Sunday, May 20, 2012

Two Words Missing From School Budget Debates

The school budget crisis has been a consistent theme in the local newspapers over the past few months.   But I notice two words conspicuously missing from this debate:   Charter Schools.   Why is this concept relevant to the budget?     Let's look at the example of the Hillsboro School District, where I live.   Here are some interesting facts about City View, Hillsboro's one charter school:
  • City View spends only about $4774 per student, compared to the district's overall spending of about $11,507 per student ($240,752,767 budget / 20923 students, in the proposed budget posted online).
  • City View has a waiting list of 147 students.
  • City View asked for permission to grow its capacity by 200, but this request was refused by the school board in 2010. In 2011 the board allowed a slight expansion-- by only 16 students.
So we have a successful public school that spends less than half per student compared to our traditional schools, and is willing to accommodate hundreds more students--  but has been rebuffed and suppressed by our school board.   Does this make sense, in a time when we are repeatedly told that we are in a budget crisis?    (And here I haven't even mentioned the educational merits of charter schools, which are not the focus of this post, though evident enough in the size of City View's waiting list.   How many non-charters anywhere in Oregon have a waiting list of 147 students?   If you're curious for more general info on charter schools, look here  or here.) 
In particular, if they are serious about their long-term budget concerns, I call upon the Hillsboro School Board to immediately grant City View permission to double in size, and to make a pubic announcement inviting further proposals for charter schools.   If you are a parent in Hillsboro who is concerned about the budget, please call the district offices at 503-844-1500, or email the board chair, and demand that they take these actions.

It's also important to recognize that City View is not some unique outlier among charter schools: long waiting lists, budgets that are a fraction of the traditional schools' budgets, and enrollment caps enforced by local school boards are common characteristics of charter schools throughout the state.     If you are in another district, chances are that your own local school board is unnecessarily limiting charter schools in order to protect the union-dominated and expensive traditional public schools-- even as they cry about their lack of budget.   So regardless of what area you live in, you should call or email your local school board and demand that they create real long-term savings by expanding charter school opportunities for the children of your district.

[I have also sent a Letter to the Editor based on this post to the Hillsboro Argus.  Waiting to see if they print it...]


  1. Erik: The last time I reviewed charters, I was not terribly impressed w/ the education they provided. (I am happy to reevaluate them.)

    So, I am curious: How are you evaluating them? Comparing test scores? Long term studies (such as college success)? Or based on an educational philosophy?

    (This is Quentin by the way! grin!)

  2. Hi Quentin-- good to hear from you! If you follow the links in the article above, you'll find your way to many positive evals of charter schools, based on various criteria including the ones you mention. BUT-- if you're asking for evals of charter schools in general, you're missing one of their key points.

    Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools are subject to *competition*. Every student there is there by their parents' choice. So if a charter is good, it will grow, and if it is not good, it will close down as the students disappear. Contrast this with a traditional public school, which is guaranteed permanent existence under essentially the same management regardless of quality.

    So if you're looking for somewhere to send your kids, don't research charter schools in general-- find out about the particular ones available to you, and compare them with the traditional public school in your neighborhood.