Consider this. While only 10 percent of New Mexico’s public schools are charters, under our new school grading system, 25 percent of the top 40 public schools that received an “A” grade were charters. In fact, four of the top 10 schools are charters. Charters play an increasingly important role in improving public education in our state and Gov. Susana Martinez gets it.
The governor spoke recently at the New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools annual conference on the topic of protecting charter schools from the next round of legislation aimed at either limiting charters’ potential growth or cutting their funding.
Her speech was both insightful and powerful as she told state charter leaders she had their backs, as well as those of future charters that might form to meet the varied needs of today’s students.
We should commend the governor for her acknowledgement of the importance of public charter schools as part of the public school mix and her willingness to throw down a hard line against seemingly powerful interests that feel threatened by them.
“We all know that charter schools provide an opportunity to create new, innovative and more flexible ways of educating our children,” the governor said. She is right. Any good school district should welcome charter schools and recognize them as incubators of creative change in public education.
Even if your kids are not in a charter, they benefit from them because of the competition they encourage. Nothing breeds complacency, mediocrity and waste like a monopoly, and charters break that bureaucratic monopoly in a way that provides parents with public school choices.
Charters often focus on kids whom regular public schools were not serving well, or who were struggling in that environment. Charter schools are working to bridge the great divide between those who thrive in a traditional environment and those who don’t. Unfortunately there are those who are more interested in protecting a failing status quo simply because they work in and benefit from it.
Perhaps this is why bureaucratic rules exist that limit charters’ opportunities for growth or expansion.
And while some have argued that charters siphon off needed funds from the regular public schools, the truth is that the money that follows each child to a charter is actually a bit less than what the regular public schools are getting per child overall. We also now know that the “big school” concept is less than optimal for many kids, regardless of who is running it or teaching there.
Charters alone may not be an educational cure-all, since our communities’ problems around crime, addiction and other factors weigh against student success. Charter schools are, however, an essential piece of the solution. The governor clearly recognizes that public charter schools are part of the solution instead of being part of the problem and she’s pulled no punches in making her defense of charters clear to all interested parties.
“I will not sign any legislation that unfairly cuts funding to charter schools or legislation that would limit new ones from opening,” Martinez added in her remarks.
Given this governor’s history of saying what she means and fighting effectively for her key issues, those status quo interests might be well advised to do some soul searching rather than taking her on, and instead try to find some common ground.
With her recent speech to the charter school community, Martinez laid it down straight in a way that will ultimately benefit our kids and our state’s future more fundamentally than any in that audience at the time might have recognized.
We should all applaud her for standing with charters and be ready to help take the arguments for educational accountability, competition and excellence to those advocates for the failing status quo.