Free Press Misleads on Charter Schools

A Detroit Free Press editorial opposing legislation that would remove arbitrary caps on the number of charter public schools contains a series of misleading, inaccurate and intemperate statements. The newspaper’s opening argument exemplifies the latter: “[T]he experiment [the Legislature] is trying to inflict on children and their parents is ill-conceived and dangerous.”

No charter public school has ever “inflicted” anything on parents or children, for a very basic reason: The only children who attend charters are those whose parents have voluntarily and conscientiously chosen to send them there.

In fact, the Legislature cannot itself increase the number of charters — that requires parents, who must actively select an alternative to the conventional public school the state has assigned for their children. All the Legislature can do is remove the cap on the number of charters allowed — the market determines how many actually exist.

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The Free Press claims that there are no “firm benchmarks for success” for charter schools, implying that they’re held to different standards. This is false. Charters must meet the same state and federal benchmarks as conventional public schools.

In addition, the Free Press appears not to understand how charter schools come into existence by writing, “[T]here is nothing to stop a company that has performed poorly from opening more schools.” Presumably the editors are referring to education management organizations, but these entities don’t open charters. Rather, they are hired by charter school boards that have already been authorized by state institutions, and can be fired by those boards if they don’t perform well.

This accountability is just one form of charter school quality control. Others include the charter authorizers and parents. No charter can open without first being authorized by a public institution such as a state university, community college or school district. And no charter can continue to operate unless parents continue to choose it for their children.

The editorial concludes by discrediting parents’ ability to make effective decisions about their children’s education, especially if they have “too many choices.” The reality is that most parents have very few options. Adding a small handful of new ones is hardly likely to overwhelm them. Even if some parents fail to exercise due diligence, in most cases their children will still benefit from more options, because — as numerous studies have shown — the increased competition forces all schools to raise their game.

The position expressed by the Free Press only makes sense if you believe that politicians and bureaucrats are better at deciding the optimal choice for each and every one of Michigan’s 1.5 million schoolchildren than their parents are. Empowering more parents to make this decision is absolutely the right thing for Michigan’s children.

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