In charter schools policy debates like the ones this week in the state House Education Committee, a fundamental distinction between charter public schools and district-run schools often gets lost: Every child in every charter school is there only because parents made a conscientious decision to send him or her there.  

Policymakers should never lose sight of this when they consider imposing artificial limitations on the number and type of charter schools. Such restrictions are really limitations on parental rights to make choices about their children's education. The issue boils down to who should choose: parents or politicians.  

When this essential characteristic of charters is kept it mind, many of the alleged concerns about their expansion appear either trivial or motivated by some other agenda (like protecting the conventional public school monopoly).

For example, some anti-school choice politicians are making a fuss about charters hiring for-profit education management companies, demonizing the firms and seeking to ban the practice. But when one recalls that not a single dollar is paid to a charter school management firm unless a large number of parents have actively chosen their school, the proper response should be, “What's wrong with providing parents with what they want?”  

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Similarly, the argument that only “quality” charter schools should be allowed also ignores the fundamental distinction. Parents who choose a charter school are indicating that they’re satisfied with the educational experience it gives their kids (or, at least, that it’s the best of their available options). Many factors unique to each family’s situation go into this choice, and the notion that the state can somehow do a better job of making the decision for each child is ridiculous.  

Since parents ultimately determine how many and what types of charter schools will exist, opponents of charter expansion are really opposing the right of parents to choose what’s in their children's best interest. They are implicitly asserting that only politicians, bureaucrats and special interests should make decisions about each child’s education.

Related Articles:

A Response to the New York Times About Charter Schools in Michigan

Detroit Charters Send More Graduates to College Than Peers Do

Whitmer Education Plan Trips Over Charter Schools

Another Charter School Critic Misses the Mark

Northridge Academy Still Growing Strong

Shri Thanedar Talks State Government

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Detroit Prep is a top-rated and economically and racially diverse charter school in the city. It's growth means it needs to move out from a church basement and into a new location. Nearby is a former Detroit Public Schools building, sitting empty for years. But, worried about competition, the public school district refused to sell. For years, district and local government officials in Detroit had worked to block public charter schools. They pushed legislation at the Michigan Capitol to hinder them, refused to sell to them, transferred surplus buildings from the district to the city government and imposed deed restrictions on property sales to private developers. All of it was aimed to hinder or even prevent charter school choice outside the confines of the Detroit school district.

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