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I attended the April 26 Assembly meeting and listened to the impassioned pleas for funding from family members of Juneau Community Charter School students. I understand their frustrations, but I think they are addressing the problem incorrectly. Although the charter school may be recognized locally as a public school, it is not recognized as such at the state level. It is something more akin to a publicly funded private school. The school was instituted to provide an alternative curriculum and learning environment to those found in the regular community public schools.
Although I feel such projects are praiseworthy, I feel that they should be self-supporting, more akin to private schools. Before I moved back to Alaska, I had enrolled my eldest boy in a private school because I too felt that the public schools there were inadequate. So, I understand the frustration the charter school parents feel when they see their tax dollars going to schools that their children do not attend. My situation was even more fiscally burdensome. Not only was I paying taxes for the education of other people's children, but I was also paying tuition at the private school. I did this, and I did it happily, for two reasons. One, my child was receiving an improved education. Two, the money I paid in taxes for education wasn't spent on any particular school, it was spent on the school system. That meant that when my child graduated from the private school and moved on to junior high and high school, those schools would have been improved due to my contributions.
Charter school parents need to keep these points in mind when requesting funding and justifying expenditures. I think the charter school should look to their own, much like a private school, and gain the support they need from the families involved. Charge tuition. If that cannot be achieved as a public school entity, then convert to a private school. If the school, as an alternative to the general public school system, cannot support itself, I think the students should be re-enrolled in the public system and any monies used for the charter school should be used to improve the entire public education system.
I am sure this will not be a welcome suggestion to those families of charter school children. They pointed out, quite convincingly, how their averages on exit exams are higher than those in public schools. I think, however, that is not so much a matter of curriculum as it is a matter of parent involvement. The parents of charter school children are very involved with their children's education, as illustrated by their choice to enroll their children in an alternative system.
Unfortunately, not all parents maintain these priorities, hence the lower scores in public schools. In proper perspective, however, these parents must look to public school students whose parents share like views in order to accurately gauge the value of public education. Only then is there a true comparison. As a parent who is very involved in my children's education, I can confirm that the public system here is quite good. Granted, there are children who slip through the cracks, but on very few occasions is it the fault of the teachers or curriculum involved. Parent involvement is very likely the single most important factor.
My children do well in school, and they have great teachers. In light of this, I personally do not feel it is prudent to spend additional taxpayer funds on alternative programs. I believe we would better serve our children to get like-minded parents together, and involved in the public system, so that all children can benefit from the limited funds available.
This is probably not the answer that the charter school families want to hear, and I can understand that. But while these families feel that their tax money is being spent on other children's education, they must remember that their children will soon enter the public school system (and therefore benefit from those taxes). My child, however, will not ever enter the charter school, so I would rather not help pay for it.
Patrick McGonegal is a longtime Juneau resident and a local Web developer.