What we need to know about charter schools

WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CHARTER SCHOOLS
MONEY:  How much money does it take to get a school up and running?  Teachers, school administrators, secretaries, librarians, nurses, yard duty officers, cafeteria workers, custodians, etc. cost money.  Supporters of the proposed charter Montessori school say they want to bring a “free” Montessori education to all children, not just rich ones.  Nice, except that our kids will pay roughly $7,000/student for their kids to attend a charter Montessori school.  Free for a small minority, including those who don’t even live in Santa Cruz, but very costly for many other children.

DUPLICATION & COMPETITION:  Supporters of charter schools claim that these schools offer innovative approaches to learning and teaching.  In Santa Cruz, we’re fortunate to have unique and untraditional programs within district schools, like the Dos Alas Dual-Immersion Program at Delaveaga Elementary School and the Monarch Community School at the Branciforte Small Schools Campus.  The Monarch School already offers a Montessori-based program.  So does the Bonny Doon Elementary School.  If advocates of Montessori education put their time, energy, and money into existing district schools, they could create what they want within these programs and enrich them at the same time.  If they establish a new charter school, they end up hurting existing programs by competing with them over already scarce resources.  See, for example, http://www.nytimes.com/schoolbook/2012/02/06/why-i-resigned-from-the-suny-board-of-trustees/   

RACIAL, ETHNIC & CLASS DIVERSITY:  While many charter schools pay lip service to racial, ethnic, and class diversity, they tend to be inaccurate and incomplete reflections of their communities due to admission restrictions that privilege a pre-selected group.  As a consequence, they further exacerbate the divide between the haves and have-nots.  For evidence of a stunning lack of diversity at a charter school, we need only look to Santa Cruz County’s own Pacific Collegiate School (santacruzsentinel.com/ci_17032220).

SPECIAL NEEDS/EDUCATION:  Although most charter schools say they’ll provide services to special needs and special ed students, this doesn’t seem to happen.  Special needs/education services are essential, but they’re expensive, so all too often, charter schools end up passing the buck on to “conventional” public schools.

SPACE:  Where would the proposed charter Montessori elementary school be located?  Santa Cruz district schools are already crowded.  Would anyone be displaced by a new charter school?  This has happened elsewhere.  For example, see http://www.ocregister.com/news/school-338917-charter-schools.html.

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