All charter schools are public schools

Nina Rees

WASHINGTON — Charter schools are always public schools and prioritize the learning needs of every student.

As such, we take exception to the term “for-profit” charter schools because it is misleading. It is true that about 10 percent of these student-centered, tuition-free, innovative public schools contract with companies for management functions. That does not make the schools themselves “for-profit” entities.

Many have questioned whether a public charter school that contracts with a management company should receive federal funding. To that, we say the answer is clear. Charter school students are public school students and deserve fair access to federally funded programs that are intended to support them. A student with a disability is entitled to a free and appropriate education under federal law, regardless of the tax designation of the company that provides human resources support, accounting services, or facility management for their public school. The same is true for students who come from low-income families and are entitled to Title I funding.

Singling out charter schools from other public schools and threatening to jeopardize their federal funding over the types of partners they work with is unjust, harmful and puts millions of students at risk of losing all their federal funding simply because of the type of public school they attend — a public charter school.

Let’s also set the record straight on public schools that contract with for-profit companies. They all do. Whether for meal services, transportation, textbooks, recruitment, building maintenance, or any of the hundreds of other things needed to run a school, public schools often turn to for-profit companies for support. It is not unheard-of for district public schools to outsource some or all aspects of management, curriculum, testing, transportation, facilities management, payroll, IT support, etc. It is an unfair double standard to penalize charter schools for doing the same thing. And it must end.

Charter schools are held to higher standards, and often with fewer resources than district schools. The National Alliance believes in quality, accountability and transparency — not only to the state and authorizing entity but most importantly to the families and communities a school serves. This should be true for all public schools, both district and charter.

Charter schools are an important part of the American education landscape serving 3.5 million students — two-thirds of whom are from low-income, Black or Latino communities. A recent report from the National Alliance says public charter school enrollment increased 7 percent during the 2020-2021 school year. In all, nearly 240,000 new students enrolled in these unique public schools, while 1.4 million students left their district public schools.

The millions of families who send their children to charter schools — and those awaiting their chance to send their children to one — prioritize student outcomes and success. Those schools that do well by their students and communities should remain open and those that don’t need to close. That is the key feature that distinguishes public charter schools from other public schools — and this is exactly what happens in the public charter sector — regardless of the tax designation of a company that may provide office support.

Charter schools get results with the freedom and flexibility to design instruction that meets students where they are and prepares them to be successful in college, career and life. This year, 24 of the top 100 best high schools in U.S. News & World Report were charter schools, despite charter schools making up only 7 percent of public high schools. Stanford’s CREDO found that in urban charter schools, low-income Latino students gained 48 additional days in math and 25 additional days in reading, while low-income Black students gained 44 additional days in reading and 59 additional days in math per year.

Families are sending a clear message: They want more public school options for their children’s education and they want the results from public charter schools. Our leaders must not only listen to families but also take action and fight for continued funding and growth of these schools.

Nina Rees is the president and chief executive officer of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. She wrote this for

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