Opinion | The Debate About Charter Schools

To the Editor:

Re “End the Fight Over Charter Schools,” by Eve L. Ewing (Op-Ed, Feb. 23):

Why do we allow two separate but seemingly parallel systems of education, using scarce public funds that are taken from traditional public schools to fund charters, a seeming experiment gone awry? Why do we allow one entity that is accountable and has governance conveyed from the voters in each community and allow the other to avoid the same transparency and accountability?

Here in Ohio, charters are exempt from 150 sections of law that the public schools must be in compliance with to legally operate, yet the public schools are required to support charters with the school district’s transportation system and other services at no cost.

So no, we can’t stop fighting about the subject of charters until we have the same rules for both. If one is exempt from wholesale sections of the law, then by definition it is not a public school but something else, a school that acquires public funds to operate yet has its own rules and is free from much oversight.

Denis D. Smith
Westerville, Ohio
The writer, a charter school critic, is a former consultant in the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office, responsible for assuring legal compliance in the operations of these schools.

To the Editor:

A public assertion that “every child deserves a great school,” together with “the political courage and imagination to make that happen,” as Eve Ewing urges, sounds great but wholly avoids the deep practical difficulties of achieving that in this country.

Much like the problem of dealing with the pandemic, only a national effort led by the federal government can address effectively what is at heart a national problem.

But from its beginning public education has been seen as a local function subject to local funding and local control. Thousands of America’s public school districts have been happy to accept whatever federal funds have been available but have long been resistant to efforts at federal control. A result is the widely disparate quality of public education across the country.

Mustering the political will for the federal government to take on the financial and policy changes to achieve Ms. Ewing’s vision seems most unlikely, particularly when other very costly needs like the pandemic are crying out for funds and we are burdened with immense growth in our national debt.

Verne Vance
Arlington, Va.
The writer is a former chair of the Newton (Mass.) School Committee.

To the Editor:

Eve Ewing’s article doesn’t reflect charter schools’ diversity and success. It ignores the most sophisticated analyses documenting larger charter school gains in reading and math. The longer students remain in charter schools, the more dramatic the results. The evidence is ubiquitous.

The same report cited by Ms. Ewing regarding racial balance found that charter schools had “no discernible impact on the segregation of metropolitan areas,” and that “districts within a metropolitan area become more diverse.”

Racially motivated housing patterns also confine students without options to the community in which they live, where charter schools provide freedom to move throughout whole neighborhoods and often states.

We should fight for and about anything that serves students, particularly the least advantaged.

Jeanne Allen
The writer is founder and chief executive of the Center for Education Reform.

To the Editor:

Eve Ewing’s analysis leaves out one of the central reasons everyone should care about the charter school debate: school funding. Most people don’t know that most charter schools are funded with taxpayer dollars. This public funding for privately run charter schools siphons resources from public school budgets.

Ms. Ewing’s call for welcoming, well-performing schools for all students is exactly right. Taking money from public schools and giving it to private enterprises in answer to that call is emphatically wrong. It is not hard to see how funding privately run schools in this manner compromises the ability of public schools to serve all students well.

Nancy Hayes
Mount Vernon, Iowa

To the Editor:

As a public high school student, I appreciated Eve Ewing’s points. But the goals she said should be addressed instead of fighting over charters are intrinsically tied to charters.

You can’t fight to pay teachers more when charters refuse to let them unionize. You can’t move past the unhealthy dynamic with philanthropists when charters lean on them more heavily than anyone else. We can’t ditch the “shopping” model of choosing schools when that is the very basis of charter schools’ existence.

I go to school in the Indianapolis Public Schools district, which has the ninth highest percentage of charter school students in the country. Every day, I see firsthand the effect that charter schools have in undermining the very idea of public education as a universal service everyone deserves equally.

We cannot move to address the important issues without addressing the fundamental problem of privatizing education.

El’ad Nichols-Kaufman

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