Kris Nordstrom: Charter school advocates tell on themselves with whining over federal program changes
Charter advocates are pushing back hard against some common sense reforms for the federal charter grant program. Kris Nordstrom, a senior policy analyst in North Carolina Justice Center’s Education and Law Project, explains why their complaints don’t hold water.
Advocates for charter schools have long justified the existence of charters by claiming they serve as laboratories of innovation for traditional schools. They have claimed that operational flexibility and exemption from regulation allows them to operate more efficiently than traditional public schools. And they have claimed that they are not only willing – but better suited – to serve students from families with low incomes.
These premises have been disproven over the course of North Carolina’s nearly 30-year-long experiment with charter schools. There are no examples of charter school innovations that have offered new approaches for traditional schools (after all, traditional schools can’t follow the example of “successful” charters that garner high test scores by pushing out struggling students). Nor have charters delivered efficiency gains. Charters spend substantially more on administration than their traditional school counterparts. Most North Carolina charters outspend their neighboring traditional schools while serving a more advantaged student population and delivering weaker academic outcomes. Meanwhile, North Carolina charters continue to exacerbate racial segregation and raise costs for traditional inclusive public schools.
Charter advocates have long disputed the overwhelming evidence of their ineffectiveness. But now, they are making the case themselves.
At issue are recent changes to the terms of the federal Charter School Program (CSP) grant programs. The CSP provides money to states to run grant programs, “to open and prepare for the operation of new charter schools and to replicate and expand high-quality charter schools.” North Carolina was awarded these federal grant funds specifically to support charters, “focused on meeting the needs of educationally disadvantaged students.”
Unfortunately, the program run by North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction has failed to meet these goals. Much of the federal funding has been awarded to schools with a history of serving as white flight charter schools and that enroll substantially fewer students from families with low incomes than nearby inclusive public schools. Incredibly, Torchlight Academy was awarded a $500,000 grant in 2020. Just two years later, this school has had its charter revoked for rampant corruption and poor student results.