In the early days of the charter school debate in West Virginia (way back in February), one of the key selling points from Republican Senate leadership was 43 other states allow such schools. Why shouldn’t West Virginia hop on the bandwagon?
Indeed, there was a time when charter schools — essentially private schools funded by public money but not subject to certain aspects of state oversight and regulation — had broad, bipartisan support. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama saw them as an alternative to public education that could produce great results for students.
Here’s the thing about being the 44th state to hop on the charter bandwagon, if that’s what West Virginia chooses to do: 43 other states have been at this for a while, and the results just aren’t there.
In fact, according to a recent essay in The Washington Post, many cities are now declaring they won’t license any more charter schools, many charters have shut down and public opinion nationwide is generally shifting against the charter concept.
Turns out, charters rely just as much on standardized test scores as public schools do, so “teaching to the test” is still a problem. Charter schools are also lucrative businesses for their operators, and are, therefore, in many instances, sold to families like a product, whether they perform as advertised or not.
As pointed out in The Post, a study of charter schools in Ohio shows that some perform better than public schools, some perform worse and most are about the same. A study from Stanford University cited in the essay reached the same conclusion.
So, take all of the political heat around this issue in West Virginia between Senate leadership, the Governor’s Office and public school teachers and their unions out of the equation, and the question still remains: Why be one of the last to jump on a bandwagon when the wheels are already coming off?
The only logical answer is that charter schools make money. Which again shows that this entire effort has never been about making things better for West Virginia students or their families by providing “school choice.”
Hopefully, the state House of Delegates will keep all of this in mind next week when tackling the recent bills passed by the Senate allowing unlimited charter schools and authorizing public money for private educational savings accounts.