In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, columnist Dan Henninger declared the ongoing failure of inner-city schools “remains the greatest moral catastrophe in the political life of the United States.”
Personally, I think Mr. Henninger is understating the problem. Henninger was writing about the future of public charter schools in New York City, noting the Democrat candidate for mayor, “under pressure from the city’s teachers union, will start demanding rent payments from public charter schools that now operate rent-free in the same buildings occupied by traditional public schools.”
Apparently, New York City public charter schools, which are public schools funded with public taxpayer dollars, are allowed to operate in public school buildings, which, of course, makes all the sense in the world.
Alas, no such provision exists in Nevada, which, of course, makes no sense whatsoever. It also goes a long way toward explaining why there are so few charter schools in Nevada — just 35. (By contrast, in neighboring Arizona there are more than 525.)
Fact is the greatest impediment to opening more public charter schools here is the humongous startup costs involved in finding a building in which to operate the school. Which is also one reason why so many new charter schools are opening as “virtual” schools, in which students participate online rather than attending a brick-and-mortar campus.
Granted, a recent change in Nevada law has set up a program for lending money to startup charter schools, but that’s still not good enough. Loans have to be repaid, ultimately with taxpayer dollars anyway.
So why can’t vacant or underperforming regular public school buildings be converted into a public charter school?
Indeed, a bill that would have allowed the parents of an underperforming public school to vote to convert it to a public charter school passed in the state Senate this year. Unfortunately it was killed in the state Assembly by Republicans — led by Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Reno — who voted against this “parental trigger” bill because Kirner claimed, wrongly, that it violated the state prohibition against using a public school building for a public charter school.
Whether or not the state law prohibiting the use of public buildings to house a public charter school would also prohibit “parental trigger” conversions isn’t the point. The point is if we want more charter schools in Nevada — and we’d better, if we ever hope to actually improve education here — we need to completely remove this ridiculous prohibition in state law.
Public charter schools are public schools that should be allowed to use public school buildings just like the other public schools.
Is there a legislator out there who cares enough about the education of our children to propose removing Assemblyman Kirner’s “trigger” lock?
Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a conservative grassroots advocacy organization. He can be reached at www.muthstruths.com.