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Charter schools are under attack

The battle over charter schools has come to Carson City. A bill introduced this week would stop the growth of new charter schools, which is the first step to withering them on the vine.

More than 42,000 students attend state-sponsored charter schools in Nevada, which is a 64 percent increase in three years. In contrast, enrollment in the Clark County School District has gone up by less than one-tenth of 1 percent over the same time.

All the charter schools combined would constitute the third largest school district in Nevada. If charters keep growing at their current pace, their enrollment will surpass the Washoe County School District within four years.

That wouldn’t happen under Assembly Bill 462. Sponsored by the Assembly Education Committee, it would prohibit the approval of any new charter school operator until 2021.

Charter schools, which are independently run public schools, are an education success story in a state that doesn’t have many. A Review-Journal analysis found that state-sponsored charters had higher average star ratings than their Clark County School District counterparts. That’s encouraging, though not conclusive. The demographics of those schools don’t mirror the district as a whole.

Another sign of success is the thousands of students on charter school waiting lists, even though charters receive less funding than traditional public schools. The Clark County School District has access to $4 billion in capital funding through its current bond campaign. Charter schools have to pay for facilities out of their operating money or through fundraising.

Charter schools have traditionally had bipartisan support in Nevada. The 2011 bill creating the State Public Charter School Authority passed the Democrat-controlled Legislature unanimously.

What a difference success makes. This session, Nevada’s two largest teacher unions have called for a cap on charter schools.

The unions and charter opponents will claim their efforts are about accountability. Don’t believe them. If they cared about accountability, they’d start with the public schools, where only 31 percent of Nevada’s fourth-graders are proficient in reading. Instead, numerous Democrats are sponsoring a bill to gut the retention portion of Read by Three. That’s not to say all charter schools are great. But failing charter schools are shut down, unlike traditional public schools that struggle.

The reason unions dislike charter schools is that they’re not unionized and proving an attractive option for too many parents eager to flee underperforming campuses. Charter schools aren’t just slowing the growth of Nevada school districts. They’re slowing the growth of Nevada’s teachers unions. That means unions have less money than they otherwise would, which translates into fewer campaign contributions for their Democrat allies.

This isn’t just happening in Nevada. In January, Los Angeles teachers went on strike over pay and class size, but they also wanted a cap on charter schools. In February, teachers in West Virginia went on strike to defeat a bill authorizing the state’s first charter schools.

Regardless of what happens with this bill, the war on charter schools is far from over.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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