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Charter schools have been in the American education system since the 80s. The charter school idea was introduced by Ray Budde who was a professor at the University of Massachusetts (Kolderie, 2005). The charter schools began as a government policy response to the aroused public opinion on public schools. These schools were established in order to increase accountability among schools and reform the primary and secondary education systems. The schools were meant to provide supplementary educational choices. It was a way to ensure that children in primary and secondary levels of education get quality education without payment of tuition fees or selective student admission. Betts and Tang (2011) explain that these schools were also meant to be autonomous from the state laws and regulations that bound most public schools. In exchange for their independence the schools were supposed to operate under a contract with a local or state district. The contract or charter specifies the terms of operation of the school. Utah State Office of Education (2010) explains that the autonomy means that the educators in these schools are allowed to teach outside the scope of the normal syllabus and that they are also allowed to experiment with new teaching strategies. The emphasis is put on high academic performance and student motivation. The charter schools are also meant to benefit the poor communities mostly. The issue of charter schools is important because students attending these schools make up to 5% of the general student population in America (Sentell, 2011). There are also new problem areas that have emerged as regard this policy.
Charter Schools in Utah
Utah passed its first legislation regarding charter schools in 1998 (Utah Foundation, 2005). The State Charter School Director and the State Charter School Board are responsible for monitoring charter schools in Utah. The Utah Charter Schools Act provides the purposes for which charter schools were introduced in the state, which include: improving student learning; encouraging the employment of unique and novel methods of teaching and creating new prospects for educators. Charter schools are also meant to allow the active participation of educators in designing and implementing learning programs; they are also meant to increase learning opportunities for the students. Charter schools were also introduced in Utah to reform public schools and better involve the parents in management of the schools. Another reason for the schools was to expand the choices of schools in areas which needed reorganization and counteractive action under the No Child Left behind Act. All these reasons advanced for the introduction of charter schools also form part of the problematic conditions that led to the introduction of the policy. The policy was adopted and implemented as a response to the problems that had faced the public concerning the public schools in the country.
There are however various negative and positive outcomes that have been realized from the implementation of the charter schools program. Carnoy et al. (2005) argue that charter schools have served as liberators for educators from union agreements and the bureaucracy that limit innovation in teaching. The freedom afforded to charter schools in Utah and in other parts of the country has ensured that student learning is enhanced through new educational strategies. The charter schools in Utah have also been said to be more receptive of students who have had disciplinary issues in normal public schools. Proponents of charter schools have also argued that the institutions have made public schools more accountable. This is because charter schools have to adhere to the terms in their contracts. The charter schools have also enabled students in high schools to access advanced subject materials such as those in college.
Opponents of charter schools have contended that the schools have mostly worked in favour of affluent families and the highly educated and that the traditional public schools are said to be performing better than their counterparts in these schools. The system of operating charter public schools and traditional public schools has also proved to be a challenge to the government. In Utah, for example charter schools have been subjected to most of the requirements applicable to traditional public schools. They have been subjected to the same testing, hiring and other requirements that apply to the normal public schools. This is in contravention to the fundamental characteristics of charter schools.
According to a study (Utah Foundation, 2005) as of 2004, there was a big parity in funding provided to traditional public schools and charter schools. Charter school students were said to be receiving less funding than their counterparts in normal public schools. The parity was attributed to many factors one of them being that the schools were not eligible for certain funds that were allocated to the traditional public schools. The other reason was that charter schools mostly rely on federal funding which is most of the time is unpredictable. There have been suggested recommendations for solving the funding parity problem. These include increasing the state provided local income replacement funds, providing transportation funds and creating continuous funding facilities for each student. This inadequate funding has led to inadequate growth in the number of charter schools meaning that there are many students who need the schools that have been left out.
The problems that have presented themselves with regards the charter schools show that there is a repeated cycle. New problems have been borne by the policy which will require new policies and solutions. One of the problems is that there are far too many children who do not attend good charter schools. Hassel and Ableidinger (2011) state that the top ten charter schools in America only serve about 167,000 students. This number is significantly low considering there are millions of children in need of the services. There are also leadership problems, scarcity of facilities, teacher shortages among many other problems that confront charter schools.
It is clear that the introduction of public charter schools acted as a solution to the learning problems that were facing normal public schools at the time. Laws were put in place in every state where the charter schools were set to operate. Organizations such as the Progressive Policy Institute were then involved in the formulation of the policy on charter schools. This was the interest group part of the public policy process of charter schools. Other government agencies were also involved in formulation of the policy. Parents also got involved seeing as their children would be affected by the policy. However things have drastically changed since the 80s and new unintended problems vis-à-vis charter schools have emerged. These include policy barriers which is basically the funding policy. Some of these problems have even led some critics to question whether there is any more need for charter schools. Some have also argued that the cost of maintaining two public schools systems is too high. It has been noted that the stakeholders in the education sector more so those involved in charter schools must employ other strategies to curb the challenges currently facing the sector. The ‘Center on Reinventing Public Education’ (2009) identifies the stakeholders to include parents, teachers, Charter Management Organizations (CMOs), among others. Policy makers should also concentrate on removing any barriers that hinder the growth of charter schools in the country. In Utah, charter schools seem to be doing extremely well given the appraisal by the parents and guardians (Rorrer, Hausman & Groth, 2006). To solve the current issues affecting charter schools in Utah as well as in other states, the government needs to take into consideration the problems that have been raised by the parents as well as the students. This means it is time to go back to the drawing board. Some of the policies need to be re-examined; this includes the exemption of charter schools from normal public school scrutiny. Utah is also in the process of reform as they are currently writing four bills on charter schools (Lenz, 2011).