Hispanic Students Thriving in Public Charter Schools, Report Says

A whopping 85 percent of Hispanic parents have said that they should have greater choice in deciding which public school their child should attend, regardless of where they live, according to a new report. The findings come from a study commissioned by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a national advocacy group in support of charter schools.

Besides strong Hispanic parental support for school choice, the study also found that Hispanic students enrolled in charter schools are outperforming their public school peers when it comes to college readiness and academic progress.

Charter schools are public schools free to operate with greater autonomy and freedom than tradition public schools in exchange for greater academic accountability while often operating in distressed and underserved communities. The report finds that Hispanic students are making up a bigger share of public charter school students, up from 21 percent in 2004 to 30 percent today. And for the first time, more Hispanic students are enrolled in charter schools than traditional public schools, 30% to 25% respectively.

Underperforming public schools in largely Latino communities may explain why demand for charter schools is growing among Hispanic families. Jo Ann Gama, President and Superintendent of IDEA Public Schools, a network of charter schools servicing more than 30,000 mostly Hispanic students in Texas, told Opportunity Lives, “It’s unacceptable that across public education, Hispanic students are 10 percent less likely to graduate from high school than their white peers. Charter school educators, parents, and students across the country are refusing to settle for such inadequate outcomes, and as a result we’re seeing communities come together to help Hispanic students write their own successful futures.”

Hispanic students enrolled in charter schools are outperforming their public school peers when it comes to college readiness and academic progress

Still, charter schools are not without controversy. Opponents claim that charter schools “cherry pick” the best and the brightest students and siphon away critical public money from conventional public schools. But upon closer inspection, this criticism doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. For one, most charter schools take all students who want to attend. And when demand outweighs supply, a lottery must be held to sort out student enrollment. Further complicating this process are state-imposed caps on charter schools, as is the case in Massachusetts, where voters are slated to decide at the polls this November whether the state will allow for the expansion of more charter schools.

As for the criticism that charter schools are a drain to public schools, the irony is that it is actually the other way around. That is, only a portion of the per-pupil funding actually follows the student transferring from a traditional public school to a public charter school. Full funding follows the student when transferring between public schools, in most districts. Thus less public money is spent per-pupil in charter schools, despite their often better records of achievement.

Until recently, opposition to charter schools was minimal. But now the Democratic Party has become increasingly hostile to charter schools under pressure from the teachers unions, so much so that their party platform was recently amended to reflect the change.

Still, there are Democrats supportive of educational reform efforts and the expansion of charter schools, including Democrats for Education Reform, an advocacy group in support of greater accountability in public schools. When asked to comment on the NAPCS report finding support for charter schools among Latinos, DER’s Shavar Jeffries told Opportunity Lives, “The vast majority of Hispanic parents want public school choice and believe education is the most important issue we face as a country. We must do all we can to support our children and strengthen American public education so that every child in every zip code has access to a world-class public education.”

The report’s release coincides during the nationwide celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month and various polls showing that education policy is among the most important issue for Hispanics.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter:@IzzyOrtega.