Charter Schools a Setback, Despite Success

Education in the United States can seem a bit bewildering at times. Confronted with the undeniably poor performance of public schools, in the 1990s, an alternative was devised that gave greater freedom to individual teachers and schools while not admitting fully that the free-market option — private schools — are in fact the only viable solution to the many flaws plaguing an education system run by the state.

Charter schools are at an advantage to their public counterparts because they are exempt from some of the most stringent of rules and regulations which prevent public schools from operating successfully. Charter schools are opened and attended by choice but do receive government funding.

The charters do better than public schools but according to Adam Schaeffer, who is with the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, they also “destroy private schools, decrease educational options, pull private-school students into the government education system and thereby add significant new costs to taxpayers.”

In 2007 Schaeffer already pointed out that private schools suffer immensely from this half-free government competition: “they have about half the public sector’s per pupil revenue and parents have to pay tuition on top of taxes for the government system,” he wrote. “That’s a high hurdle to clear to attract customers.”

Many parents are nonetheless desperate to get their children admitted into a private school, whether they can really afford it or not. As John Stossel noted last February, “Parents care about their kids and want them to learn and succeed — even poor parents.” He showed thousands lining up hoping to get their children into one of the few hundred lottery-assigned slots at a charter school. “Kids and parents cry when they lose,” because it means that they’re condemned to public education instead.

Charter schools are a better option because they mirror the freedom characteristic of private schools. Unsurprisingly, the number of students enrolled in these independently run institutions has risen dramatically in this decade. But they “are no substitute for private school choice,” writes Schaeffer. “In fact, by destroying private schools, they seriously erode the total range of educational options.”

The success of charter schools should convince the conservative elements currently holding American schooling in deadlock — the teachers’ unions and their representatives in Congress — that competition, not government, is vital to providing quality education. The United States should abandon the notion that education is a right and allow the market to provide parents with real options. “Absent private choice,” notes Schaeffer, “charters are a long-term setback for education reform.”