There is a bill in the State Legislature, HB 93, which would increase the number of charter schools in the state and help meet the strong demand for charter schools in Anchorage and the rest of Alaska. This bill would increase the number of authorizers (those who can authorize the start up of a new charter school), to include the State University system, nonprofits, and government entities. Currently, only school districts can authorize the start up of new charter schools. So, school districts have a tight hold on the establishment of charter schools.
In Anchorage, there is a wait list of more than 1,258 kids for charter schools (ASD Demographics, p 9). This is nothing new. There have been students on wait lists for charter schools since charter schools have opened in Anchorage. The demand for these schools has never been met by the District. Why is this? Well, it’s because parents must initiate the start up of charter schools, develop a business plan, and find a facility for the school. This is very difficult even for those parents with a wealth of knowledge in education and the development of business plans. For those low income parents who lack these skills it is nearly impossible to begin a charter school in their neighborhoods. On the other hand, if the District wants to start a “neighborhood school”, it merely floats a bond, the bond is passed by the voters, and the school is built. No questions asked.
The Anchorage School District has very successful charter schools (ASD School Report Card). But the District does not meet the demand from parents for charters with an adequate supply. Meanwhile, the demand for neighborhood schools is decreasing as shown by the low student population in some schools (ASD CIP, p 58). Let’s face it: supply and demand do not work in a monopoly. It’s as if charter schools are not public schools. And they are. Then why are Anchorage charter schools required to pay rent to the District if the charter school is housed in District facilities? It just doesn’t make sense. But it does make it extremely difficult for a charter school to start and to grow and to displace students from the neighborhood schools. Maybe that’s why charter schools are treated as second class. Maybe it’s just philosophy, and not good public policy. And it’s definitely n0t good education policy.
Charter schools are not for everyone; but there should be sufficient capacity to meet the demand from parents. That is why you should support the intent of this bill, HB 93, because it increases the educational choices for kids by breaking up the monopoly and stranglehold the education industry has on our kids’ futures. Let’s start by freeing the 1,258 kids in Anchorage.