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Charter Schools vs. District Public Schools: The Facts Behind the Dispute

Parents have been losing faith in traditional public schools in the USA, and this sentiment only increased during the pandemic. As reported by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, More and more parents are enlisting their children into private or public charter schools because of a growing concern that traditional public schools are failing to provide their children with a decent education. However, the belief that charter schools are better than public schools might not be grounded in fact. Charter schools are schools that continue their curriculum instead of a school board or state board deciding it for them. They still receive funding from the government, so they are still considered public schools -though the state they operate in has little control over them. At Beacon Academy, the charter schools advertise some of their pros against traditional public schools. They claim that their flexibility and the freedom of their school curriculum allow them to create a friendlier, healthier environment for kids to learn. They also claim to keep "politics out of schools" and instead focus on education. Sallie B. Howard School, another charter school, claims the same thing on its website. They claim to offer better scholarships and have more extracurricular activities than traditional public schools.

But most importantly, both of these charter schools and most charter schools in general claim they teach their students in more effective ways than traditional schools do. Many parents end up believing such claims, and as such, they send their children to these schools instead of traditional public schools. Yet, is any of this true? Are charter schools better than traditional public schools, and do they pose a threat to traditional public schools? 

Analyzing the information about charter schools exposes a different reality. Charter schools, according to U.S. News, indeed have more freedom. They control not only their curriculum but as their academic focus and disciplinary action. Yet, there is no evidence suggesting that this increased freedom actually helps the children charter schools tech. One study even found that 44 percent of charter schools do not outperform traditional public schools. Charter schools also suffer from the same problems as traditional public schools, such as the stratification of students and racial achievement gaps. Despite the narrative pushed by many charter schools, they do not differ significantly from their traditional counterparts. 

Though charter school enrollment is increasing, they still only teach about 6 percent of American children, according to Harvard. And yet, many people in favor of traditional public schools continue to say that charter schools negatively affect public schools by costing them funding. However, the evidence on this is somewhat mixed. 

Both Harvard and Brookings have found mixed results when they analyze how charter schools affect traditional public school funding. Both institutions also noted that traditional schools did lose funding for each child they lost to charter schools but that administrative costs remained fixed. Therefore, for every child lost to the traditional public schools, they lose funding, but it is not funding the government would have allowed them to keep. Say, for instance, if a child moved states, the public school he once attended would lose the funding the government provided the school to educate him. As such, if people are truly concerned about public schools losing funding, the only party to blame would be the government for having a financial plan set up on a per-student basis. However, according to Brookings, this financial plan allows state governments to prioritize which schools require the most financial assistance. 

Another important thing to note is that charter schools, according to Harvard, lose double the rate of teachers as traditional public schools. The pay for charter school teachers tends to be lower than for traditional public school teachers, and the hours for charter school teachers tend to be longer. For these reasons, charter schools seem to have a revolving door of teachers. Because of this, charter schools may be less stable for students than traditional public schools. It's also important to note that some charter schools are actively worse for children than public schools. 

According to the same report by Harvard, some charter schools in Detroit only thrive because they have extracurricular activities not offered by traditional public schools. In the report by Harvard, They also tend to be in better locations and have better security than other schools in their areas. Some charter schools that might have worse educational settings simply thrive because they offer better extracurriculars and locations closer to the children in their area. Harvard also noted that parents don't often think based on whether their child is learning anything but instead on convenience and safety. Because of this, some children might be in safer schools, but it comes at the expense of their education. 

Overall, the evidence on charter schools is mixed. While they claim to be better alternatives for children than public schools, the evidence points to them being on the same level (and, in some cases, worse) than traditional public schools. In the same report from Harvard, despite having freedom when it comes to school curriculum and having more flexibility, they still don't outperform traditional public schools. However, evidence of their effects on traditional public school funding is mixed. In fact, one of the only interesting parts of this dispute between traditional public schools and charter schools is the dispute itself. Some argue that they should not exist at all as many are owned by for-profit institutions, as reported by Harvard.  Others say that charter schools' freedom, flexibility, and smaller classroom sizes create a friendlier environment for children to learn. While the arguments are strong for both sides, it is no doubt that charter schools are, in fact, riskier than traditional public schools due to the worrying rate at which they lose teachers as well as little state control over the school curriculum. 

Recently, as seen on Regulations.gov, the Biden Administration has set up new standards for charter schools and demanded that they do community impact analysis, which would only allow federal funding for charter schools if they assist w public schools with over attendance. According to Bloomberg News, this has been met with much backlash from Republicans and Democrats alike, who continue to protest that charter schools are better alternatives to public schools. Regardless of what side one person might be on, the best thing one can do to make their concerns heard is to write to their congressman and advocate publicly for what side of the issue they are on. 

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