Bob Griffin: Add charter school authorizers to end the long waiting lists in Alaska

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By BOB GRIFFIN

Alaska was ranked second in the nation in K-12 education funding adequacy by a recent Rutgers University study with a score of 95 out a possible 100 for funding adequacy.

Under that backdrop, any large increases in K-12 funding should also be accompanied by at least some modest education reforms — like expanding authorizers for public charter schools. Major increases in K-12 spending without education reforms have not worked in the past for Alaska. Between 2003 and 2023, state education spending increased 90.6% per student while inflation was 64.7%. And Alaska student NAEP test scores in every category declined significantly during that 20-year period.  

Alaska has the best public charter schools in the U.S. according to a recent Harvard University study — despite having one of the most poorly supported and least free public charter school systems in the U.S. per the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools 

One result of the poor support is thousands of parents on waiting lists for Alaska’s most innovative and successful public charter school models. Programs lack capacity to meet public demand because local districts in Alaska have sole authority to dictate the terms of public charter school programs — like enrollment limits.   When districts have no competition from other potential authorizers, they’re not very motivated to be attentive to the desires of charter applicants. They can compel applicants to accept undesirable terms, like inability to expand to meet public demand.   

Alaska is one of only five states which leaves the power of approval and expansion of public charter schools solely in the hands of local school districts — which may be hostile to public charter schools. In other states, a university, the state department of education, specialized public or private entities are among the different types of authorizers. In Ohio, parents have five different charter authorities they can go through to “shop around” for a public charter school approval.  

There’s a myth that public charter schools authorized by local school districts somehow disrupt the concept of “local control.” Public charter schools are actually the ultimate in local control. Though the programs can be authorized by many different entities, the schools themselves are very much controlled by the parents and staff in the individual programs. It’s hard for control to get much more “local” than that.  

There’s also a myth that public charter schools are a partisan Republican issue. In Washington D.C., where 76% of voters identify as members of the Democratic Party, 48% of children are in public charter schools The rapid growth of charter schools in D.C. has a direct correlation to a rapid rise in student NAEP scores to the point that the average D.C. student outperforms the average Alaska student in every NAEP category, for both low-income and upper/middle-income kids. That’s true even considering that almost double the percentage of D.C. children are in poverty than are Alaskan children.  

A final myth is that public charter schools rob resources from neighborhood public schools. This is certainly not the case in Alaska, where per student spending in charter schools is significantly lower than traditional neighborhood schools. As more kids move to public charter programs, neighborhood schools are relieved of the burden of the variable cost of educating the kids who move, leaving more funding per student for the children who stay in their neighborhood schools.       

Finding education that fits your child’s learning style shouldn’t be reliant on winning a lottery. We should adopt the policy of multiple charter authorizers — already available in most states. That will allow our very successful, locally controlled, public charter schools to grow to meet the capacity demands of parents, while increasing per student dollars available for parents who choose their local neighborhood schools. 

 Bob Griffin is a member State Board of Education and Early Development and senior education research fellow for the Alaska Policy Forum, writing on his own behalf. 

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12 COMMENTS

    • No. Maybe if we flush the entire legislature and local school boards, then. But only maybe.

      Public education is irredeemable. It needs to be broken.

  1. Just remember the state can’t afford a whole list of charter schools plus the neighborhood schools.
    Charter schools and its parent boards WILL have to one day go to tuition.

    • That’s why we need vouchers.
      The school district will have to take less money as it’s so much per student then ASD will have to cut budgets and people and Alaskan school children will return to the top school states again.

    • This shows a misunderstanding of charter funding. The charter just gets funded like any other small public school. The money follows the students. The state does not fund systems or buildings, it funds per student. That is why charters harm local districts, they take the students and the teachers and offer more, for less. They are free of many burdens, though. Limited SPED, the option to remove students with behavior issues, requiring parent volunteering and many more benefits allow them to succeed. With small class sizes, parent involvement required and no “problem” kids, any school could succeed.

    • That’s an interesting perspective. Of course charter schools are public schools — just like neighborhood schools. Why should we require one set of public parents to pay tuition and not the ones in neighborhood school?
      As more parents choose charter schools we will probably not need as many neighborhood schools — so it seems that we will likely need to repurpose some neighborhood schools to provide facilities for charters,

    • We should not keep funding our school districts as we have been. There is zero incentive for success and consequently there has been no success, as a whole. End the madness.

  2. It’s very difficult to pry the hands off a monopoly like Alaska’s K12 public education system. Meanwhile, other states are forging ahead with monumental changes to their public school systems. Even Alabama passed a school choice bill in which parents can receive $7,000 and send their children to any school their child would benefit from.

    The Alaska Education Industry cries “loss of local control”. Actually, with more charter schools parents would have the local control they need. Let’s cry, “parental control”, not “local control”.

  3. This from the most unfit candidate since time began: “If I don’t get elected, it’s going to be a bloodbath for the whole — that’s going to be the least of it. It’s going to be a bloodbath for the country,” Elect him and blood will be on your hands too.

    • You conveintly left out the whole statement. It going to be a bloodbath for the whole “US automotive manufacturing”. He was refering to the Chiniese starting huge automotive manufacturing plants in Mexico. Maybe you should listen to the part that you are refering to before you quote him out of contex.

  4. To clarify, my kids go to a charter, I support charters and outside authorization. I see my above comment seems the opposite. I was just clarifying why districts don’t love charters and why you can’t compare their results to general public schools, apples and oranges.

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