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Guest editorial

Steven Winitzky, Executive Director, Utah Association of Public Charter Schools

When the Park City School District (PCSD) publicly released its "Answering Charter School Questions" document it used misleading information in an unfair broadside against charter schools.

Sadly, the local district is likely reacting negatively to the addition of a new education option for area students, the Weilenmann School of Discovery (WSD), rather than embracing this important new part of the public school system. As evidenced by its enrollment numbers, WSD is a welcome option for the community more than 800 students are either enrolled in or on WSD’s waiting list.

This fall will be the 12th year of charter schools in Utah there will be 80 in operation serving more than 42,000 students. Charter schools are public schools and their integration into the state’s public education system has been promising, but not without backlash from some school districts who see them as competition. But as charters continue to open doors of opportunity for underserved students, we see more schools districts embracing the best practices developed at nearby charters on behalf of all students. A good example is Salt Lake District where the newest three of seven charter schools were authorized and are operated by the district. All are meeting community demand and are providing true laboratories of innovation that can benefit all the district’s students.

Why would the state’s most affluent school district feel compelled to write a six-page anti-charter school document to undermine a part of the school system that parents are embracing? Indeed, there is reason why 800 students and their families are choosing to attend a brand new charter school in a district that has good schools but few independent options. Families are eager for something different.

Contrary to the claims in the PCSD publication, charter schools introduce an unprecedented level of accountability, with every charter school overseen by its own local board of directors who, along with their principals, have on-site decision-making authority and the ability to make course corrections to best meet the needs of their students. Additionally, charter schools are accountable to their authorizer and are monitored for performance by the state. Also, unlike district elementary schools, all charter schools must pass the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools accreditation process.

While PCSD maligns charter school performance, one must look at Utah assessment data. Charters must conduct the same student testing as district schools. Last year, 94 percent of charter schools made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as opposed to 80 percent of district schools. For the same period, 90 percent of charter schools met the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students (U PASS) compared to 89 percent of district schools.

Charter schools are accomplishing this while receiving less funding than district school students. But on these tight budgets they generally have small class sizes, execute well on mission-driven programs and attract quality teachers. Compared to traditional districts, charter schools generally spend a greater percentage of their budgets on instruction than on administration.

Contrary to PCSD’s claim, charter schools do not discriminate in their admission policies. On average, charter schools simply report a smaller percentage of economically disadvantaged students because they do not receive state and local transportation funding, preventing them from bussing for their students like districts can.

Rather than adopt a combative stance towards charter schools by sending out misleading information, PCSD should consider learning from them like other school districts are, including why they are succeeding academically and attracting eager families and quality teachers. As WSD and other charters open, let’s re-commit to learning from each other so that all Utah students benefit.

Steven Winitzky is the Executive Director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools


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