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Trusted local news leader for Kingman, Arizona & Mohave County
3:11 PM Mon, Dec. 10th

Get A Grip: Charter schools not the answer to education problems

Evidently the charter school fad has reached all the way to Kingman's soon-to-be-unified school district.

The district, reported Terry Organ in Sunday's Miner, is considering sponsoring a charter school in Golden Valley.

Already we have a charter school operating in Kingman and one in Golden Valley.

Evidently, someone thinks we need more.

The charter school is a public opinion darling.

People love it.

Why? Because everyone knows public schools are performing poorly.

Because for years legislators have been trying to come up with ways to solve the problem.

Because the charter school "solution" is simple and sexy.

And since it's simple and sexy, it's easy to overlook the fact that it's wrong.

Charter schools, for those who don't know, were approved by the Arizona legislature in 1994.

Under the charter system, private citizens (educational background optional) can apply to start a school.

They receive a charter and the state gives them a bunch of money to start and run their school.

Rules? Well, there aren't many.

The teachers don't have to be certified.

The schools don't have to comply by the same rules public schools must abide by.

The theory is that the charter schools will create competition and force all schools to improve standards to compete for pupils and different types of schools will pop up to cater to the different needs of students.

The reality is that charter schools drain the public school system of already scarce funds and skim off select segments of the student population creating segregated schools.

The charter school phenomenon is relatively new.

It started in Minnesota in 1991 and quickly mushroomed with states across the nation adopting their own charter school laws.

Here in Arizona, we taxpayers began buying businesses (schools) for private citizens in 1994.

We pay the price but the owners get the assets.

If the school folds, the owners still have the property we bought them.

Alex Molnar, professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, puts it like this in a 1996 essay, "In the charter school market, the financial risks are socialized, while the financial gains are privatized." It's a good deal for a businessperson, maybe not so good for the kids.

Here in Kingman we have the Kingman Academy of Learning.

To its credit, it is a good school with a varied curriculum and some dedicated teachers and administrators.

Nevertheless, an Arizona State University professor, in a 1999 study of the state's charter schools, concluded that "the degree of ethnic separation in Arizona schools is large enough and consistent enough to warrant concern among education policymakers." The schools also, by requiring parent involvement contracts, can discriminate against poorer students or those not able to be involved.

While the study did not find significant ethnic separation at KAL, it did find "suspect ethnic separation."

The public should also be concerned that tax dollars are going to churches that, during the week, house charter schools.

This suggests a serious violation of the separation of church and state.

Certainly public schools need help.

Just as certainly, charter schools are not the answer.

But their popularity endures.

Again, Molnar puts it best, "If the popularity of charter schools demonstrates anything, it is America's enduring faith that major educational reforms can be accomplished on the cheap."

Arizona will have to defend its charter school program in a federal lawsuit filed recently by a former charter school teacher in Phoenix.

The lawsuit, according to the Associated Press, claims the law enabling 403 charter schools to operate in the state is in violation of the state's constitution's requirement for a "general and uniform public school system."

The issue will likely be hashed out in the courts for years to come while we struggle to provide our children with a fair and adequate education.