The charter schools/school vouchers movement is picking up hot air in Montana from a majority of Republican candidates, miscellaneous columnists and even the occasional Democrat. Charter school mania is a fine example of the way thinking in slogans — privatization ... good, free choice ... yay! — can lead to really bad ideas. How bad?
Despite the fact that charter school plans typically allow the charters to cherry pick students, and despite the assumption that competition is always good, the results do not show students benefit. For example, in a large-scale study, Stanford University found that half of the time charter schools offered about the same education as the publics, a worse education more than a third of the time, and a better one in less than one case out of five.
Then think about the cost of splitting up school funding among public and private competitors, especially in a sparsely populated area like northern Montana. A lot of our little towns have a tough time supporting one school system, let alone a public system and competing private units.
The worst aspect of a charter schools system may be that it divides us, at a time when we are already divided — especially a growing division between rich and poor in this county. Public schools bring us together. Any doubts about how important a public school is to a community? Ask someone from a Hi-Line town that no longer has its own school. And make sure you know where the candidates stand on the issue when you vote.