Advocates for charter schools say they offer families educational alternatives to failing public schools without the worry of private school tuition. But opponents argue they harm traditional public schools by siphoning money from the district, causing superintendents to make difficult budget choices like cutting art classes or reducing one-on-one teaching.
A charter school is a publicly funded school that is established by a private group. The group creates a contract with the state and local government, which lays out specific accountability requirements. The government has the ability to shut the school down if it doesn’t meet those standards. What’s more, these schools are exempt from certain state laws and regulations that traditional public schools must follow, but they are expected to meet educational standards.
KIPP, which stands for the "Knowledge Is Power Program," is the largest charter management organization in the U.S., according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Nearly 3,000 students attend KIPP schools in Philadelphia. Admission is determined through a lottery system, with 97% of the students identifying as Black or African American and 76% qualifying for free or reduced lunch.
At the organizational level, though, critics say charter schools harm the wider public school district, due to funding and transparency concerns.
"I’m opposed to publicly funded charter schools that are run privately," said Joseph Roy, superintendent of schools at the school district in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. "Don’t tell me you’re a public school if you’re not governed by the public."
When a child leaves a district-run public school, the tax dollars follow that student to the charter school. Opponents of charter schools say even though the student is leaving the school, it doesn’t reduce the traditional public school’s costs.
"What winds up happening is there is a downward spiral because as the money goes out with kids, the services the district can provide become less and less," said Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, an advocacy group that is outspoken against charter schools. "So more parents leave for charter schools. And it puts some districts in critical places where they’re really not able to service the kids that they have."
Watch the video above to find out why charter schools have become such a contentious issue in the U.S.
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Why Charter Schools Are So Controversial