This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah charter schools exist because tens of thousands of parents found an education option that works better for their child. The reasons these parents are seeking options are as varied as the children themselves.
Just last night, a couple of friends dropped by my house. One of their boys attends Herriman High School; their other son attends Paradigm Charter High School. Like virtually all Utahns, they carry no bias for or against districts or charter schools; they want what works best for each child.
Because parents are looking for so many different things, it's hardly surprising that each charter school and each school district do things differently. There is no "one true way" to run a school, just like there is no "one true way" to run a newspaper.
If there's no "one true way," then experimentation is valuable. As parents opt into some schools and out of others, we'll learn some of what works and some of what doesn't. In other words, we'll learn from these experiments the same way we learn in just about everything, by trial and error.
Unfortunately, the Tribune's editorial fails to recognize these common sense principles, and they are just plain wrong on virtually every other point. Contra the Tribune's false allegation, charter schools must and do! follow the same procurement and disclosure requirements as every other Utah public entity.
In order to survive on much less funding, charter schools have had to innovate. As a rule, charter schools direct more of their funding into the classroom; 55 percent of Utah's charter school spending goes to teacher salaries, while only 49 percent of Utah's school district spending goes there.
Another innovation some charter schools implement is to hire private companies with expertise in financial, legal or administrative services. Interestingly, these schools are many of Utah's best performing charter schools.
That these schools can achieve outstanding results defies the Tribune's outrageous claim that these private companies are somehow "profiteering" at the expense of the children in those schools. If anything, taxpayers should be ecstatic that charter schools use innovative administrative models to squeeze better results from every precious education dollar.
The Tribune even goes so far as to assert, "There is no way for Utahns to know how many of their education dollars are ending up as someone's salary or profits." A mere moment's thought shows the fallacy of that claim: Every single one of Utahns' "education dollars" ends up "as someone's salary or profits."
For example, every dollar spent on facility construction – for districts or charters – ends up as either profit for companies that build schools, or salary for those companies' employees. We don't require, nor should we, these private construction companies to open their books for public inspection. Why does the Tribune set up a double standard for companies that contract with charter schools?
Finally, the Tribune trundled out the old saw about appearances when an elected official has a family or professional connection to something they vote on. For the Tribune to single out and criticize three legislators with "conflicts" for supporting SB 38 is misleading and bad reporting. 90 percent of their fellow legislators also voted for the bill.
It's been pointed out before, but it bears repeating: these "conflicts" are inherent wherever a citizen legislature exists. Utah legislators have day jobs. Their relatives have day jobs. Reporters' family members have day jobs, too. Should the Tribune not report on industries if one of their reporters' family members works for or owns a company in the same industry? Should the Tribune not report on the Tribune? Such questions are absurd. Everyone has a conflict.
Does the ubiquity of conflicts mean we can ignore them? Not at all. But selective outrage about potential conflicts is vastly different from exposing actual, inappropriate behavior.
Rather than exposing any wrong doing, the Tribune's editorial relies on dark hints and unsubstantiated claims. We expect better.
M. Royce Van Tassell is executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools.