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Bruce Baker is a school finance expert at Rutgers. For years, he has been concerned about the lack of transparency and accountability in the charter industry. In this post, he foresees the possibility or likelihood that recent Supreme Court decisions pave the way for charter schools to become religious schools and he suggests a model that would protect the charter concept from being corrupted.
Charter schooling is at a critical juncture and the future of charter schooling across US states can take either of two vastly different paths. On the one hand, charter schooling could become increasingly private, more overtly religious, openly discriminatory and decreasingly transparent to voters, taxpayers and the general public. On the other hand, charter schooling could be made more public and transparent and be shielded from religious intrusion and all that comes with it. We recommend a policy framework which advances the latter and protects against the former.
Maryland, he suggests, has a model for charters that other states should emulate.
Maryland provides one example which is sufficiently tight in this regard. Charter schools are authorized by, governed by and financed through their host county school districts. Further, while private management companies may be hired to “operate” the schools, employees of the schools are under county district contracts. That is, teachers and other certified staff in Maryland charter schools are public employees and themselves “state actors,” even when they work under the direction of a private management company.
This model provides for increased public transparency, and at the same time, minimizes potential for religious intrusion on the charter sector. A truly public governing board (like the district board of education, appointed or elected) would not be able to exclude from management contracts, firms with religious ties or origins on that basis alone. But, given that instruction is provided by public employees and the school governed by public officials, the school would be bound by constitutional requirements regarding discrimination and the provision of religious curriculum (here, the establishment clause prohibits advancement or promotion of religion).