Charter schools deserve to be valued

Written By Rachel Ross, Co-Opinions Editor

By definition, a charter school is, well, a school that follows a charter. A common misconception is that they are essentially private schools, which is not the case. Students do not have to pay to attend them; enrollment is usually determined by a randomized lottery. Charter schools are technically public schools, but they do not follow the district system, and they do not receive exactly the same kind of funding. A majority of their funds come from districts paying for a resident child to attend the school. They are independently run, and as such, they are able to dictate their own rules and standards to a certain degree, outlined in their charter, which they are held to by whoever authorizes it; usually a nonprofit or government agency. That’s a charter school by definition, but in practice, it is so much more. 


I would know. I attended a charter school for seven years. 


Last month, the Biden administration proposed new rules that would make it more difficult for charter schools to apply for grants. The day after Congress approved $440 million to aid charter schools in start-up costs, the administration introduced a new set of regulations that would make it harder for those applying to meet the standards necessary to receive a grant. 


Why Congress would approve this money just for the Biden administration to essentially lock it down and make it impossible for anyone to use is not only counteractive, but also insulting to these charter schools looking for help. Biden has made his disdain for charter schools known previously; during his presidential campaign, he expressed, “I am not a charter school fan, because it takes away the options available and money for public schools.” If that’s the case, I don’t understand why the money was ever proposed or approved in the first place. Now it won’t be used by anyone. You’ve become the one actively taking away money by essentially throwing $440 million out the window just to spite and stifle these charter schools. 


According to the Washington Post, “The Biden administration claims that the proposed rules would ensure fiscal oversight and encourage collaboration between traditional public schools and charter schools.”


Essentially what this means is turning charter schools into the little sibling that wants to help fix the sink, and public schools into the big brother who tells them to scram because they have it covered. These rules aim to make charter schools look obsolete: like the public schools have everything under control, and their services won’t be necessary. 


The Washington Post mentions one of the new requirements as being that, “would-be applicants provide proof of community demand for charters, which hinged on whether there is over-enrollment in existing traditional public schools.” So we can’t have a new charter school unless a public school decides that it’s too full, which is a ceiling that really doesn’t exist for how many kids they cram into those things without batting an eye. They’re making it so that charter schools don’t have a chance at this money after dangling it in their face. Funding for charter schools should not be contingent on the performance of a public school. It creates this incredibly unfair hierarchy and suggests that public schools are superior or more important. 


None of this is to say of course that public schools don’t have any problems of their own. A majority of them are underfunded. More money should be allocated to them, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of charter schools. They should not be making up for their financial problems by holding the baseball above their head and making charter schools jump for it. What public schools do have going for them is their network size. There’s power in numbers, whether that be the number of students, or faculty members, or schools in the district; they have the manpower to be more easily recognized and vouched for and receive the resources they need. Charter schools don’t have that, they’re on their own. The flow of funding for charter schools is different for every state; it’s not 100%cut and dry anywhere. Donations and grants are essential for them to be able to operate to the fullest extent. Yes, charter schools are on their own by design, but that doesn’t mean they should be disregarded or outcast. 


Of the attention that is given to public institutions, it’s all going to traditional public schools, which is so thoughtless and dismissive, and completely undermines the opportunities and experiences that charter schools provide for the children that go there. 


Over the course of middle school and most of high school, I was provided with countless unique opportunities through attending a charter school that made a monumental impact not only on my education, but on my development into the person I am today. It’s important to note that every charter school is different and might not offer exactly the same programs, but it’s likely they will have similarly unique learning opportunities. 


On a yearly basis, we participated in Intensives, which was a two day excursion to learn about a particular area of interest, such as photography, journalism, fitness, fashion, cooking, etc., through applicable field trips. For example, through this program, which is funded almost entirely by grants, I was given the opportunity to go to Washington D.C. in my sophomore year of high school and meet with journalists at the Associated Press, including their executive editor Julie Pace. Additionally, we had what was referred to as Expeditions, which were explorations of a particular area of study that spanned across several core subject classes. They usually resulted in some kind of project, which were sometimes presented at public showcases. We also had Crew, which was a yearly framework that saw each grade level being split into groups of 10 or 12 and meeting daily with a designated “Crew Leader” to participate in team building activities, mindfulness exercises, or even just conversations to see how everyone was doing. 


But the opportunity I would say I am most appreciative of was the chance for individuality. Charter schools tend to have smaller class sizes and overall enrollment numbers, resulting in more personalized interactions between students and teachers. I never felt like just another face in the crowd; I felt like an individual member of a community. I had the chance to get to know pretty much everyone in my graduating class and to form personable relationships with teachers. 


Parents and kids deserve a choice. Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that charter schools usually operate on a lottery system and not everyone is guaranteed entry. However, having the opportunity to apply, and to seek out other options, is important. That’s why charter schools are sometimes referred to as choice schools; they’re not required to take anyone like a public school but rather stand to potentially offer another option to families interested in one. 


I don’t want to come across as anti-public school; however, fundamental changes need to be made to the way they are run to make them better environments for students. These programs like Crew and Intensives, and even sometimes the personalized relationships, just don’t exist in public schools. Most don’t have the framework or freedom to support them right now. Most people don’t even know they exist, because charter schools are seldom given the attention they should. That is the direction we should be heading in for education: programs that encourage exploration, communication and collaboration; stifling schools that are trying to offer them is a detrimental mistake. If that $440 million was allocated to help charter schools get off the ground, they shouldn’t be made to jump through hoops to get it. 


Charter schools are important. They are not unnecessary commodities. They are valuable, and  deserve proper recognition and funding, just like any other educational institution.