by

In Kansas, the case for charter schools

From Kansas Policy Institute.

The Case for Charter Schools — Part 1

By David Dorsey

In a recent post, I wrote a reaction to the Gannon v. Kansas decision by the Supreme Court. I built on the Court’s statement that “total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy” by concluding the need to change the education perspective from the focus on dollars to the focus on outcomes.

Now, in the shadow of Gannon, how can that happen?

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the educational establishment/bureaucracy to have an outcomes epiphany. That’s about as likely as KU agreeing to play Wichita State in a basketball game. The entire public school system is preoccupied trying to satisfy the common core standards gods. And, as Mr. Saturday Night (Billy Crystal) would say: Don’t get me started on that!

But what if there were public schools out there that followed a different set of standards, schools that could provide an alternate look at adequacy? Charter schools could do that.

True charter schools do NOT exist now in Kansas. Oh sure, the law provides for “charter schools,” but ours must be sponsored and approved by a local school board. That’s why, according to the Kansas Department of Education, there are currently only eleven charter schools across the state. Putting school boards in charge of charter schools is like putting Gregg Marshall in charge of Bill Self’s schedule.

The law should be changed, either through statute or constitutional provision, to allow the creation of an independent board to sponsor and govern charter schools, a board independent from local school districts. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) in the 2012-13 school year there were 32 states plus the District of Columbia that had charter school authorizers other than local school boards. Kansas is one of only eight states that has a charter law but restricts charter school authorizers to local school boards. According to the NAPCS, the Kansas law ranked 42nd out of the 43 states that have charter school laws.

How different might the court have decided if Kansas had charter schools like Carpe Diem in Yuma, Arizona, for instance. Carpe Diem is an example of a school that outperforms most other public schools in the state while doing it significantly cheaper. The 22 Success Academy schools in New York have received national attention regarding how at-risk students can thrive when given an alternative learning model. These examples are not anomalies. Nationwide results are presented in a 2013 study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, which shows low-income students across ethnic lines “gained a substantial advantage in charter schools compared to their twins in TPS (traditional public schools).”

Now that the Supreme Court has remanded the case to the lower court to revisit the adequacy issue, how that court will rule in the Gannon case is anyone’s guess. The same holds true of any court in funding-based lawsuits that are almost certain to follow, but pointing to Kansas versions of Carpe Diem or Success Academy may very well bolster the case for an outcomes-based model.

But the case for charter schools should not be viewed through a legislative or legal prism. Nor should it be about institutions. It should be about opportunities — opportunities for Kansas students and families to get the best possible education. The charter school movement was borne of a desire for better opportunities. And they continue to represent a beacon for families who feel trapped in low-performing schools with no hope for improvement. In fact, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, half of all students in Harlem attend charter schools. Our research right here in Kansas shows significant learning gaps rooted in socio-economic status. Shouldn’t our students get the same chance?

It’s time to shine that beacon on the sunflower state.