Charter Schools Present Options, Problems

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Critics of charter schools say they are draining funding from school districts; proponents say they are providing much needed options to traditional education.

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Feven Gerezgiher reports:

According to St. Paul school officials, last year close to 40% of the city’s school-aged children were not attending schools in the district. Instead, families are increasingly enrolling their kids in charter schools. Minneapolis Public Schools have seen a similar decline in enrollment.

Myron Orfield is the director of the Institute of Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota. He said proponents of charter schools promised they’d be more racially integrated than traditional public schools and outperform them, but they’ve failed on both counts.

“Charter schools do worse than the public schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul,” said Orfield. “And so charter schools have entered the system, they've taken a huge number of resources away from the city schools. They really kind of crippled the city schools’ finances.”

Orfield said charter schools have accelerated racial segregation, which often leads to gaps in funding and other inequities.

However, for marginalized communities, charter schools can prove helpful.

Dr. Samuel Yigzaw is executive director at Higher Ground Academy, a K-12 charter school in St. Paul known for its predominantly East African student population and diverse staff. He said the school has built relationships with the community, which has attracted more families.

“They are making a choice based on what they see,” said Yigzaw. “They see their neighbor's son or daughter going to a good school and finishing, graduating, and then having a job. And that’s something the parents may value. Even if we say, ‘oh, they’re going to that school because there is someone that looks like them’, there has to be a good reason to come back.”

Yigzaw said while traditional public schools are excellent, they do not work for some students, which is why they need options like Higher Ground.

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