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Dispelling The Myths About The Role Of Charter Schools

 

Kelly Lichter, Board President, Mason Classical Academy

For the last three years, I have been working with Hillsdale College and an amazing team of local parents and citizens to bring a K-12 classical, liberal arts, public charter school to Collier County, Mason Classical Academy.  

Launching this non-profit initiative has been an all-volunteer effort. Countless hours were spent researching Florida education laws, crafting policies, hiring teachers and staff, reaching out to the community, enrolling students, and preparing a facility. On August 18th, 414 proud students and 25 quality teachers will make their debut.

When I talk with people in the community, they have many questions about charter schools.  They admit that they do not understand what they are, how they are funded or how students attend a charter school.  Since charter school laws differ in each state and are relatively new in Collier County, people are often misinformed.

Teachers unions are against Charter Schools because charters, although they are required to hire certified teachers, generally do not collectively bargain and are not unionized. Unions and union-supported candidates have used their resources to deceive the public about charter schools here in Collier County and across the country.

Let’s separate fact from fiction.

How are charter schools funded?  

Charter schools are funded through the Florida Education Finance Program in the same way as all other public schools in the school district. The amount allocated to district charter schools is dictated by the state, based on the number of students the charter school has enrolled.  

The Collier County School Board does not determine the amount of money a charter school receives.  Keep in mind that charter schools are not guaranteed funding.  They only exist because parents choose to send their children to these schools. The amount of state education funding allocated to the individual student ‘follows’ the student to the charter school. Charter schools also do not receive capital funding until they are proven after at least 3 years of operation.

How are charter schools held accountable? Charter school students are required to take all state mandated tests, and they are given a school grade in the same manner as the government-run schools.

They are held accountable for fiscal management by the local school district. I would argue that there is more accountability, since a charter school can be closed down for low academic performance and financial instability.  

In fact, Florida statutes have an entire chapter of laws that charter schools must follow.  If a government run school is under performing, their doors stay open year after year.

In Collier County charter schools make up only 2% of the entire student population.

These schools are open to any student living within the district who applies. Charter schools are statutorily required to conduct a random lottery if they receive more applications than seats available.  

They cannot choose their students based on test scores, academic performance, income, or any other reason. These schools give parents an option, since a one-size-fits-all is not for every child.

My opponents and those who are against school choice keep using “conflict of interest” as a red herring to distract the voters from the real issues facing our education system.  There is no conflict of interest. My service on the charter school board and district school board would present a unity of interest.  The goals for the charter school and for the district school board are the same.  I wouldn’t be the first charter school board member to serve on a district school board in the state of Florida.

After the hundreds of conversations I have had with parents, they are ecstatic that they have another option available with Mason Classical Academy.  I committed three years of volunteer service to help public education.  A strong public education system is the common goal whether it is a magnet, charter, technical or neighborhood school.  

I think it’s time we focus on our children and the real issues and get to work restoring public education. 

This article originally appeared in the print edition of the Naples Daily News, Naples, Florida on August 10, 2014 and appears here by permission of the author.

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