School Choice

Charter Schools vs. the Education Monopoly

“If I choose for my child to go to a charter school, then that's where my taxes should go!"


With most services, you get to shop around, but rarely can you do that with government-run schools.

Philadelphia mom Elaine Wells was upset to learn that there were fights every day in the school her son attended. So she walked him over to another school.

"We went to go enroll and we were told, 'He can't go here!' That was my wake up call," Wells tell me in my latest video.

She entered her sons in a charter school lottery, hoping to get them into a charter school.

"You're on pins and needles, hoping and praying," she said. But politicians stack the odds against kids who want to escape government-run schools. Philly rejected 75 percent of the applicants.

Wells' kids did eventually manage to get into a charter called Boys' Latin. I'm happy for them. I wish government bureaucrats would let all kids have similar chances.

Wells was so eager for her sons to attend that she arranged to have one repeat the sixth grade.

"That was the moment where I most despised Boys' Latin," the son told me.

But the boys' attitude quickly changed, says their mother. "Before Boys' Latin, I would come home and say, 'Read for an hour, read a book,' and their response would be, 'Why? What did we do?'—like reading was a punishment!"

But after they started at Boys' Latin, she found books scattered around the house. Suddenly, her boys were reading without her pressuring them.

She also was surprised to discover her son on the phone at 10 p.m. at night—talking to a teacher. Boys' Latin teachers often volunteer to help students with homework—even at night.

Other differences: Charter students spend more time in school—from 8 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m., and they have to take Latin.

"Why?" I asked Boys' Latin co-founder David Hardy. "Nobody speaks Latin."

"We picked Latin because it was hard," he answered. "Life is hard. In order to be prepared, you have to work hard. We want to get that into the psyche of our students."

It works. Boys' Latin students do better on most state tests than kids in government-run schools. Hardy says, "We've sent more black boys to college than any high school in Pennsylvania."

But people who work in government monopolies don't like experiments that show there's a better way to do things. Philadelphia and other cities are rejecting new charter applications. Philadelphia rejected Hardy's plan to open a Girls' Latin.

"They realize that if we continue to take children away, they won't have jobs," says Hardy.

Instead of approving more charters, the education establishment just says, "Give us more money."

But get this: Philadelphia schools already spend $18,400 per child, about half a million dollars per classroom. With that money, they could hire five experienced teachers for every class. But they don't. So, where does all that money go?

Bureaucracy, says Hardy. "They have a director of special ed and assistant director of special ed…director of high school athletics and an assistant…lot of overhead."

The establishment's new attack on charter competition is: Charters drain resources from public schools.

It's a clever argument, but it's a lie. Charter schools are public, too, and Philadelphia, like other cities, gives charters less money than it gives to schools the city government runs. In Philadelphia, charters get only 70 percent as much. So government schools actually save money when a kid leaves for a charter.

Even if charters got equal money, says Wells, "you can't tell me that charter schools take funding from public schools! Every parent pays taxes that fund the school system. If I choose for my child to go to a charter school, then that's where my taxes should go!"

She's right. So why aren't more charters approved?

"It would mean a whole lot less union jobs," Hardy says. "The unions are not going to be for that."

It's not just unions. Education bureaucrats love working in a monopoly where they are basically guaranteed jobs. Bad charter schools close, but government-run schools almost never do—no matter how badly they treat kids.


NEXT: Trump Says Tariffs Are Driving American Businesses Out of China. Actually, 87 Percent Plan To Stay.

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  1. If I choose for my child to go to a charter school, then that’s where my taxes should go

    This sort of self-centered BS is why govt keeps growing and why we support its corruption.

    Not that modern ‘libertarians’ can remotely understand – Though the people support the government, the government should not support the people – Grover Cleveland

    1. Yeah. Free choice in education is horrible. You sure you’re a libertarian? The state has already decided to spend x dollars per student. You seem to be forcing that money to a specific, failing system instead of allowing market choices. And you call yourself libertarian. The truth is charter schools are often paid less per child than those in traditional public schools.

      1. But this demands the question, what is the real purpose of the public education system? If it was to allow people to choose where and how to spend money on education, then there never would have been such a thing as public school at all. No, the purpose of public Ed is to redistribute wealth by taxing as many people as possible and giving the same quality of education to everyone. Charter schools simply allow people to keep their money from being redistributed by designating it to a certain school, almost as if they were paying for the education they receive. Horrors! That sounds almost like private school.

      2. Free choice goes hand in hand with having your own money to enact your choices. Once you start spending other people’s money they, rightly, feel they should have a say in how it’s spent. Since large numbers of people are against vouchers and charters, it’s logical they would object to their money being spent there. Sort of like the Hyde amendment and abortions.

      3. The truth is charter schools are often paid less per child than those in traditional public schools.

        That is irrelevant because that doesn’t mean the public costs – paid by taxpayers – go down. Take one kid out of a public school and costs don’t drop much at all. A ton of costs are fixed not variable. Facilities, existing bond payments, and even the basic staffing costs. Infrastructure — NOT operations. That infrastructure actually benefits the surrounding homeowners (via house prices) whether they have kids or not — and is paid for by them all too via prop taxes. The operations only benefit parents/kids — but since we fail to distinguish the two we fail to figure out how to fix anything.

        You seem to be forcing that money to a specific, failing system instead of allowing market choices

        The problem with charter schools is that they are selling themselves as separate SCHOOLS. Rather than as CLASSROOMS or groups of classrooms inside a public school facility.

