Eight years after the first charter school opened its doors, no aspect
of education reform is more successful -- or less understood.
Why? Because charter school opponents -- led by the Massachusetts
Teachers Association (MTA) -- have used a blend of exaggeration,
misstatement and outright fabrication to support cuts in charter
school funding and restrictions on enrollment.
With finances tight throughout Massachusetts, opponents have camouflaged
these old arguments with budgetary rationalizations. The latest
proposal -- the MTA Moratorium Bill -- would slap a three-year
moratorium on charter school expansion.
With apologies to David Letterman, here are the
"Top 10 Myths About Charter Schools:"
Today there are more than 19,000 children enrolled in Massachusetts
charter schools; more than 13,200 children are on waiting lists.
The bottom line is: Are these children better served in a public
charter school or a traditional public school? Perhaps the greatest
myth in this debate is that parents can't be trusted to make that decision.
- Myth: Charter Schools drain money from public schools.
Truth: When funding goes to charter schools, there is no loss of
public school money because charter schools are public schools.
The total amount of money spent on public education remains the same.
- Myth: Charter schools will cost the state $165 million next year;
the state should not be expanding any programs during tight fiscal
Truth: Charter schools do not cost the state any additional money.
They are funded from the same total pool of money as district
schools. They receive the same amount of money that district
schools would spend if they were still educating that student.
The district schools do not lose money when parents choose to send
their children to charter schools. Instead, they do not get
money they shouldn't receive when they lose enrollment to charter
- Myth: The moratorium bill will save the state $30 million.
Truth: A moratorium would save the state nothing, not one dollar.
That's because the children will remain in district schools and the
state will spend the same amount of money to educate them there.
And that's the real aim of the moratorium -- to keep all the
children and all the money within the established system.
- Myth: Charter schools are not affected by cuts in local aid.
They "take their money off the top."
Truth: Not true. When district schools get cut, charter schools get
cut by the same percentage. Charter school funding is calculated
by how much a community spends on its schools per student.
If local aid is cut this year, and education spending in communities
is reduced, so will the amount charter schools receive.
- Myth: Charter schools are taxpayer-funded private schools for an
elite student population.
Truth: Charter schools are public schools open to all who enroll.
Charter school families have greater racial and economic diversity
and lower income and education levels than their district school
- Myth: Charter schools are unproven.
Truth: Charter schools have had measurable academic success.
On the 2002 MCAS, two-thirds of charter school grade levels
outperformed their district school peers. The performance gap
grows the longer students are enrolled in charter schools.
- Myth: Charter schools play by different rules; they are not held
Truth: Charter schools must meet the same state education
standards, administer the same statewide tests and abide by the same
state laws and regulations as other public schools. Charter
schools go through a rigorous application process, are subject to
stringent annual inspections by the state and undergo recertification
every five years. Unlike other public schools, charter schools
that don't perform are closed.
- Myth: The charter school funding formula is unfair.
Truth: The charter school formula is unfair to charter schools,
because, unlike district schools, they don't receive financing for
their facilities. On average, charter schools received 5.6
percent ($6.3 million) less than they would have if they were
eligible for school building assistance dollars.
- Myth: Communities have no say in how charter schools are run or
how the money is spent.
Truth: Charter schools are founded and managed by local boards
made up of people who live in the community, and they report to
the state Board of Education. The local government, school
bureaucracy, and teachers unions don't control charter schools,
and that's the whole point. Charter schools have the flexibility
to innovate because they are not shackled by bureaucratic rules
and union contracts.
- Myth: Charter schools cost more than other public schools.
Truth: Charter schools spend less -- $856 less per pupil -- than
other public schools, and do not receive state school building
assistance that averages $450 per student. Charter schools
are a clear bargain for communities and for the state.
Marc Kenen, Ed.D. is the executive director of the
Massachusetts Charter School Association, which represents the state's
56 charter schools.