac" education for my "Ford" child.

    This administrator nderestimated my child and she underestimated me and my determination to educate my highly intelligent, interesting, gifted child. Time for a new model in the HCSD. She is an old, rusty, and over-heated model, and she is ready for the junkyard. Her model, with its slow and small engine, is blocking traffic in a school district that so desperately needs to keep up with traffic!