Guest Opinion: Charter schools provide choice

Orange County Register
April 23
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A new labor-backed study charges that California charter schools are opening schools where they aren’t needed, but parents — not special interests or governmental bodies — should be the final judges.

The report from In the Public Interest criticizes charters for opening in areas where there is existing classroom space in traditional public schools, criticizes them for using public funds for their facilities — as they are entitled to do under Proposition 39, passed by voters in 2000 — and alleges that they are misusing funds.

“Paying for more schools than are needed wastes taxpayer dollars,” the report states. “Furthermore, an oversupply of schools serves to undermine the viability of any individual school.”

The study claims that the growth of charter schools has led to an “overproduction of schools” by focusing on available desk space, but this exhibits a fundamental misunderstanding of the basic economic concepts of supply and demand. Demand is not determined by how many things you can produce; it is determined by how many things you produce that people are actually willing to consume.

And, increasingly, traditional public schools are becoming better at producing empty desk space than well-educated graduates, as more and more parents have come to the conclusion that these schools are not working, and thus have enrolled their children in charter schools to offer them better opportunities.

It is no wonder there has been such an explosion in the number of charter schools in California. There are now more than 1,250 charter schools in the state — four times the number that existed when Prop. 39 was passed just a little more than 16 years ago — and there are over 600,000 students enrolled in those charter schools, according to the California Charter Schools Association. Both totals are the largest of any state in the nation.

“The recent report by In the Public Interest, an organization closely tied to the California Teachers Association and labor groups, is the latest attempt by CTA to not only stop charters from growing, but to shut down even the most effective schools,” Richard Garcia, CCSA director of elections communications, said in a statement.

And therein lies the real conflict. Unionized, traditional public schools are upset that, now that they are forced to compete, they are oftentimes losing out to charter schools — most, but not all, of which are not unionized. They simply cannot compete with the charters when their union rules maintain ineffective teachers, tie the hands of management, stifle innovation and prevent them from offering the kinds of programs and instruction that students and their parents want.

To truly examine the “market” for K-12 education, one need only examine the tacit demand as revealed by parent and student behavior. The mere facts that so many are willing to go outside the traditional public school system, oftentimes at significantly greater inconvenience, and that so many charter school investors, managers and educators are willing to risk so much time and money to create and operate new schools, are evidence that there is not an oversupply of education, but rather an undersupply of quality education.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as the saying goes, and parents and students are voting with their feet. Traditional public schools, and their teachers union champions, can either continue their heavy-handed resistance and try to use their government influence to simply shut down their competition, to the detriment of children’s education, particularly for those with the fewest opportunities, or they can adjust and try to outcompete their rivals. It is, regrettably, obvious which course they have decided to take so far.