Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Defeat for Hillsboro's Children

I'm disappointed to announce that after over a year of planning and discussion, iLead Schools  has decided NOT to open a charter school in Hillsboro.   As you can see at their site, iLead is a teacher-led nonprofit organization which  has successfully been running multiple charter schools, mainly in California, since 2008, with impressive academic results.  There were over 100 local Hillsboro students whose parents had signed statements of interest in the potential new school.

The main reason why this initiative fell through was due to Oregon's pathetic charter school law.   While I guess we should be thankful that charter schools are allowed at all in our union-dominated state, we have one of the weakest laws in the country.   Key points that led to iLead's decision included:

  • The 80% passthrough of funding, where the hosting district takes away 20% of the per-student funding for overhead, with no accountability.  As iLead states, "Most of the 38 states that currently have charter schools allow a district to charge 0-5% for oversight fees, with most states at 3% or less. Only Colorado allows a district to charge 15% if the district has fewer than 500 students; the district must submit an itemized report of all expenses related to supporting the charter. Oregon law has no such restriction on the 20% hold back."
  • Student enrollment caps.   Districts in Oregon can put arbitrary maximums on the number of students in a charter school, making it very difficult to set the growth goals that most businesses require for self-sufficiency.
  • Excessive rental and facility costs, making it very difficult to find a viable location.   Due to Oregon's runaway growth in the area in recent years, charter schools that may have been feasible to start a decade ago are simply financially impossible now.
While individual boards can choose to offer more favorable terms on the first two bullet points (and I certainly would have pushed to do so!), the application process is cumbersome, and there would be no way to guarantee viable terms ahead of time in light of Oregon's laws.    And there is no way to address the real estate issue at the school board level.  Thus iLead did not believe pursuing the opportunity would make sense right now.

The key lesson here is that if we want more charter school opportunities for the children of Hillsboro, we need fundamental change in our state government.   iLead suggests writing to your legislator in support of better charter school laws, and that certainly can't hurt-- you can find a suggested template posted on their Facebook page.    But as I mentioned, change is very unlikely with our current  Oregon legislature and governor-- if you really want to see more charter school opportunities, plan to remove these officeholders in November, and vote for reform-minded candidates like Juanita Lint and Dan Mason.