Charter schools: a choice or a threat?

Update: May 11th, 11:00 a.m.

Tuesday, NBC25 outlined the differences between traditional public schools and charter schools. Governor Rick Snyder is promoting charter schools, saying they provide choice in education. NBC25 compared 2010 MEAP results between traditional public schools and charter schools.

In the City of Flint, for math, charter schools were 10 percentage points more proficient than traditional public schools. For reading, charter schools were nearly 10 percentage points more proficient. However, in statewide 5th grade math and science, charters lagged behind similar districts.

So which school system is doing better depends on who you ask. They (charters) are succeeding. They're more likely to be proficient. They're more likely to graduate kids are more likely to go on to college and graduation," says Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies or MAPSA. "Where do you find charter schools? Consistently at the bottom of the list," says Ric Hogerheide, 10-D UniServ director for the Michigan Education Association.

Then, there's the issue of teachers. For traditional public schools, they're represented by the michigan education association (MEA), also known as the teachers union. Charters are not. "Without being under any type of contract, most charter school employees, unless you're administration, you're there maybe four or five years and you're let go. You could be a great teacher. They don't care. It's a way for them to control their budget," says Hogerheide.

Charters admit, they run their schools like a business and watch costs accordingly. In fact, they say nearly 40 charter schools have been closed in the past 15-years for not meeting expectations. But charter officials say that's a strength by allowing the market to determine what works and what doesn't. "It really allows the educators in the building to focus on kids in that building which you can lose with bigger districts," says Quisenberry.

Public schools say they offer more, all grades, with a wide variety of classes, and extra curricular activities, including sports. Hogerheide says, "Are we not providing the entire education package we're required to? Absolutely. Are the charter schools doing that? I don't believe so."

Charters say they're more cost-effective, efficient, focused, and results-driven. Quisenberry says, "If you're not running a good school and you're not serving kids and taxpayers and communities, you probably shouldn't be teaching kids."

It's union versus non-union, traditional versus new, both fighting over the $90,000 each student gets for 13-years of education.

There are 247 charter schools in Michigan right now. Of Michigan's 1.6 million public school students, 115,000 are charter school students. That's 7%.

Governor Rick Snyder supports the idea of charter schools and wants every district to have access to one.

But what are charter schools?

How are they funded?

How are they controled?

Do they provide a choice or a threat to traditional public education?

Dan Quisenberry , president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, or MAPSA says, "Charter schools are public schools, and they are required to accept any student that applies. They can not screen for a talent or aptitude or anything like that."

Not so, says the Michigan Education Association. Ric Hogerheide, MEA UniServ Director 10-D says, "In charters, they're very specific in what they take. They can just say 'Sorry, we don't want you,' and you're out the door."

Charter school officials disagree with that statement. They say they're limited only by how much student capacity they have.

They say once a school fills up students that want in are put in a lottery system.

Charter schools are funded so same way traditional public schools are.

The Michigan House Fiscal Agency says Michigan's budget is $47 billion. Of that, $20 billion comes from the federal government. That leaves $27 billion Michigan raises in taxes. Of that $27 billion, $13 billion goes to K-12 education, which traditional public schools and charter schools pull from.

There are differences in leadership between traditional public schools and charter schools. Traditional public schools have boards elected by the public. Charter schools have an appointed board of directors.

"It gives communities a lot more say because they can choose where schools are going, which ones are working, and allocates the dollars accordingly," says Quesenberry.

Charters say site-based control allows more freedom and flexibility for its teachers and students.

However, the MEA says voters are being cut out of the equation.

"If my public dollars are being used for that, I feel I have a right to say how it's being spent. You don't have that with charter schools," says Hogerheide.

Charter schools say they're simply selling choice. "It creates a partnership between a community, parents, educators to do what's best for kids," says Quisenberry.

However, the MEA says charters are not playing by the rules. "Do we want to have choice in public education? We'd love to have choice, but we don't have that luxury. We're told this is how we teach by the state mandates," says Hogerheide.

Coming up Wednesday on NBC25 and, Dan Armstrong looks at the outcomes. Which schools perform better? How are teachers treated?

Which school system do you think is better?