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Charters held to higher standards

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This month, we continue with our series of articles on dispelling myths about charter schools. Last month’s column focused on clarifying that charter schools do not hurt a local school district’s graduation rate, are not private schools and that charter schools “cherry pick” their students. This month we will debunk the myths that charters are not accountable for academic performance and that they operate without any oversight.

A huge misconception about charter schools is that they are not accountable for academic performance. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, charters are more accountable and held to a higher standard for academic performance than traditional schools. Not only are charters accountable to their authorizer, either the Public Education Commission or the local school district, they are accountable to their students and parents. Through a contract with its authorizer, the charter defines the academic standards, or goals, the school is going to meet or exceed. The school’s performance measures are stated right up front so there is no question about what the standard is for the academic performance of the school.

What happens if a charter school does not meet those standards? Since parents make a choice to enroll their students in that charter school, if the school is not delivering the results it said it would and what parents want for their students, the parents have the right to remove their students and send them somewhere else. If enough students leave the charter school, it will have to close because it is not financially feasible to keep it open.

Also, if the charter school does not meet its academic performance goals, the authorizer has the authority to close the school down. These are definitely higher standards than what traditional public schools must meet. If a traditional public school is not meeting academic performance standards, it is are allowed to continue to operate. Of course, parents do have the right to remove their students from an underperforming traditional school and send them elsewhere. Thus, charters are a viable option for parents not satisfied with the performance of the traditional school their student or students attend.

Many people incorrectly believe that charter schools operate without any oversight. Like traditional public schools, charters are highly regulated and must abide by all federal, state and local laws and rules. By New Mexico statue, all charter schools are overseen and governed by a board made up of a minimum of five members. This is the same as traditional public schools and similarly, charter boards are accountable for the governance, fiscal oversight, and strategic planning for the school.

The misperception about charter school oversight is probably due to the difference that traditional school boards are elected by the citizens of the local school district. While some charter schools do have an election process for their board members, many charter boards are made up of individuals who wish to volunteer their time to a worthy cause and believe they have something to offer the school. Additionally, some board members are individuals who are asked by others to serve on the board because they bring resources to the board in terms of expertise or experience. Because charter boards are often volunteers rather than elected officials, the perception is that there is a lack of oversight and accountability.

Whether elected, asked to serve, or volunteer, charter boards are responsible for ensuring all legal requirements of the school are being met. All charter board members are required, by law, to attend at least five hours of training each year. This training focuses on the board’s roles and responsibilities, financial and legal oversight and student academic performance. Being a charter school board member is a very big responsibility and one that the vast majority of charter board members take very seriously.

Next month we will focus on funding for charter schools.

Bruce Hegwer, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools, writes a monthly column for the Journal.

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