Stop micro-charters now (SB 234)
It’s nearly June and on cue there is late-breaking charter mischief afoot in the General Assembly. This year it is micro-charters. Current law says that a charter school must have at least 200 students [to open]. But a new bill, SB 234, would remove that language and allow the creation of even smaller charters (h/t Kilroy).
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Sokola and Rep. Scott, the chairs of their respective education committees, so there is going to be some muscle and political capital behind this bill. And as usual there is no public discussion on the need for this bill, and no time for parents to organize. Although interestingly, the bill has not drawn any other co-sponsors. I suspect the vote will be based simply on factional loyalties to the sponsors, rather than any real need or demand for the bill.
Why is this happening now? Where is the burning need for smaller charters? What public purpose is served?
The answer is found in the recent embarrassments the charter lobby has suffered due to several new charters failing to draw sufficient enrollment. The spectacle threatens to undermine the lobby’s contention that charters exist because they are demanded by parents. One of the underenrolled schools, Academia Antonio Alonso, plays a key role in the megacharter showcase, the Community Education Building.
According to Jennifer Nagourney, director of the Charter Schools Office in the State Department of Education, the department has three options: impose remedial measures on the schools, revoke their charters, or allow them to open as planned.
But apparently Sen. Sokola and Rep. Scott have found a fourth option: loosen the law to make the deficiencies legal.
This comes at a time when the public and legislators are becoming aware of the negative impact charters have on our district schools, by drawing away funds for key programs. Another bill (SB 209) has passed the Senate and is pending in the House, which allows the state to impose conditions on charters based on their projected impact to district schools.
So the last thing we need is to lower the bar on the creation of new charters, especially marginal charters with dubious financial viabilty, who will wreak their havoc on neighboring schools, and then likely fail and walk away from the trauma caused to their students.
Do we really want storefront charters fragmenting public education even further? We expect schools of all kinds to operate with a scale that permits organization and a reasonable economy of scale. Micro-charters will inevitably become personality-driven fiefdoms with no internal mechanics of governance (remember Pencader?). What’s next, kitchen-table charters?