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Expert report details the high cost of charter schools

Retired Duke University professor Sunny Ladd has published an incredibly important and useful paper detailing the high cost of charter schools. “How Charter Schools Undermine Good Education Policymaking” details the ways charter schools undermine four core goals of education policy:

  1. Establishing coherent systems of schools
  2. Attending to child poverty and disadvantage
  3. Limiting racial segregation and isolation
  4. Ensuring that public funds are spent wisely

Based on the legendary school finance expert’s deep study of charter schools, she recommends that policymakers limit the expansion of charter schools. Hitting pause on charter schools, Ladd argues, will help minimize the various ways that charters “disrupt the making of good education policy.”

First, the growth of charter schools should be severely restricted. Moreover, the authorization of new charter schools should be limited to those that are clearly designed to achieve the goals of the relevant local public education system. In this way, education policymakers can focus attention on the basic needs of the whole system, including, for example, providing quality teachers and adequate funding for all students and addressing the educational challenges of poverty and economic disadvantage. Moreover, limiting the growth of charter schools would limit inefficiencies associated with wasteful competition among schools.

This author wholeheartedly agrees with Ladd’s conclusions. The rapid expansion of charter schools in North Carolina has coincided with an era where our state has moved backwards in its effort to provide the quality of schools promised under our state constitution. As the WestEd Report concluded, this past decade has left North Carolina “further away from meeting its constitutional obligation to provide every child with the opportunity for a sound basic education than it was when the Supreme Court of North Carolina issued the Leandro decision more than 20 years ago.”

In 2020, this author argued that the state should pause charter and voucher expansion until the state meets its obligations under Leandro. That piece cited how North Carolina charters increase racial segregation and educational costs for school districts while producing subpar test results.

Ladd’s piece details how those shortcomings are not unique to North Carolina’s charter sector. She also highlights additional issues such as charter schools’ lack of fiscal transparency and how charter schools distract from efforts to address the needs of low-income students in traditional public schools.

While Ladd’s call to severely restrict the growth of charter schools will generate the most attention, her additional policy recommendations are also worth heeding:

  1. Charter school regulations and policies should be modified to reduce some of the distorting effects of charter schools. Examples include providing traditional public schools transition aid for declining headcounts and requiring charters to offer basic services such as transportation and school lunch.
  2. In authorizing and overseeing charter schools, policymakers should pay close attention to the potential for charter schools to contribute to racial segregation and isolation.
  3. Charter schools should be subject to more stringent accountability procedures than traditional public schools, such as the public inspection system used for Massachusetts’s charter schools.

Typical of Ladd’s work, the paper is incredibly well written. It will serve as an important resource for those looking to limit charter schools’ negative impact on our traditional, inclusive public schools.

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Expert report details the high cost of charter schools