KAKADELIS: Keeping choice in education is fragile

Image of a charter school opening via N.C. Coalition for Charter Schools

As school gets underway across the state, 130,000 children will walk into a public charter school. Nearly all of them, and many of their parents, likely don’t know that their choice in education is fragile.  

After all, the legislature created public charter schools less than 30 years ago. Since that time, some leaders and officials have attempted to scale back charter schools—or even shut them down altogether. Just this year, for example, the U.S. Department of Education tried to undermine public charter schools by proposing requirements for a federal grant program that were egregiously restrictive.  

Thankfully, the backlash to that proposal was swift – and bipartisan. Thousands of parents and charter supporters flooded the Department of Education with public comments, and the department eventually backed off.  

Public charter school advocates successfully mobilized a diverse group of parents and politicians – black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Democrat, Republican, independent. Why? We have the winning argument.  

Public charter schools simply wish to exist. They wish to offer parents another free option for their children’s education. If parents choose not to avail themselves of that option, then that’s their right. That’s their choice. But the option should exist.  

Access to a quality education should be something that everybody can enjoy, not just a select few. Public charter schools are a free, public alternative to district zoned schools and are available to all. They’re accountable for student achievement, and just like different colleges have different strengths, different public charter schools can specialize in areas such as STEM or the arts for students interested in those pathways.  

What’s happening in North Carolina’s public charter schools right now is nothing short of amazing. For instance, the Sallie B. Howard School in Wilson, which serves a majority-minority student population, was recently named a National Blue Ribbon School, one of just eight in North Carolina. And U.S. News and World Report included eight North Carolina charter schools on its list of the top 25 public high schools in the state.  

In addition, I urge everybody to read this inspiring story from EdNC about the students at the Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies. Students at this Elizabeth City public charter school took the initiative to change campus culture after racial discord spilled into their hallways. With support from school administrators, they tackled a deeply complex problem that continues to vex adults and policymakers every day.  

The fundamental question on charter schools is this: Should parents have options in free public schooling? They’ve answered this question with a resounding yes. Over the past decade, the population of public charter students has tripled, even as the number of school-aged children increased by less than three percent.  

Now we stand at the threshold of a new school year and an important election season. Here’s my hope for the year ahead: that the ranks of Democrats and Republicans who back the mission of public charter schools continue to grow. Earlier this year, my organization, the North Carolina Coalition for Charter Schools, handed out 22 Charter Champion awards to state legislators from both parties. These savvy lawmakers recognize that public education shouldn’t be a political football. They know that it’s their job, like mine, to respond to the wishes of parents who want more choice in public education, not less.

Lindalyn Kakadelis is the Executive Director of the N.C. Coalition for Charter Schools