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Share charter school lessons

Tom Sullivan’s recent letter to the editor is more evidence that we need to change the way we do business when it comes to public schools. It’s time to break down the distinctions between charter and traditional schools so that we can seize the innovation opportunity of charters in Albuquerque and New Mexico.

We have ignored the fact that charters were created to be incubators for new ideas and models that can serve young people and communities in new and better ways. However, they have been framed as competition to the traditional system.

While charter schools have pushed some local districts like Albuquerque Public Schools to create more options, I can’t think of an innovation from a charter school that has permeated the traditional system. This is zero-sum thinking that maintains the status quo and kills innovation.

There are countless opportunities for traditional and charter schools to work together to solve chronic problems.

For example, there is a wide swath of young people who are becoming increasingly disengaged from the schools that they attend, and there are more than a few charters specifically designed to solve this problem.

This dropout phenomenon ripples through the APS budget. More importantly, it ripples through the community in the form of children and families who are marginalized by poverty and other social issues like crime and drug addiction.

The following is a tale of one graduating class that illustrates just how much work we have to do.

According to data compiled by the Legislative Education Study Committee, there were 8,694 ninth graders in APS in the 2012-13 school year. Four years later, the graduating class of 2015-16 will be about 5,000 students which reflects more than a 40 percent attrition rate. The budget impact of the lost state revenue is about $27 million (3,694 x $7,400), which is a recurring cost that happens every year.

When you can’t maintain your revenue, it’s natural to react by cutting programs when you should be investing in new ideas to better serve young people. It’s a vicious cycle that drives more students out of school.

The costs of inaction go far beyond APS.

In a widely cited 2012 study, “The Economic Value of Opportunity Youth,” researchers documented the societal cost associated with disengaged young people who become unproductive adults. They estimate that the community pays $255,000 for social services, and the cost of lost wages, poor health and being in and out of jail or prison is $756,000 over their lifetime.

There’s a direct connection between our success at engaging young people in school and the health of our community.

Charter schools have fewer constraints. They have control over their staffing, budget, governance and curriculum. They can, and should, be incubators for new ideas that can be used to transform the larger system.

Visionary leaders in school districts would break down the categories that separate charters and traditional schools and build bridges between them.