Charter schools and the dangers of decentralization – Law Journal for Social Justice

By Peter Talkington

Charter schools were developed in the 1990s as a means of creating innovative and experimental solutions to address educational challenges for low-income and underserved students. A charter school is technically a public school operated by a private, nonprofit organization under a charter granted by the state government.

While charter schools are completely publicly funded, they are autonomous and free to develop their own curriculum. Constitutional principles have historically prevented charter schools from affiliating with religious institutions, but the United States Supreme Court ruled in 2022 that states cannot exclude religious schools from school-choice programs, and Oklahoma became the first state to grant a charter to a religious school.

The proliferation of charter schools nationwide has created new and unique challenges in the public education arena, potentially warranting greater oversight by the governments that fund these largely autonomous institutions. (Photo: Caleb Oquendo via Pexels.)

Charter school growth

Charter schools have become an increasingly popular education option, especially in low-income metropolitan areas. In 2023, 48% of all students in Washington, D.C., were enrolled at a charter school. The District currently operates 135 charter schools, outnumbering its 118 traditional public schools. That number is up from 102 charter schools in 2013 and just 31 charter schools in 2005. Washington charter schools are concentrated in historically poor and minority areas in the southern and eastern regions of the city. Charter schools are noticeably absent from the wealthier and predominantly white northwestern quadrant. In 2021, 88% of D.C. charter school students were Black or Latino, and 75% came from lower-income families.

New Orleans offers an even more drastic example. As of 2020, the city had 83 schools operating under charters, while only three schools remained traditional public schools. Currently, 92% of students are people of color and 80% face economic disadvantages. New Orleans and D.C. reflect a national trend of exponential charter school expansion. As of 2021, over 7% of all U.S. public-school students were enrolled in charter schools—twice as many as in 2011.

Concerns about public education

While charter schools can be beneficial in many instances, there are reasons for concern. They are autonomous, and they essentially operate without any oversight. While this can lead to educational innovation, it can also result in a wildly incoherent education system.

Charter schools are also operated by private interests. While states can only grant charters to nonprofits, many mysterious organizations seek to profit by grafting government funds or by exploiting the foundational idea of charter schools. A 2019 study found that the U.S. Department of Education lost over $1 billion to charter school fraud. In Ohio, one-in-three charter schools that had received public funds either never opened or opened and quickly closed—and the public funds disappeared with the nonprofits that received them.

Nonprofits can exploit the charter school structure for financial gain. Education is seen as a safe investment. The higher its students’ test scores and graduation rates, the more funds a school can receive from the government. Since charter schools are not required to be open-enrollment like traditional public schools, charter schools can selectively pick students who will perform well and boost the school’s statistics. Finally, the Supreme Court opened the door to religious charter schools, and the nation’s first religious charter school has already been approved.

Public education’s future

The sum of these concerns: Many school districts are marching steadily toward a system of autonomous, publicly funded charter schools that are free to develop their own curriculum with little to no oversight. Not only does this represent a threat to education equality, but what is the result of a school system composed of completely autonomous schools? Creationism, partisan ideology, and revisionist history could soon dominate the halls of our “public” schools, which may be more concerned with indoctrination or turning a profit than preparing our children for economic success and democratic participation in civic institutions.

While this conclusion may sound dramatic, it is not unfounded. The fact that charter schools are concentrated in low-income and minority areas should be cause for further concern. Underserved students already suffer from education inequality and lack of economic opportunity, and these issues could be exacerbated by a school system with unilateral freedom to teach what it wants, potentially pushing underprepared students to graduate.

Admittedly, some of these issues exist within the traditional public school system. It’s true that public schools as they currently exist are not always perfect—but taking public funds from an underfunded system to support unregulated education is certainly not the answer. Public schools should be a robust mechanism for education and opportunity, and we should not defund that ideal in favor of profit-driven decentralization.

Peter (him/his) is currently a 2L at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Prior to attending law school, Peter completed two years of service with the AmeriCorps program and holds a B.A. in history from Virginia Commonwealth University. Outside of law school, Peter enjoys playing and making music, reading history and fiction novels, and is trying to learn how to be a better cook.

Published by Law Journal for Social Justice at Arizona State University

The Law Journal for Social Justice (“LJSJ”) is the first student-run and student-created online journal at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. LJSJ aims to edit, publish, and produce notable works through its online website from legal scholars, practitioners and law students. LJSJ also publishes twice a year, featuring articles that focus on important, novel and controversial areas of law. LJSJ will provide a fresh perspective and propose solutions to cornerstone issues that are often not discussed, which may also have the potential to positively impact local communities.
View all posts by Law Journal for Social Justice at Arizona State University

Source link

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Compare items
  • Total (0)
Shopping cart