As we in Washington state debate the wisdom of charter schools, the National PTA just re-affirmed its support for charters, reports Education Week. Specifically, the National PTA expanded its recommendation to include charter school applications that are approved by state authorizing commissions.
Initiative 1240, the ballot measure to lift Washington’s ban on charter schools, includes a state authorizing commission, in addition to allowing local school districts to open their own charter schools if they wish.
In other states opening a charter school is routine and non-controversial. Today, 5,611 charter schools are educating over two million students in 41 states and the District of Columbia. These impressive figures will soon grow significantly, because lawmakers in several states recently voted to increase the number of charter schools permitted in their states.
Charter schools work. They are popular with parents and students, and in their twenty-plus years of existence, no state has repealed its charter school law. The Obama Administration strongly supports charters as part of the broader push to improve public education, and the President has provided states with federal assistance to increase the number of charter school slots available to students.
Here is how the National PTA describes its support for state charter school authorizing commissions:
“Ms. Landers [president of the National PTA] noted that almost 50 percent of public charter schools in operation today are authorized by ‘alternate bodies’ [state and other authorizing entities] and that many local PTAs are already working with those entities. She urged state chapters to become familiar with the policy and make sure their state advocacy efforts complied with it, a step she said was critical to ensuring that the organization’s position on charters remains relevant.”
National PTA leaders say they do not want to be seen as anti-charter schools. The “P” in PTA stands for Parents, after all, and parents clearly want access to charter schools as one education option for their children. The long waiting lists in many states attest to the popularity of charter schools among parents.
Leaders of the Washington state chapter of the PTA, as I report here, do not seem as concerned about their public image as it relates to public school reform. Even though Washington PTA delegates voted twice at statewide meetings, first in October 2011 and again in May of 2012, to endorse lifting the ban on charter schools, the state PTA board recently sought to overturn the decision of its own members. On August 11th, a slim majority of the board voted to oppose Initiative 1240, putting it at odds with PTA members, the national organization and the growing popular movement behind charter schools.
The state PTA board’s sudden reversal surprised a lot of people. The buzz among education reform groups is that, by taking a hardline stance against charters, the state PTA risks isolating itself from the education reform movement, and of being perceived as aligned with reactionary interests bent on preserving the status quo.