Charter schools are not the enemy

The Orange County School of the Arts, a California charter school. (Photo: LunaSee Studios

In recent weeks, much has been reported on the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) teacher strike outcome. Valid issues addressing major concerns associated with California’s deteriorating public education system include teacher pay and benefits, school district budgets, classroom size and conditions to name a few.

The question remains: What does this mean for other school districts throughout the state of California?

Unfortunately during the LAUSD negotiations, the teachers union perpetuated a dishonest conversation about the role of public charter schools – essentially claiming charter schools are run by billionaires stealing public funds and the best and brightest students from struggling district-run schools.

This is simply NOT true.

LAUSD is now calling for a cap to be put on the number of new charter schools allowed – problematic to say the least for the ever-growing number of families who are seeking solutions to traditional public school shortcomings, but can’t afford private school.

I removed my kids from the traditional public school setting twelve years ago. Their love of learning and curiosity was being squashed.

As a mom of two public charter school graduates, I’d like to take the opportunity to set the record straight. I am not against public schools – if it works well for your kids, then that’s great! There are some terrific neighborhood schools with passionate teachers serving students well.

However, more and more families are finding public schools to be lacking – and we as parents should have every right to determine what’s best for our kids. Charter schools are not the enemy. They are a solution with excellent results – outperforming many district-run schools in all categories. The days of cramming all children into the same box are over.

The bottom line: families are bailing out of the public system, one that is a lumbering, crippled old giant, perhaps still lovable and worth saving, but steadily falling apart from a multitude of ailments. It’s akin to putting tiny band-aids on bloody gaping wounds, while simultaneously blaming its decline on anything other than the obvious. It is old, outdated, mismanaged, and in need of major surgery – not tiny band-aids. Charter schools are NOT part of the disease killing the giant.

I removed my kids from the traditional public school setting twelve years ago. Their love of learning and curiosity was being squashed.  Eventually, I came to the difficult, scary decision to jump off that cliff and not look back. I chose one of the many versions of public school options available, and it worked exceedingly well – love of learning rekindled – both kids achieving at the highest levels, receiving merit based scholarships to every single university granting them admission. Both kids are now thriving both socially and academically at their chosen schools.

Would they have done as well had they remained in regular public school? I certainly can’t be 100% sure, but I’m confident it was the best decision for my kids – addressing all of the signs pointing to mediocrity and sliding through the system unnoticed.

Many of us involved in the parent choice movement are calling on our new governor, superintendent of public instruction and state lawmakers to resist branding charter schools as the problem and enemy of good public education.  It’s time to have a real, honest discussion about what is best for our students.  And parents of charter schools are ready to have a seat at the table.

Editor’s Note: Janell Smiley is a resident of Santa Rosa, a board member of California Parents for Public Virtual Education, and author of “…As Long As You Don’t Turn Them Into Weirdos.”

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