Local taxpayers say yes to charter schools

Charter schools in at least six cities and counties will benefit from local bonds and levies that voters approved on Election Day. Collectively, that means more than $500 million[1] of local tax dollars over the next several years for charter-school facility or operating costs in Cleveland; San Diego; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Metropolitan Denver (including school districts in Denver proper, Aurora, and Jefferson County). Why the sudden generosity in places that (with the exception of Denver) historically have barely tolerated charters, if that? Some charter leaders say school systems might have realized that it’s become harder to ask parents to pay higher taxes only for district schools when so many more of them are choosing charter schools for their children. Indeed, voters in these regions have joined a handful of other cities that, over the past few years, have set aside local dollars for charters by ballot initiative, when most districts and state legislatures still refuse to do so. Of course, voters might have never seen these ballot questions had it not been for legislators (like those in Colorado) who rewrote laws a few years ago, forcing districts to “invite” charters to discuss the needs of all public schools before requesting bonds or levies. But whatever the reason, the response from voters is encouraging: A whopping $350 million share of a $2.8 billion bond in San Diego will aid charter-school facility needs over the next several years; charters in and around Denver may see $150 million in facility and operating money; a Cleveland levy that will generate $85 million annually for the school district will also provide high-performing charters with $5.7 million; and St. Paul charters will see $1 million of a $39 million levy for the Minnesota district. Now that the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has found 13 percent growth in the sector nationwide, more districts ought to consider their changing landscape when they ask voters to ante up.

[1] This total figure includes a $350 million figure for San Diego charters (the bond question was worth $2.8 billion).

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