When policymakers in California enacted a charter school law 25 years ago, many children had educational choice for the first time. But now, teachers unions want to needlessly limit children’s choices.
Francisco Nunez’s story is a prime example of how charter schools use their independence to inspire and empower children through learning.
Growing up in foster care, Francisco rarely attended school, and he started participating in gang activity at the tender age of 10. Still quite young, he spent three years in the California Youth Authority, which is reserved for the state’s most serious juvenile offenders—often in solitary confinement.
However, upon his release, Francisco attended Learn4Life, a network of public charter schools that specializes in “opportunity youth”—students like Francisco, who have a chance to turn their lives around through education.
There, he received the guidance and care absent in his earlier years, and an education tailored to his experiences.
Upon graduating high school at Learn4Life in 2017, Francisco said, “I didn’t think I was going to make it in high school … [and] in life general[ly]. But because of the support system we have [at Learn4Life], I became successful with their help.”
Although a current proposal to cap charter school growth leaves room for those schools that specialize in helping children in difficult circumstances, too many children—like Francisco—are trapped by their ZIP codes and cannot escape bullying and dangerous environments.
Charter schools offer greater educational choice and safety to children from all walks of life and can be a particular lifeline for children from low-income families.
Indeed, charter school success isn’t limited to helping children in desperate situations. Charter schools’ autonomy empowers them to innovate with everything from their school environment to their curricula.
Dissatisfied Californian families eagerly welcomed charter creativity. In fact, The Sacramento Bee newspaper found that charter school enrollment increased 150% in the past decade alone.
However, local teachers unions don’t share families’ rising enthusiasm for charter schools. Instead, the California Teachers Association recently supported proposals that arbitrarily cap charter school growth and increase school district control of charter school authorization.
In other words, it wants the school district fox guarding the charter school henhouse.
Teachers unions recognize that the innovative approach of many charter schools threatens the district school monopoly. In fact, the nearly weeklong teachers strike in January in Los Angeles only ended after the union gained promises from the Board of Education to “call for the state to cap the number of charters.”
The union’s ostensible purpose behind the charter cap is to limit “unregulated” charter school growth, since school districts face budgetary constraints. But the union’s selective crippling of its charter school competitors is blatant.
Notably, California’s teacher strikes occurred in districts where charter schools offered impressive competition. For example, the California Charter Schools Association stated that charter schools in the Oakland Unified School District “significantly outperform their district school peers” and that “the top performing school in [the district] is a charter school. Of the top 10 schools in the district, four are charter schools.”
Oakland’s charter schools’ proficiency is even more striking in light of their financial constraints. They operate on 63% of the budget regularly provided to their district school counterparts while serving almost as many low-income families.
Charter schools offer genuine competition to district schools, and parents, empowered with choice for the first time, are voting with their feet.
Instead of hamstringing charter schools, Jonathan Butcher, senior policy analyst in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, recommends school districts engage in a little self-examination.
Butcher found pervasive bloat, waste, and theft in school districts across the nation. He wrote, “There are districts with excess administrative spending, vacant buildings supported by taxpayer resources, fraud, and theft … State lawmakers should require school districts to clean up the books … .”
Public school districts, Butcher explains, should “eliminate wasteful budgeting and poor spending practices to make better use of taxpayer resources.”
School districts also waste vast amounts of funds through bad policy, such as pay bumps for teachers with M.A. degrees. Even the Center for American Progress, a decidedly left-leaning organization, found that teachers with M.A. degrees are no more efficient in the classroom than their less-educated peers.
Policymakers should not limit greater schooling options for children because district schools fear healthy competitive pressure and suffer from poor financial management.
School districts—not children—should pay the price for corruption and bloat.