This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Does it strike anyone else as odd that the head of the Utah Taxpayers Association and his former top assistant are pushing policies that will drain more taxpayer dollars away from the public schools and put them somewhere where the taxpayers have precious little information or oversight?
Or is that just Utah?
It is entirely possible to be a fan of the concept of charter schools and still worry that recommendations from a state task force have less to do with the educational quality or diversity of charters than with making the financial drain they place on public schools both increased and hidden.
The Charter Funding Task Force wants the Legislature to change the formula for funding charter schools, scattered among the state's 41 public school districts, that will drain an additional $16 million away from those districts, even as those elected school boards have no say in the formation or operation of charter schools.
Or depending on how you do the math, it might actually be a bump of up to $40 million.
Either way, traditional public schools, already the most poorly financed in the nation on a per-pupil basis, would see millions less in taxpayer support so charters can get more.
State Sen. Howard Stephenson, who is also president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, describes the process as fairness for charters. Royce Van Tassell, who was veep at the taxpayers group before becoming executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools, says that anybody who thought charters would operate at significant savings wasn't paying attention.
Maybe. But Stephenson was among those who blocked a plan to tell the taxpayers of each public school district on their annual property tax statements just how much the districts are losing to charters.
Charter schools in Utah are still very much in the experimental stage. Which is kind of the point.
In theory, they can help students with specific needs or interests, filling gaps left by overcrowded and underfunded traditional schools. Though the traditional schools might be less crowded and better funded if the charters weren't draining some of their local property tax revenues.
Some charters are doing well, as far as we can see. Others have crashed and burned, leaving students adrift and forcing school districts to rescue them. And it is rare indeed for any charters to take enough of a burden off the traditional public schools that they see any significant savings.
Many charter schools may very well deserve and make excellent use of more taxpayer support. But it shouldn't happen without a lot more transparency, statewide and in each school district.