Questions about charter schools

Over the past several weeks there has been much media attention given to the pending charter school making its way to Sweet Home. Truly, it is nice to see so many good parents adamant about giving their child the opportunity for a quality education. Parents have every right to want our education system to be as it was in the past and I applaud them for taking so much interest. The apparent message however that the charter school is going to somehow benefit the Sweet Home School District is at best, a little skewed.

Several weeks ago a letter to the editor stated that a charter school would create more room in the public system for families that are apparently moving in to our community. The editorial of last week’s paper also claimed this as an advantage. Taking numbers that were printed in The New Era, the waiting list for the charter school is at 149 students. According to the authors of the editorial letter most, if not all of these students are currently being home schooled or enrolled in private education. If the charter school has a classroom cap size of 18 and they were lucky enough to find a building with let’s say 13 classrooms, then that would mean total enrollment of 234 students.

The difference of 85 students may or may not come from Sweet Home schools. But if they did, then on average, it would mean a decrease of approximately three students from each elementary classroom (first through fourth). This reduction still leaves my child’s classroom above state standards for favorable class size. Then what happens when all these supposed new families come to town?

Additional money to the school district also seems to be a popular argument for charter school supporters. School districts across the state receive approximately $5,000 per enrolled student. When students attend charter schools, the charter school receives 80 percent and school districts receive 20 percent. Simple math tells me that the Sweet Home School District would receive approximately $234,000. If the school district could recover from the loss of 85 students and their state funding ($425,000) then this money would be great. However, if you really believe all that money would go towards new teachers, the district would only be able to hire four. Unfortunately, we need that now and honestly, I don’t believe all the funds would or could be used towards educators.

People Involved in Education (PIE) has a three-pronged approach to their school: discipline, teacher expertise, and parental involvement. I’m not quite sure how this is significantly different from our public schools.

Discipline: Sweet Home School District is very active in a program designed for Positive Behavior management. Over the past three years many of the elementary schools have had several successes in decreasing the number of office referrals for negative behavior. Classroom order, even with 29 students, isn’t that bad. I would almost bet that discipline wouldn’t even be an issue if parents stepped up their involvement rather than turning up the remote.

Teacher Expertise: 100 percent of teachers within the school district are certified. Changes in the law several years back required that new teachers have a master’s degree before they can become certified. Most charter schools do not require 100 percent of their teachers to be certified (so I’m not sure where the “expertise” comes in). Granted, some charter schools do have higher standards. I tried to confirm whether or not PIE has this requirement, but no information was listed on their Web site.

Parental Involvement: The editorial in last week’s paper confirmed that charter schools have strict policies for parental involvement. If you want your child to attend the school, then you must demonstrate involvement. Wouldn’t it be nice if all parents were required to be involved with their children’s education?!

I very much agree with the supporters of charter schools that the public system is not the same as it used to be. I’m as frustrated as they with the size of my child’s class, the constant reduction in state funding, of all the extra-curricular classes being cut from the curriculum, and the negative behavior of a lot of the students because their parents choose to be disengaged.

It does amaze me, though, that people who are products of the public system (and turned out pretty good) somehow feel that the system now isn’t good enough for their own children. Some people even work in the public system, but choose to send their children elsewhere. Why is the public system OK for a paycheck but not an education?

Good parents work hard to make sure their children receive the best. It’s really none of my business as to where anyone sends their child to be educated. Just please don’t play the card that my child’s public education is going to be any better because a new charter school is coming to town. What will help all of our children is tax reform and the Legislature’s attitude towards education. But even more importantly, the public school system would see a dramatic improvement if those same good parents screaming for a charter school gave back to the same system that once provided them with a quality education.

Kristin Adams

Sweet Home