Charters in South Carolina and Straw Men in Washington

South Carolina is on the verge of passing important improvements to their charter school law by creating a statewide charter school district. It’s important legislation made even sweeter by $20 million in promised philanthropic support if the law passes. Yet aside from the usual reactionary opposition to expanding charter schooling, this proposal (you can read both the House and Senate proposals here) is encountering opposition from charter school supporters too.

In its weekly email the Washington-based Center for Education Reform announced that because the law provides state-level funding for charter schools instead of allocating a pro-rata share of local school district funding it should be opposed. CER wrote that, “The law sets a bad policy and a dangerous precedent. Allowing districts to collect funds and distribute them unequally among public school children, and then relying on the state to make up the difference in funding, is contrary to the intent that charters should be treated equally and not require new operational funding to support each school.

Put plainly, this is not a good reason to oppose this legislation. First, several others states use this arrangement — including Arizona, which has certainly not suffered from a lack of charter schools — so it’s not unprecedented or sure to set charter funding up as a political target by de-linking it from district finances. And sure, all else equal, charter schools should be integrated into existing financing arrangements. But all else is rarely equal right now. And, the “intent” of charters, as Eduwonk sees it, is to create more high quality options for students, not to make some political point about education funding. If the state is going to have to spend more money on education to make a good charter plan work, Eduwonk won’t lose a minute of sleep about that. In this case, neither should charter supporters because it’s an issue to agree to disagree about rather than allow to be an obstacle to improving state charter school laws.

Consistency Afterthought: Didn’t CER support the federal Washington, DC, voucher plan even though it was new funding not integrated into the city’s school finance scheme? They did! Enthusiastically! In fact, that program included a bunch of new money for the DC schools too…Hmmm…perhaps this is consistency…

Bonus Inside Charter Baseball Afterthought: Eduwonk has mixed views in the ongoing debate about whether it’s better for a state to pass a weak charter law or no charter law at all but this South Carolina plan is not weak, especially in light of SC’s history.

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