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Durham charter schools educating, not taking students

This perspective was originally published at The News & Observer on October 19, 2015

Laying the blame for Durham Public Schools’ budget challenges at the feet of Durham’s public charters as Superintendent Bert L’Homme recently did may be good politics, but scapegoating charter schools serves only to distract from the tough educational issues we face in Durham and across our state.

Parents have choices. Parents may be choosing charters at a higher rate than in the past, but parents are also choosing among nearly 50 private schools, home schooling and Durham Public School magnets. Parents are making choices based on what they believe is in the best interest of their children. This is what we should expect and applaud parents for doing.

Rather than blaming parents, students, charters and the legislature, it’s time to listen to what parents want and recognize the value public charter schools bring to our community. Across our state, some of the best educational outcomes are found at charter schools, including in Durham, where low-income minority students are achieving amazing results. Yet, charter schools use far fewer resources. Not only do charter schools lack access to facilities funding, they also receive about 73 percent of the per-pupil allotment of traditional public schools. This means that public charter schools not only start with less money but also pay for rent, mortgage and debt service using monies traditional public school can spend directly on students. It is disingenuous to contend that charter schools are siphoning away money from traditional public schools when they are actually doing more with less.

Most importantly, the funds charter schools receive are not “taking” money from DPS; they are dollars that charter schools receive for the students they, not DPS, are educating.

While nearly 6,000 students attend charter schools in Durham, there are roughly 33,000 students enrolled in Durham Public Schools. The 550 additional students attending charter schools this school year amounts to approximately 10 students per Durham Public School. It’s difficult to image how DPS’s fiscal fate rests on the desks of those few students. And, while DPS seems to believe those students would have otherwise attended a Durham Public School, who’s to say they would have?

Castigating charter schools equally invested in our community only widens a chasm that need not exist at all. Focus should be on true education improvement: explore and implement what is working, whether it’s in our charter or district schools. Only by putting differences aside and children first can we be the problem-solvers we teach our students to be.

Jennifer Lucas, executive director at Voyager Academy; Brian Crawford, executive director of Carter Community School; Mark Tracy, executive director of Kestrel Heights Charter School; and Vicky Patton, founder and board president of Central Park School for Children, contributed to this article.

Lisa Gordon Stella

Lisa Gordon Stella is a board member at Maureen Joy Charter School in Durham, NC.

Pamela Blizzard

Pamela Blizzard is executive director at Research Triangle High School in Durham, NC.