by David Safier
In one sense, the push for charter schools was a necessary middle step by the conservative "education reform" movement in the push for private school vouchers. First privatize a bit with charter schools to get people used to the idea of using taxpayer dollars to fund privately run schools (It was hoped the charters would show how much better they can educate children than district schools, but that didn't pan out). Then move to the next logical step, which is to send taxpayer money to private schools which are totally out of the public sector.
But if the "education reform" conservatives were thinking ahead, they must have realized that charter schools would cause pain to private schools by drawing away some of their customers, and vouchers would be essential to saving the schools. According to an article in Ed Week (subscription only), Study Examines Charters' Drain on Private Schools.
At the elementary school level, for instance, about 32 percent of students entering charter schools in "highly urban" areas at the elementary level come from private schools, according to the study.
That number is higher than the average for all areas, which is closer to 8%. But it's easy to understand why parents of children at expensive urban private schools might decide to move to a charter school which happens to be located in a high income neighborhood and caters to the local clientele, saving themselves some very big bucks. Without vouchers to replace the lost students, those private schools could find themselves in serious financial difficulties.
Another interesting stat from the article. It's estimated that in 2008, transfers from private to charter schools cost the country about $1.8 billion in extra costs to taxpayers. That number is likely higher now, given the growth of charters. It's a soft figure, of course, because there's no way of knowing how many of those students would have transfered to district schools anyway. But since the study was done by the Cato Institute, these can't be said to be numbers cooked up by some lefty think tank. At a time when conservatives are gleefully cutting school budgets, they're also burdening the system with more students.