Editorial: Sunlight on charters is expected

Jun. 24, 2014 @ 11:09 PM

As long as charter schools are in use of the public’s money, the public has a right to know as defined and protected in our state’s open meetings and public records laws.

Senate Bill 793 continues to move forward and includes that language. Earlier this year, not everyone was sure about rules for charters.

Charter schools are a growing industry in the state. They provide an option for parents, including when public schools in the area don’t perform well. There is no tuition. They are not private schools.

Public records laws aren’t the only difference for charters. The proponents of charters argue that many of these differences are what lead to their success.

But not all charter schools are successful, or will be in the future. Until 2011, the state had a cap of 100. When the cap was lifted, so was the number of children entering their doors.

This year, the state’s charter schools number 127 and serve nearly 59,000 students. The state is spending more than $300 million in this current budget on them, and counties are kicking in more. The numbers rise again this fall.

One argument for keeping charters out of the public records laws is the choice. Unsatisfied parents, the theory goes, will simply pull their children out and the money sent to the charters will alter accordingly.

The argument fails because charter schools are public schools. Education law and most of the money for public education comes through the General Assembly.

The personnel privacy act passed in 1987 defined confidential items in personnel files. Applications and performance evaluations are not open; names, positions and salaries are among the 22 items that are open.

And public meeting law does have provisions to allow for closed sessions of boards.

Anytime a public entity doesn’t endorse and carry out its activities in the sunlight of open meetings, we have every right to be suspicious. The kind of entity, including charter schools, doesn’t matter.

Any citizen, whether the parent of a student in a charter school or not, is a stakeholder of some degree in charter schools. And the transparency of each institution should be no less or no more than any other public school.