        Think outside the goddamn box man. Use your free mind. Imagine that your local elementary school itself offers classroom competition – some classrooms mixed-age Montessori, some academic ‘magnet’ types, etc – whatever teaching ideas/curriculum/etc that get enough support from local parents so that those ideas can rent classroom space.

        Schools could easily function as a farmers market type model – where only the space is govt owned/run. I’m sure there are other models too. They don’t have to be some top-down centrally-organized factory model just because that happens to be the model that was put in place 100+ years ago. It is YOUR failure to imagine the actual alternatives that allows the existing model to fail and fail and spend more money to fail again. Because the existing model never gets held accountable in any meaningful way.

    2. The more I learn about Cleveland, the more I think he was one of our all time best presidents.

    3. out of curiosity I googled our city’s charted schools.

      only 2 are ranked above average and one is a fine arts school.

      one is located smack dab in the middle of a sprawling mcmansion suburb.

      all the others are average or below.

      national surveys reveal the same.

      however charter schools that outperform are located no where near were undepriveleded people live, so they cannot participate because of transportation.

      in the meantime there are more public schools above average in neighborhoods and with dedicated transportation

      some are for-profit meaning my tax dollars pay go to private industry

      1. what city is this?

        1. And I’m dubious of those stats.

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  3. With most services, you get to shop around, but rarely can you do that with government-run schools.

    Wait until they do health care.

    People hate monopolies (hence the Apple, Google, etc animus), but like government monopolies. WTF is wrong with people?

    1. Because government services are FREE! Duh. Everyone loves free.

      1. And you can’t have freedom without free!

  4. Even though charter schools are better than public schools, they are still a tax funded governed scheme for public education. If we want government out of education, public education has to go. All of it. The first and most important step is abolishing the unconstitutional department of education.

    1. While there is some merit to this, there is also the pragmatic counter-argument.

      What does the world look like if there is no public education? How many adults are completely illiterate because their parents left them to fend for themselves? How many unemployable people are we left with because the economy has moved away from unskilled labor, leaving much less room for illiterate adults to earn a living?

      What percentage of parents fall in to this category? 10%? 30%?

      What happens generation over generation? In 20 years does that level increase or decrease? Certainly a completely destitute underclass who are completely unemployable won’t be paying to educate their kids. Those who are at the lower end of the employed probably will see the cautionary tale and sacrifice for their kids… but which is the greater number?

      How long can a society survive if it has a growing number of people who end up unable to earn an honest living?

      1. How many adults are completely illiterate because their parents left them to fend for themselves?

        Is that important to you? Then you’ll be willing to fund those kid’s educations, right? You won’t have to be forced to do so.

        In any case, while its certainly not the fault of kid’s who were left to fend for themselves – its certainly not my damn fault either. So why am I always the one on the hook for other people’s decisions?

        Nobody’s paying for my bad decisions – because I only make the sort of bad decisions no one cares about.

        1. How long can a society survive if it has a growing number of people who end up unable to earn an honest living?

          How in the world did western society survive before universal literacy?

      2. How many adults are functionally illiterate and innumerate because the government schools didn’t teach effectively, and prioritized babysitting and socialist indoctrination over the 3 R’s? And how many others are educated far below their potential because government schools held them back to the level of the least capable students?

  5. Unless charter schools accept ALL students (and stop kicking out the ones who get bad grades in order to juice their failed performance numbers) – they should not get a single penny of taxpayers’ money.

    Furthermore, when the Bush administration took a long hard look at charter schools’ performance, they tried to hide the report:
    The first national comparison of test scores among children in charter schools and regular public schools shows charter school students often doing worse than comparable students in regular public schools.

    The findings, buried in mountains of data the Education Department released without public announcement, deal a blow to supporters of the charter school movement, including the Bush administration. . .

    1. Public schools should not exist.

    2. If parents *choose* a bad charter school for their children, at least they did it themselves and can cure the problem they caused. Which is better than the system of pleading for some bureaucrat’s kind permission to send your kids to a good school.

      Given that *some* charter schools are so popular that they have waiting lists and parents are crawling over each other to get their kids into them, then either parents are dumb, or else they have done a legitimate comparison between their local regular school and the school they prefer.

      And if the charter schools are bad, then there’s a way to close them – let the parents pull their kids out of them. In contrast to the treatment a regular school gets if it’s failing – namely, “it’s obviously underfunded!”

      1. Yes they are popular because they are better
        Amazing how that works

    3. Links an SFGate article……

      That won’t be at all biased.

  6. “If I choose for my child to go to a charter school, then that’s where my taxes should go!”

    Who the *fuck* do you think you are?

  7. We must end all discussion of allowing the unenlightened masses to have their offspring attend private or charter schools. Only the ruling elites and their cronies should be allowed to have their children attend schools that teach reading, writing, arithmetic, etc.
    The little people are better off allowing our obvious betters to do our thinking for us because we all are so mentally inferior to them.
    So let’s just keep spending billions of dollars to the public school monopoly so we can continue to produce functional illiterates who are more than happy to believe the bullshit of our socialist slave masters decade after decade so they can further enslave us at their leisure.
    The life the ruling elitist turds have given us should be enough and asking for more would only annoy and anger them.

  8. God just let people choose what school they go to.

    You get a voucher. If the school you want to is more expensive than the voucher you pick up the difference.

    Public schools suck because they dont have to worry about attracting students like a private school does.

    Thus the emphasis quickly shifts from providing a good education to how much the employees get paid

    1. I totally agree. Low-quality education often results in bad grades and cheating students. It’s no secret that 4 in 10 students admit to cheating and using essay writing services to help them deal with their assignments. High quality education equals smart students.

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