Students Deserve Option of Public Charter Schools

Across the country, millions of students, families and educators are celebrating National Charter Schools Week and how they transform communities by bringing educational opportunities to students. Unfortunately, our students are left out of these celebrations because West Virginia is one of the few states that does not currently allow public charter schools.

Education in America is designed around school buildings, drawing district lines around those buildings and assigning students to schools based on whether they live within those lines. For many parents, the only choice available to them is to relocate to a new community — an option out of reach for families without the resources to pick up and move.

In West Virginia, we should concern ourselves more with the quality of education students are receiving, rather than where they are receiving that education. Even the highest quality traditional public school won’t be the right fit for every child, and all children deserve to find the educational setting or pathway that works best for them.

One of those options should be charter schools, which are independently operated, public schools. They provide a high-quality education option to public school students, upholding high standards that meet and often exceed the district and state metrics. In exchange for operational autonomy, they are held accountable to the same — and often higher — standards as their district public schools.

More than 7,000 charter schools serve 3.2 million students nationwide. The schools in operation the longest have been around for two decades, and 44 states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam, all have charter school laws on the books.

Each school is unique — both inside and out. Some may focus on college preparation, some follow a Montessori curriculum and others integrate the arts into each subject. The possibilities are endless, meaning that charter schools can provide a range of options so that parents can choose the school that best fits their child.

Although people often associate charter schools with urban areas, these autonomous schools offer a valuable solution for suburban and rural districts as well. For example, the community of Tidioute, Pennsylvania — with a population of only 654 — had success in establishing a charter school when the district proposed closing its school as a part of a consolidation. Because of their remote geography, distance from other communities and the icy conditions they face in winter, the community members felt it was important to have a school located within Tidioute. Their charter school capitalizes on their tight-knit community and local resources to offer students place-based education and a family-like culture.

Because they are public schools, charters cannot pick and choose which students attend their schools. They cannot have admission requirements or entrance exams. They also cannot turn away special needs students. In practice, charter schools predominately serve minority and low-income students.

Both the National Center for Special Education in Charter School’s 2018 report, Key Trends in Special Education in Charter Schools: A Secondary Analysis of Civil Rights Data Collection, and an analysis by ExcelinEd found that public charter schools are serving more students with disabilities than ever before.

Further, the Nation’s Report Card, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), is the only academic achievement measurement given in all 50 states. While the 2017 NAEP showed mixed results nationally, two states with charter-friendly policies — Florida and Arizona — showed significant student improvements.

In comparison, West Virginia falls near the bottom of those state rankings. Less than half (only 40 percent) of our fourth graders can read and do math at grade level. And the results for our eighth graders are even more dismal.

The bottom line is the education status quo is not working. We must do better by our students, and quickly, before we lose another generation.

It is time West Virginia students have access to different learning environments, like charter schools, so they can be successful in school and beyond.

Senator Rucker, R-Jefferson, represents the 16th District, which includes Jefferson County and part of Berkeley County. She is the chairman of the state Senate Education Committee.

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