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Give charter schools a chance

San Antonio Express-News
March 1, 2016

San Antonio Express-News

In a recent commentary ("Unlevel playing field giving charter schools financial edge," Other Views, Feb. 3), Northside Independent School District Superintendent Brian Woods suggested that charter schools with waitlists should not be allowed to build new schools because other charter schools with no waitlists still have unused capacity.

It is critical to understand that taxpayers do not pay for that unused capacity. Charters receive taxpayer money only for students they serve, not for students they might serve. Once you understand that, Woods' implication makes no sense. It's like saying that H-E-B is too crowded while Kmart is sitting empty, so the government should wait until Kmart fills up before letting H-E-B expand. The reason markets work is because great enterprises are allowed to grow while poor ones wither.

The promise of charter schools is playing out as in any other market, where consumers are allowed to choose their provider. In a study published by Stanford University in 2015, we see the change over time in urban charter schools. After controlling for changes in student demographics and past achievement, and thereby isolating the real charter impact, the Stanford study shows a fantastic upward trend in charter performance. Test scores from 2008-09 show charter school students learned considerably more per year than their traditional public school peers. That extra learning was roughly equivalent to 29 days in math and 24 in reading annually.

Great charter schools swell to full enrollment, and some turn into great networks like KIPP, IDEA, BASIS and Great Hearts, each serving thousands of students. Meanwhile, low-performing charter schools lose students and often close. By 2011-12 (the last Stanford study year), the charter market had blown the lid off its already impressive 2009 results. Urban charter students in 2011-12 were gaining an extra 58 days worth of learning in math and 41 days in reading annually. Considering the school year is only 180 days long, this is a big deal.

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