My Turn: Attack on public charter schools ‘hurtful’

For the Monitor
Published: 9/9/2017 12:05:00 AM

Dear Executive Councilors Andru Volinsky and Chris Pappas: Your recent attack on public charter schools as a tool to advance the “extreme right’s agenda” and an effort to undermine our public school system was hurtful to hundreds of New Hampshire teachers and factually inaccurate (Monitor Forum, Sept. 2).

Charter schools are public schools founded by highly skilled and passionate educators, the majority of whom happen to be liberal Democrats. The charter school community and its supporters are a diverse group. We represent many different communities, socio-economic backgrounds and ideologies, but what binds our community together is the belief that all students deserve access to high-quality public options. We believe that increased choice allows New Hampshire students and their families the freedom to find the public option that works best for them.

There are 25 charter schools in New Hampshire. Together these public schools serve approximately 3,500 families and offer a wide range of mission and program options. Some examples include: eight charter high schools opened to serve educationally disadvantaged students most at-risk for dropping out; the state’s first and highest performing STEM school; a number of grade schools hosting multi-age classrooms and project-based curriculums; and at least one charter school was opened to serve a community of students when their local elementary school was closed. There is also one “virtual” charter school in New Hampshire, and it serves as a national model for other states.

The New Hampshire Alliance is a nonpartisan organization, and we believe that the political attacks on public charter schools must stop. While there are certainly examples of “bad” charter schools in other states, New Hampshire charter schools are independent public schools. They are required by law to conduct annual financial audits, follow state and federal law related to transparency and accountability, and charter schools are not permitted to pick and choose their students. If more students apply than the charter school can serve, the law requires that we hold a blind lottery to determine enrollment. There are also no CMOs or for-profit managing organizations to get in the way of giving students a high-quality, public education.

I encourage you to visit a charter school in your area and speak with its teachers. I am confident that you will find them to be an exceptional group of people with a passion for public education and a deep commitment to New Hampshire students.

(Matt Southerton is president of the New Hampshire Alliance for Public Charter Schools.)

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