Stating the Facts on Charter Schools

From the Grand Island Independent:

In “Public schools — the common good,” (The Grand Island Independent, March 4) Craig Christiansen of the Nebraska State Education Association criticizes the ongoing effort to bring charter schools to the state. Educate Nebraska, an advocacy organization that believes every child in Nebraska has the right to a high quality education, disagrees with the state teachers union regarding the need for charter schools.

Before delving into differences of opinion, however, it’s necessary to point out some matters of fact: charter schools are public schools, free and open to all students, and accountable to parents and taxpayers. Publicly elected officials create the necessary conditions to open and operate charter schools.

Charter schools do not cost taxpayers more. Charter schools frequently operate without union control. Fortythree states and the District of Columbia have passed charter school legislation and no state has repealed the law.

We agree with Christiansen that every child deserves access to an excellent education. We understand that every child in Nebraska can attend a traditional district school. But the ability to attend a public school is not one in the same with the opportunity to access an excellent education.

While many schools in Nebraska perform well, some do not. And when schools fail to educate students, year after year, Nebraska should not deny or limit access to higher quality alternatives, alternatives that have proven particularly effective for the children most often relegated to low quality schools.

Christiansen claims that all families in Nebraska already have choices and therefore the ability to attend great schools. However, access to great schools often requires that families move to a different neighborhood or pay private school tuition, a choice available only to those with adequate resources.

If provided with higher quality alternatives, no family would choose a school where less than 20 percent of the students are proficient in reading or math, yet thousands of children in Nebraska attend such schools today. These children are substantially less likely than their better educated peers to lead healthy, happy and productive lives.

Be it public charter schools or traditional district schools, investing in public education is noble and necessary. But the best interests of children must be central to that investment. With an eye on outcomes, Nebraskans should support expanding opportunities for all children and embrace quality options for every student.

When a child is forced to attend a school with a track record of failure, the most valuable resource lost is not money, it’s human potential. And squandering children’s potential is counter to Nebraskan values and serves no greater good.

Katie Linehan is executive director of Educate Nebraska, with offices in Omaha.

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