Caroline Shirley: Charter schools are competition
Caroline Roemer Shirley agrees with critics on one thing — charter schools are competition for the public school system.
Shirley is executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, the spokeswoman for an organization that advocates accountable charter schools as an alternative for parents deciding where their child can best get an education.
“Our intent is to provide people with choices. Charter schools force out of the insulated state that comes with being a monopoly, and that is what K-12 public education has become,” she said in a recent visit here.
“We are proud to say that through school choice, Louisiana students have improved their grades and test scores, and become better prepared for the rigors of college or a successful professional life,” she said.
Public systems are concerned that the Minimum Foundation Program funding that each school gets per student moves with the student when he or she enters a charter school.
A public charter school is still a public school, but operates independently of parish school boards and without some of the constraints traditional public systems have.
Those constraints and obligations don’t go away for the traditional system when a student moves to a charter school, but the money does. And every system needs every dollar it can raise.
Shirley, who has education concerns in her genetics (her father, former Gov. Buddy Roemer railed regularly during his administration about the education lobby), said the initial resistance to the public charter schools has eased somewhat as their academic successes have grown.
That success story is centered in New Orleans, where post-Katrina competition between traditional and public charter schools has driven classroom achievement up.
“Prior to Katrina, 83 percent of schools in New Orleans would have been designated as ‘failing’ by the current state standard of a School Performance Score of 75. In four years, the RSD (Recovery School District) has reduced the number of schools below an SPS of 75 by 68 percent. At this rate, the RSD will eliminate failing schools altogether in Orleans Parish in the next five years,” she noted previously.
Shirley says there remains a lot of misinformation among the general public regarding public charter schools.
A widely held view is that they are elitist, cherry picking the best students and teachers and leaving traditional schools to struggle with the remainder.
Shirley said “yes,” some of the better students and some of the better teachers opt for the charter school route.
But to categorize the student bodies and faculties as just that is way off base, she said.
“This is about parents and students choosing what is best for their situation — whether it’s a traditional school, a virtual school or one of the other forms of public charter available,” she said.
Further information about public charter schools: lacharterschools.org.