3 Myths about Charter Schools

May 8, 2023

National Charter School Week is May 7-13 - a time to reflect on the role that charter schools play in closing the education and opportunity gaps between Black and Latinx students and their white peers. This important role that public charter schools play is often hidden behind popular myths about how charter schools operate and are supported by the primarily Black and Latinx communities they serve.

Leaders of Color alum Clarisa Alayeto (New York, 2022) joins us to help debunk these myths. Clarisa serves as the Manager of Community and Government Affairs for Dream Charter Schools, a public charter school network serving families in East Harlem and the South Bronx.

Myth: Charter schools aren’t public schools and are stealing funding from public school systems.

Reality: Charter schools are public schools!

The whole point of charter schools is that they are tuition-free public schools that are open to all students. What makes public charter schools different from traditional public schools is that they can operate independently from school districts because they have separate agreements - called charters - with the local government. Those agreements give charter schools the flexibility to tailor curriculum and programs to support children in ways that traditional public schools might not be able to. Charter schools are also funded the same way public schools are - it depends totally on the student enrollment. The Center for Education Reform finds that charter schools on average are funded at 61 percent of their district counterparts, averaging $6,585 per student compared to $10,771 per student at traditional district public schools.

This argument doesn’t need to be around public schools fighting against public charter schools. We should be fighting for increased funding and accountability for all schools that serve our students. For example, right now in Washington D.C. - which has more than 100 charter schools - Leaders of Color is working for an increase in the uniform per student funding formula, which is used to determine the annual funding for the District's traditional and charter public schools. We want to raise that rate by at least the inflation rate, so that we have greater resources for public and public charter students.

Myth: Charter schools have no oversight and aren’t accountable to the communities they serve.

Reality: I think it’s obvious that in any system you have schools that perform well and schools that don’t. The same is true for charter schools. We must continue to advocate for strong accountability to close ineffective schools, while also making sure that when we do have success, we expand what’s working. On average, Black students, students in poverty, and English Learners (EL) enrolled in public charter schools make significantly greater academic progress as compared to their peers with similar demographics in traditional public schools. So that’s something we want to replicate wherever we can because it’s working. But when it’s not, we need to do something about that, too.

In Louisiana, Leaders of Color is supporting an effort to update the public charter school framework in Orleans Parish, including adding student supports in social-emotional health and career and technical education (CTE). In Memphis, the Achievement School District was created to help poorly performing schools improve through charter operators. And it’s not working - so we’re supporting the district’s efforts to move those schools back to local education agencies or high-quality charter operators authorized by the Charter School Commission.

Myth: Charter schools exacerbate racial segregation in classrooms because charters are racially isolated.

Reality: It’s true that charter schools are traditionally in Black and Latinx communities. That’s because charters were created to support students who weren’t doing well in traditional public schools, and the sad reality is that it’s often our Black and Latinx kids who have been failed by our education system. Black and Latinx parents are choosing charter schools because they aren’t happy with how traditional public schools in their neighborhoods are treating their kids, and they aren’t happy about how their kids are being left behind by systemic racism and the school-to-prison pipeline.

Just this year, 1,000 parents were polled about public charter schools. 77% of parents viewed public charters favorably—including 82% of white parents, 80% of Black parents, and 71% of Latinx parents.

So is this self-segregation the same as the legal segregation that separated students of colors from their white peers before Brown v. Board of Education? I don’t think so - there is a difference between forced segregation and having the option of a better school for your kids.

Clarisa Alayeto is a lifelong Bronx resident who grew up in public housing. She is an alum of the City University of New York system and has a rich history of service to the community. She has dedicated most of her life to youth development, education, and public health. Currently, she serves as the Manager of Community and Government Affairs for Dream Public Charter School Network, serving families in East Harlem and the South Bronx. Before this, Clarisa spent her time organizing against gun violence. In 2011, she founded Yothatzpeace, a grassroots organization focused on ending gun violence among youth living in public housing. Clarisa volunteers with various local groups including her local community board where she served as Vice-Chairperson. In addition, she served on the Community Education Council and recently was appointed to the NYC Public Health Advisory Council. Through all of her work, Clarisa continues to fight to bring true equity to her community so that people can get access to the support and resources they deserve.

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