Whose Interests Does the Board of Education Serve?

Recently, the Oregon Board of Education took up the issue of whether and how to regulate online or “virtual” charter schools. A state law, passed in 2005 at the request of the teachers union, places severe restrictions on virtual charter schools that would essentially prevent them from operating without a waiver from the Board. The law gives the Board the power to set the conditions under which any online charter school can operate.

After much deliberation, the Board decided last week to cap enrollment for online schools and to require them to seek approval from students’ home districts before enrolling them.

These new rules create very limited space for online schools to grow and serve students who might benefit from having this public school option available to them. Many school districts are reluctant to let students enroll in schools outside their system. The reason is financial. When students leave, the per-student funding from the state leaves with them.

Rob Kremer, who is a charter school advocate, went to all the Board of Education meetings on this subject and writes:

“…Time and again individual board members revealed through their comments that their first concern was ‘the system.’ They worried about the ‘impact’ on school districts if they lost kids to a virtual school. I never once heard a board member worry about the impact on a student who is denied access to the educational option of his choice due to the controls the board was placing on virtual schools.

“So it was apparent, after all was said and done, that the majority on the State Board of Education still has the system as its number one priority, and the interests of kids and parents is somewhere down the list. The implicit lack of trust that parents could choose wisely for their kids was obvious.”

Cascade has pointed out before
that some school districts are not enthusiastic about the idea of competing with charter schools for students.

The Board of Education has chosen to side with school districts instead of parents and students. While not surprising, it is disappointing.

Matt Wingard is Director of the School Choice Zone Project at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank.

© 2008, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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