State Legislature should overhaul charter school law

Enabled by technology and state law, the development of cyber charter schools threatens our public school system that is intended to provide a free public education.

Cyber charter schools allow parents to place their children in an online classroom that is not directly part of the public school system.

These schools offer an attractive alternative for parents who are concerned about a host of issues, including individual health needs and perceptions of safety.

With private schools, parents pay tuition.

With cyber charter schools, the home school district is required by state law, as it now stands, to pay the tuition — at a cost of millions of dollars annually.

State charter school law was passed at a time when brick-and-mortar charter schools were opening. It directs local districts to pay the tuition for students attending charter schools physically within their districts. Soon, charters started opening online, and that was the start of cyber charter schools.

This poses a challenge to public school systems, which are tasked with keeping their doors open for all students in their area.

One solution is for home districts to offer online learning. That has been tried in a couple of local districts, and we are told it will be introduced in all districts locally in the next school year. The district programs, though, will not stop the money from leaving public systems and going to private cybers.

This is where the law needs to change. It makes sense that the districts operate their own free online programs for students in their service area, alleviating concerns about safety and health issues, and that cyber charter schools be treated just like private schools and those who choose to home-school.

There may be other options. We believe the state Legislature would be the appropriate body to study this issue. That is the only way to determine what will speak to the greater good and find a way to support the public school system as it navigates toward a modern educational model for the future.