Why public charter schools are positive for children and communities
By Guest Columnist TONY ROBERTS, president and CEO of the Georgia Charter Schools Association.
Georgia’s non-profit public charter schools strengthen the overall public school system by offering more children an opportunity to receive high-quality public education at a school that works best for them.
By law, charter schools are tuition-free and open to all students regardless of zip code, race, ethnicity, income or ability level. Currently, 70 percent of children enrolled in Georgia charter schools are students of color. These unique public schools are positive for children and communities because they keep more students in the public school system, successfully prepare children for college and career opportunities, and improve local property values.
The pandemic exposed that a one-size-fits-all public school system does not work for every student and family. As a result, 37,000 Georgian parents sought alternative public education options between the spring of 2020 and the spring of 2021 and public school enrollment declined.
As enrollment in many metro area districts dropped by three percent or greater over the past two school years, the number of students attending public charter schools in Atlanta, Fulton, Cobb and Gwinnett counties increased. That’s according to enrollment data released by the Georgia Department of Education. In fact, between the spring of 2020 and the spring of 2022, charter school enrollment went up by more than 3.7 percent in Atlanta Public Schools, 4.4 percent in Gwinnett County charter schools, more than 1.7 percent in Cobb County charter schools and 0.4 percent in the DeKalb County charter schools. These locally-approved charter schools prevented greater district enrollment losses and allowed families to choose a public school to best meet the individual needs of their children.
Charter schools do more than keep children in the broader public school system — they prepare students for a successful future. On the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress, Atlanta’s Black charter school students significantly outperformed their traditional school peers by scoring at least 19 points higher in reading and math in 4th grade and 20 points higher in both reading and math in 8th grade.
Additionally, a 2021 Georgia State University study commissioned by the State Charter Schools Commission of Georgia found that start-up charter schools produce more students who are college and career ready than traditional schools produce. According to the analysis, ninth graders enrolled in charter schools were 7 percent more likely to graduate from high school on time than their peers in traditional public schools, 9 percent more likely to attend college and 6 percent more likely to receive a college degree or certificate.
The report also showed that Georgia students who attend eighth and ninth grades successively at a charter school have higher English, math and reading scores than students who left a charter school after eighth grade to attend traditional public school in ninth grade. Further, student attendance at a charter high school had a long-term impact on individual income — increasing quarterly earnings by more than $530 per graduate.
An earlier Georgia State University study found that charter schools serve as good partners in their local communities, contributing to economic advantages. Property values in the city of Atlanta increased more than 8 percent in areas closest to a start-up charter school with a priority attendance zone. The impact was also positive in areas outside of the city. In the Atlanta suburbs, property values were four percent higher when located within a half-mile radius of a charter school.
In addition to the economic benefits, charter schools enjoy widespread public support. A poll conducted last December on behalf of the Georgia Charter Schools Association found that 75 percent of registered voters in the city of Atlanta hold favorable views of public charter schools. Support was even higher among parents of school-aged children, with 83 percent expressing positive opinions. Statewide, another recent survey showed that more than six out of ten registered voters approve of charter schools.
Yet, despite overwhelming support by parents and voters and evidence that Georgia’s public charter schools strengthen the overall public school system through increased enrollment, academic achievement, graduation rates, and future earnings, the number of charter schools authorized by local school districts has decreased in recent years, and many districts are simply not supportive of approving new charter schools to benefit their communities. We urge these districts to give families more educational options — not less.
Until all students have access to high-quality public schools, we still have work to do. And public charter schools can help us accomplish that goal.
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