Weatherford Democrat


February 14, 2013

SCHOOL DISTRICTS UNITED: Open-enrollment charter schools verses traditional public schools

Here is a great question. What is the difference between a charter school and a traditional public school? Before we answer, let’s review the term “charter school.” 

In 1995, the Texas Legislature authorized the formation of charter schools to improve opportunities for student learning and increase school choice. There are four types:(1) Home Rule District charters; (2) campus or campus program charters; (3) college or university charters; and (4) open-enrollment charters.

Home Rule District charters do not exist. Approximately 15 school districts have campus/campus program charters and a handful of university charters are in operation.  The majority in existence is known as “open-enrollment” charters. 

The State Board of Education holds the authority to grant these open-enrollment charters.  Since 1995, the SBOE has awarded 305 charters and about 200 are still in operation.  These particular schools can enroll students from any school district, cannot charge tuition but may charge fees and must provide transportation. These charters are publicly funded and have fewer state regulations than traditional public schools. 

The difference between open-enrollment charter schools and traditional public schools may surprise you. According to the Texas Education Agency, highlights of a five-year comparison found the following:

• Spending on administration: Charter schools spend twice as much per student on central administration than traditional public schools.

• Administration staffing: Charter schools employ more administrators and spend a greater percentage of their operating budget on administration than traditional public schools.

• Spending on Instruction: Charter schools spend a lower percentage of their operating budgets on instruction for children than traditional public schools.

• Cost to the state: Because charter schools cannot levy a local tax rate, the cost of educating each student in a charter school is larger than the cost to the state for each public school student.

• Teacher salaries, experience and turnover rate: Charter schools pay teachers less, generally employ teachers with less experience, and have fewer teachers with advanced degrees than traditional public schools. Charter schools have significantly higher teacher turnover rate compared to traditional public school teachers.

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