Earlier this week, I did a long post on the views of the Governor and State School Superintendent candidates with respect to issues affecting elementary and secondary education. Part of my post talked about the candidates’ positions on charter schools, and a good bit of discussion was had in the comments regarding this statement by Democratic candidate for SSS Valarie Wilson:
And Ms. Wilson has suggested the prospect of rapid charter school growth—in particular the expansion of for-profit charter operators—will feed into the misleading narrative floated by “a sector of the reform world” that public schools are failing.
On the Twitters, there has been more discussion, including this exchange between Dr. Monica Henson, who runs a charter school, and Wilson:
While I think that Dr. Henson’s question about whether school systems contract with for-profit entities for services a bit of a red herring, Wilson’s answer bothers me as well.
K-12 schools are largely an oligopoly, where students attend the schools assigned to them by their public school system, unless they choose to pay additional money to attend a private school. For those that don’t have the resources to attend a private school, their local school is their only choice. Charter schools can provide another option for students and parents who believe the instruction offered by the local school system is inadequate.
The belief held by many in the pro-charter movement is that the competition provided by having a choice between traditional and charter schools will encourage both types to provide a better education than would otherwise be provided by a monopoly provider of “free” education. In a nutshell, that’s the same philosophy that differentiates capitalism from socialism.
What does this have to do with the difference between for-profit and non-profit charter schools?
No charter school will be able to operate without students. Parents won’t send their children to a charter school unless they can see a better educational outcome than attending a traditional school. Therefore, all charter schools, whether for-profit or non-profit, have an incentive to provide the best education they can. If they don’t, they won’t stay in business for long.
When you have a need to go to the hospital, does the question of whether a facility is for-profit or non-profit make a difference in deciding where to go? For most people, the quality of care they will receive is going to be a much more important factor. Healthy competition between traditional schools, for-profit charters, and non-profit charters, combined with a way for parents to compare student outcomes should work the same way.