The Difference With Charter Schools

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?”  

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.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.