Public Charter Schools Require Accountability

Public Charter Schools Require Accountability

"Promises made by public charter schools should be promises kept."

At their most recent meeting, members of Montana’s Board of Public Education (BPE) moved to officially accept a number of applications from school districts to create public charter schools under the new framework passed by the legislature. This represents an incredibly important milestone for Montana K-12 education and an opportunity to improve the quality of our education system that must not be squandered.

The responsibility now falls to Montana’s education leaders, particularly the BPE, to ensure public charter schools are held accountable for their promises to provide higher quality education to Montana students.

Public charter school programs in other states are successful only when authorizers hold charter schools to a higher standard than traditional public schools. Public charter schools promise the public that their programs will deliver better results in return for flexibility to innovate with business models, staffing and programming. When a public charter school fails to meet performance goals, its charter is revoked or nonrenewed. This dynamic ensures increased accountability, which in turn raises the quality of education provided.

Increased performance in public charter schools is also required by law. Now that applications have been slated for approval, Montana’s Public Charter School Act requires a charter contract to be executed within 45 days that “clearly sets forth the academic and operational performance expectations and measures by which the public charter school will be judged.” At a minimum, this performance framework includes annual performance targets for key indicators such as academic proficiency and achievement, enrollment, attendance, postsecondary readiness and financial performance.

Per the Montana Public Charter School Act, if a public charter school has “failed to meet or make sufficient progress toward the performance expectations,” its charter contract can and should be revoked or nonrenewed.

The law further states that in deciding to approve charter proposals, the board shall “only approve charters whose promise of improved educational outcomes outweighs potential increased costs to the state and local taxpayers.”

Let me be clear: The Montana education freedom movement is committed to demanding excellence from our state’s public education system, and we expect an even higher standard of performance from newly authorized options like public charter schools.

The performance frameworks in public charter school contracts should at a minimum include transparent, nationally recognized best practices such as establishing a baseline to measure increased performance. Adopting national best practices will ensure public charter schools are held accountable for their promises to provide higher quality education to Montana students.

Failure to hold public charter schools accountable to their promises would be an extreme disservice to Montana students and local taxpayers. It would be more of the status quo, where we are continually asked to spend more taxpayer money on public education and see no improvement in performance.

The education establishment’s bullies often accuse education freedom advocates like myself of wanting to divert public school funds to unaccountable schools selling education snake oil. On the contrary, we support enabling additional education options like public charter schools as an alternative to traditional public schools in Montana precisely because doing so adds more accountability to our public education system and demands higher quality performance than the status quo.

Promises made by public charter schools should be promises kept. As we turn a new page in K-12 education by authorizing public charter schools, Montanans are counting on our leaders to get this right.

This column originally appeared in Lee Newspapers.

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