Friday, October 26, 2012

Yes on I-1240, Charter Schools

With less than two weeks before my ballot has to be back in the government's hands, I'm filling it out bit by bit. Voting Yes on I-1185 was easy; I-1240 is more difficult.

I-1240, Charter Schools

The Issue: I-1240 would create a "new" type of public school, one managed by a non-religious, non-profit organization, yet funded by the state government. Forty-one other states have adopted charter schools; I-1240 would allow a total of 40 charter schools in Washington. The pro-1240 website is here; the anti-1240 website is here.

My Position: In general, I support increasing school choice. In this particular case, I'm a bit leery for a few reasons. However, any reform that provides more choice is a step in the right direction, so I support I-1240.

My Reservations: I have three main concerns about I-1240:

1) Washington's charter schools will be explicity non-religious. Now under current Supreme Court doctrine, we may not have any other choice, but it still concerns me. If I-1240 passes, Washington will be establishing a program to give tax money to private organizations, and explicitly excluding certain organizations from consideration for that money based soley on religion. (On the other hand, it's not like regular public schools are any better in that regard, and at least I-1240 will expand parental choice.)

2) Washington's charter schools can only be run by non-profits. By removing the profit motive, I-1240 removes one of the best advantages charter schools have over regular public schools. (On the other hand, Washington voters have already rejected charter schools three times. Non-profit charters may be the only kind of charter school we can hope to see here in the near future.)

3) I would prefer a full voucher system that allowed parents the full range of choices for their children's education. (On the other hand, realistically, that's not going to happen any time soon, at least not in Washington state.)

Counterarguments: The No-on-1240 side makes four main counterarguments against I-1240, quoted below from the official Argument Against published in the voters' pamphlet:

1) "Charter schools will drain millions of dollars from existing public schools." (Rebuttal: In Washington, public school funding is based on enrollment. If a student enrolls in a different public school, the money follows the student. Charter schools will take money from existing schools only to the extent that parents choose charter schools over existing schools.)

2) "Charter schools will serve only a tiny fraction of our student population." (Rebuttal: Since school funding follows the student, this means that only a tiny fraction of public school money will be taken from existing schools. So what's the problem? I have a hard time taking this counterargument seriously. If the problem is that only a few would benefit, what kind of solution is it to forbid those few from benefiting?)

3) "Charter schools are an unproven, risky gamble." (Rebuttal: Forty-one states plus DC have already adopted charter schools, some more than twenty years ago. You might say compact discs are unproven, risky gambles too. But seriously, regular public schools are a gamble too-- some fail spectacularly. The difference is that you currently can't leave a public school without shelling out thousands to a private school or homeschooling. The parents' option to exit will not only keep charter schools on their toes, but improve performance in non-charter schools as well.)

4) "Charter schools undermine local control." (Rebuttal: I should hope so! If I were a parent, I wouldn't want the local board to have such total control over where I educated my children. I-1240 only undermines "local control" insofar as it restores choice to parents.)

I will be voting YES on I-1240.

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