An increasing number of parents who shop around before choosing a school for their children are opting for charter schools because they like the academic environment. But they might not be aware that those same schools also are giving the public a bigger bang for their buck than traditional schools.
Research at the University of Arkansas shows that charter schools in 30 states are neck-and-neck with traditional schools on eighth grade standardized tests. But they achieve those scores for significantly less money.
Imagine what they might do if charter schools were funded equitably.
For example, in math, traditional schools averaged a score of 283 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Charter schools averaged 279 despite spending an average of $3,814 less per child.
Reading achievement is much the same: Traditional schools scored 262, one point better than charter schools.
Of course, comparing the success of charter schools and traditional schools isn't as simple as putting two scores side-by-side.
Charter schools, by their design, are likely to enroll students whose parents take an active interest in their children's educations. And educators say that children whose parents take an active role in their education are more likely to succeed.
It takes extra effort to move a child from a traditional neighborhood school to a charter school. But many parents find it's worth that effort, and charter school success can inspire competing schools to step up their game. And parents deserve options as they choose what school is best for their children.
South Carolina was not one of the 30 states covered in the research at the University of Arkansas, though the study did look at the state's funding for charter schools.
But charter school students in North Carolina scored 295 in math compared to traditional school students' 286, and at significantly less expense.
And in reading, charter school students averaged 276, compared to 263.
Karen Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform, a charter advocacy group, said that if charter schools received money "in the same manner and the same amount as traditional public schools, including funding for facilities," the achievements would be dramatic.
Sadly, the research team gave South Carolina a "D" for disparities in funding for public charter schools.
Many public school educators in the state have been resistant to charter schools, and data about their success have been challenged.
One frequent criticism is that they take away funding from traditional public education. And the Arkansas study has attracted detractors who challenge its findings.
But the fact that charter schools can test well for less money is an affirmation on the school funding front.
And charter schools come with a guarantee. Where some traditional schools consistently fail their students, a failing charter can lose its charter to operate.
Charter schools have delivered meaningful school choice to parents and children, and have done so as public schools.
They have been in operation long enough to be considered part of the tradition of public education - and should be funded accordingly.