Exploring education options: Charter schools (Part 1)June 7, 2017
School’s out for the summer — you made it through another year, congrats! Now what? This may be a time of transition when you need to find a new school for your kids in the fall. Or, you may be holding out hope to find a better option. Because what if your current school is not working for your kids—what do you do then?
To help in these situations, we are running a series of Q & A’s on different education options that parents may or may not have considered for various reasons. First up: charter schools.
Raena Janes is founder and director of La Paloma Academy charter schools in Tuscon, Arizona. She answers some questions on what you need to know about school choice and why she is so passionate about bringing competition into the education system.
In the United States, many children grow up going to the local public school. The idea of “choice” is not really part of the conversation. What do we mean by “school choice”?
School choice means you have options. Each child is an individual and each school has its own culture, priorities and instructional styles. Not all kids learn the same. Not all schools should be the same. Traditionally, public schools have taken the approach that “one size fits all”. All the teachers teach the same thing the same way. They love standardized testing and somehow that proves kids are learning. That may have been fine in the past but now we have to be way more innovative to stay competitive. Parents are wanting other options for their kids. Thus, the charter school movement came into existence. Now parents can choose the right fit for their child and family.
In your experience, why do parents typically seek out other options for their kids?
I can only speak from my experience but people choose my schools because we take a very family values approach (it takes a village approach). Most of my parents would love to send their kids to private school but cannot afford it. We offer the same strict dress code and discipline. We also offer many services, for free, that are very helpful to parents (free before and after school care, free breakfast, homework help, etc.).
Why are you passionate about providing more school options?
I am passionate about school choice because I would not send my kids to the public school near my house. They are overpopulated and don’t have good discipline policies in place. The students run the school and the respect level for teachers is horrible. I don’t want my kids to think that is right. I also am not in a position to spend $15,000 per year, per child to private school. I needed other options, so I created them.
The school system we have now has been in place for the last hundred years or so— a public school system funded by local property taxes. What challenges do you see to the current system?
We are funded by property tax. There has been an overhaul on how schools are funded in AZ. Now the money follows the student. I think this is great! I have always said that competition makes everyone better. If you are competing for the students, you will serve them at a higher level. I can even see the shift in TUSD and they nicer approach they have toward parents now. It has taken them 15 years and they have lost about 30,000 students but they are getting it. At the end of the day… it is about the kids.
Arizona has been working to increase education options. Tell us about what has happened there and how it is increasing education choices.
Arizona has worked very hard on increasing school choice. In the last 5 years, they have changed their focus to Quality Choice. I don’t agree with everything that is happening on a political level. I liked the model where everyone had the opportunity to start a school and prove they have something different to offer. That is not the case in AZ anymore. You have to be a big gun with at least $250,000 to even start the process. I started with a loan from my dad for $32,000. I could have never done what I did, in the new arena.
To find out about charter school options in your state, explore your state’s Department of Education or Board of Education websites, or ed.gov for federal information.