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#AskExcelinEd: How does charter school policy give parents the power to create their own school choice?

• Sam Duell

As we continue to celebrate National School Choice Week, Associate Director of Charter School Policy Sam Duell tells us a story of a group of parents from Norman, Oklahoma starting their own public charter school.

Imagine that your elementary school student is happy and thriving in your local public school, attending a language-immersion program and coming home excited about learning every day. What would you do if you found out that the program was going to be cut from the school budget?

You might try to fundraise the money yourself. Perhaps you would schedule a meeting with the superintendent. You might even take your concerns to a public meeting of the local school board.

Or, you could start your own public school that would immerse every child in a second or third language. That’s exactly what parents in Norman, Oklahoma did.

Here’s their story:

The route to starting a new school was not easy or straightforward. A group of parents initially tried to keep their beloved French program in the district through fundraising and talks with the superintendent. When it became clear that retaining the program would not be possible, the parents resolved to press on and continue to advocate for a school option of their choice.

The Le Monde parents, as they became known, submitted a new public charter school application to the local school board to start their own school, and twice they were denied. If they had applied only a year earlier, the story would have ended there. However, thanks to a 2015 revision to the Oklahoma Charter Schools Act, they could appeal the denial to the Oklahoma State Board of Education. Although the fate of Le Monde’s charter application was anything but certain when the parents appealed to the state board, their application was ultimately approved.

This coming fall, Le Monde International School, a Spanish- and French-immersion charter school, will open as the first public charter school in the Norman Public School District. The story exemplifies the importance of parents having the ability to provide their children with the school and education of their choice. You can hear the Le Monde parents’ story in their own words in the short video below from ChoiceMatters for Kids, Inc., a parent advocacy group in Oklahoma.

Charter Schools – Importance of State Appeals

Imagine: your child attends a low-performing school because you can't afford a private school or transportation expenses to attend a better public school. Instead, you and a group of concerned citizens join to form a public charter school, but local politics halt your efforts through fear and misinformation. Shouldn't families' voices matter when their local school isn't making the grade and they present a possible solution? Currently, they do matter. But proposed legislation would remove this power and hand it all back to local school boards.Right now, Oklahoma's rural and suburban parents have two options to create a public charter school. They can apply to their local school board. If the local board rejects their proposed school, they can appeal to the State Board of Education.Unfortunately, local school boards may treat public charter schools as competition or a threat rather than as a partner. This is why we must keep our existing system. It allows parents and community members to appeal when a local school board denies a charter application for invalid reasons. School boards should not be given absolute power to silence their families' voices. They should respect parents and community members who have the right to form a quality school when one doesn't exist.Some would like to take away the freedom to appeal to the State Board of Education. Please stand up for fundamental American principles, and help protect our families' rights.Click here to contact your legislators:

Posted by Parents for School Choice on Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The ability to choose the best educational options for our children is so precious. Sometimes the best option doesn’t exist yet. So how do we provide communities with reasonable avenues to create new options? One road is through charter school policy.

As of today, 44 states and the District of Columbia have charter school statutes. Some of them provide multiple avenues for charter school creation while others are quite restrictive. The Le Monde parents were fortunate that they could appeal to the state board of education when their charter application was denied locally.

Parents in other states are not as fortunate. Some states, including  Wisconsin, allow other organizations, such as public universities, to authorize charter school applications. Other states, including Nevada, have centralized, state-level authorizers who specialize in overseeing charter schools. States have an opportunity to consider these examples and implement a charter school policy that best fits their systems—while also empowering parents and communities with more than one avenue to create new, quality school options.

In the spirit of National School Choice Week, we hope to raise awareness of charter school policy that encourages communities to form new associations to build new schools that fulfill the hopes and desires of their families.

About the author

Sam Duell

Before Sam joined ExcelinEd as the Associate Policy Director for Charter Schools, he was a special education teacher, a school and central office administrator, the Executive Director of School Choice at Oklahoma’s department of education and the Managing Director of OPSRC’s Education Collaborative. In every position, Sam worked creatively to meet student needs. He founded the Integrated Support Program at Fischer Middle School in San Jose, California to increase the number and percentage of students with learning disabilities who have access to the general education classroom. He was the first administrator of Oklahoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, the authorizer for online schools in Oklahoma. And he co-founded a statewide afterschool network called the Oklahoma Partnership for Expanded Learning to organize and advocate for expanded learning opportunities after school and during the summer. Sam’s current interests include charter schools and their role in a functional, thriving democracy.