As the president of the Idaho Charter School Network and the father of two daughters attending Boise’s SAGE International charter school in Boise, let me tell you what charter schools mean to the families and children of Idaho.
Public charter schools provide the freedom to select the schools and learning opportunities that parents think work for their children. Parents of children who attend charter schools have skin in the game because they are not simply inheriting the only available option. They are making a proactive decision about which public school that they want their children to attend.
Deciding what school works for your child is daunting for a parent (have I really made the right choice?), but also empowering. It triggers serious conversations within the family about what really matters when it comes to school and to learning. Students in Boise are lucky because they have some really strong choices to choose from, both charters and traditional offerings of the Boise School District.
Students in Boise charter schools like SAGE are a part of a community of nearly 20,000 students statewide who attend this type of public school. And yet nearly 11,000 student names still linger on wait lists to get into a charter school. All parents deserve a choice, and their children deserve the best shot possible at a better future.
One way Idaho can lessen the number of students on charter school wait lists is to help successful charter school operators open more great charter schools. This takes money. Fortunately, Congress is in a position to help since it provides start-up funding through states for new charter schools. There is bipartisan support in Congress to do that this year.
The federal Charter Schools Program is the only federal funding source that supports the opening of new charter schools, and the charter school community is counting on Idaho’s Congressional delegation to join their colleagues in Congress in supporting the expansion of charter schools like those in Idaho.
Public charter schools are proven to work. Nearly every academic report published on charter school performance since 2010 – 15 out of 16 – has found that students in charter schools do better in school than their traditional peers. Additionally, children who attend charter schools are more likely to graduate from high school than their traditional school peers. In numerous charter schools across the country, every single graduating senior is accepted into college. Every single one.
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Charter schools also continue to disproportionately top the lists of America’s best high schools in Newsweek, US News and World Report, and the Washington Post. In Idaho, the Coeur D’ Alene Charter Academy is ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the top high school in the state, and the 47th best high school in the United States. I am pleased to see the charter school my daughters attend in Boise offering the rigorous International Baccalaureate program used by top schools.
It’s also important to remember that as public schools, charter schools are free. And because they operate independently of school districts, they can provide families with modern, results-based, accountable learning environments that meet their children’s specific needs.
Now is the time for Congress to act, and vote to ensure public charter schools have the resources they need to serve thousands more students around the Gem State. Our family was fortunate to have this option. We hope that soon, many more of Idaho’s families will be able to experience the same.
Terry Ryan is president of the Idaho Charter School Network, and the parent of two daughters who attend the Sage International charter school in Boise.