By Paul Guppy
The school bell rings, and rows of eager young faces turn expectantly to the front of the class as the teacher begins the day’s lesson. These students look forward to graduation day, when they hope to embark on a future made brighter by a good public education. Sadly, for nearly half the students at some public schools, that day will never come. They will drop out instead.
Why would loving parents tolerate a school that fails to educate their children? Often it is because they have no choice. District officials assign students to schools, primarily based on their ZIP codes, and many families can’t afford private school tuition.
Charter schools, which have existed for over 20 years, are an alternative within public education which can give parents and children another option besides traditional neighborhood public schools. Today, 41 states and the District of Columbia have charters, serving about two million children attending nearly 5,600 schools. A further 600,000 students are on waiting lists.
Charter schools are community-based, tuition-free, and open to all students. They must meet academic standards and provide the same equal treatment and public safety protections as other public schools.
Thirteen years after Oregon’s charter school law was passed, 115 charters operate in Oregon. Washington State has no charters, but voters there have a chance to change that in November. Washington’s Initiative 1240 would create a modest charter school program. The initiative would allow up to 40 public charter schools over five years within the state system of 2,345-schools, with up to eight new schools allowed each year. Priority would be given to charter schools serving at-risk children or students attending low-performing schools.
Charter schools allow principals flexibility in areas like scheduling, teacher hiring, budgeting, curriculum, and community relations. A charter school can offer longer instructional hours and be open to students on evenings and weekends, regardless of central district rules.
Charter school enrollment is voluntary. If more families apply than there are spaces available, students are chosen by lottery. Charter schools cannot discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, disability, or other protected categories .
Several large-scale studies show charter schools perform better in educating hard-to-teach students than do conventional public schools. For example, a Massachusetts study found that “Charter Schools in Boston are making real progress in breaking the persistent connection between poverty and poor [academic] results.” Researchers found that New York City charter school students scored 31 points higher in math and 23 points higher in English than similar students in nearby schools.
Charter schools have become a well-established educational option in Oregon and across the country. Enrollment is growing in schools which are in high demand by parents. Oregon’s Corbett Charter School was ranked second in the nation by the Washington Post in 2012.
Charter schools can play an important role in helping parents successfully educate their children. Unfortunately, defenders of the educational status quo in Washington (like defenders of the status quo elsewhere) vigorously oppose allowing charters to open there. Parents deserve better. The vast majority of Washington’s public schools would be unaffected; but for many low-income and minority children, access to a charter school could prove to be their best chance for a better life. It’s time that Washington parents had more control over the educational options available to their children―options currently available in most other states. Washington voters have the opportunity this November to make that happen.
Paul Guppy is the vice president for research at Washington Policy Center, a non-partisan independent policy research organization in Washington State. He is a guest contributor for Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.
PORTLAND, Oregon—Because of its variable nature, wind energy is not suited to be the lone or primary source of a grid’s total electricity, according to a new Cascade Policy Institute–Reason Foundation study. If used to produce more than 10-20 percent of a system’s electricity, wind power increases operating costs, due to the need for expensive storage facilities or continuously available CO2-emitting backup power generation facilities.
In the Pacific Northwest, the backup mostly has been provided by the Columbia River hydro system. However, since hydroelectricity has even less CO2 associated with it than wind power does, displacing hydropower from the electricity grid in favor of wind is actually a step backwards―if reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a policy objective, as it has been for Oregon legislators.
The new Cascade Policy Institute–Reason Foundation report uses a full year’s worth of hour-by-hour power grid data from PJM Interconnection, which manages the electrical grid in part of the Eastern United States, to simulate how wind would have supplied the necessary power to customers in 2009. The models show wind power would have failed to supply all the electricity PJM customers needed over 50 percent of the time.
Thus, if wind were to produce a large percentage of a grid’s electricity, it would be necessary to build expensive energy storage facilities, or to reserve power generation facilities to supply power, when there is insufficient wind to meet energy demands at any given time and to prevent brownouts and blackouts.
“Consumers will have to pay twice for power, since they will be supporting two duplicate generation systems,” said Cascade Policy Institute President and CEO John A. Charles, Jr.
The study shows that as more reserve power is needed, the environmental benefits of wind power decrease due to the C02 emissions from those facilities, which rely on fossil fuels and must operate even when not being used, in order to ensure reliability of the electrical grid.
In the future, the hydro system will be over-committed due to salmon mitigation requirements; thus, natural gas will have to be the backup for unreliable wind. Since gas-powered generators must be kept running 24 hours per day even if no electricity is required (the so-called “spinning reserve” mode), this practice will dramatically increase total energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions for the region.
The study concludes that, given the costs involved, the practical upper limit for wind power’s contribution to the electricity grid is 10% of the total energy mix. This would result in a 9% reduction in CO2 emissions.
The current mania for wind power in Oregon is being driven by two factors: (1) subsidies to producers; and (2) SB 838 Renewable Portfolio Standards, forcing large utilities to procure 25% of their total power from politically designated “green power” sources by 2025. Both policies amount to a multi-billion tax on ratepayers, with net negative benefits for environmental quality.
“Very high wind penetrations are not achievable,” said William Korchinski, author of the Cascade Policy Institute–Reason Foundation study. “As wind’s share increases, system reliability will be adversely affected disproportionately—unless adequate reserve power is available. That power reserve is expensive and lowers any possible environmental benefits.”
“As this study shows, policies favoring wind power are a mistake,” Charles concluded. “Oregon policy makers should repeal SB 838 and all wind power incentives in 2013.”
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About Cascade Policy Institute
Founded in 1991, Cascade Policy Institute is Oregon’s premier policy research center. Cascade’s mission is to explore and promote public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity.
To that end, the Institute publishes policy studies, provides public speakers, organizes community forums, and sponsors educational programs. For more information, visit www.cascadepolicy.org.