Charter schools and the Walking (Brain) Dead

By Jim Waters - Bluegrass Beacon

Jim Waters

Like the Walking Dead episode where a peculiar virus strain allows zombies to come back to life—albeit with minimal brain activity—school-choice opponents keep resurrecting attempts to mislead Kentuckians by wrongly defining charter schools.

They hope to prevent charter schools in Kentucky, despite the fact that 43 other states have passed legislation resulting in 6,600 such schools serving 2.3 million students.

The latest such zombie-like brain freeze occurred at a recent Louisville Forum, where Raoul Cunningham, local NAACP president, claimed that charters are “private” schools that “cherry-pick” their students.

I, as a humble member of that panel, corrected Cunningham by noting that no charter-school law in America allows “private charter schools.”

I also explained that state laws governing charters not only prohibit them from excluding students, but also require random lotteries in the event that more students than available seats want to enroll.

Still, Cunningham simply doubled down on his erroneous and misleading definition.

It’s considerably easier, of course, to convince Kentuckians who have yet to climb the school choice learning curve that charter schools are unworthy and unnecessary in the commonwealth if you can convince them that they somehow serve only the elite and are consumed with creating an apocalyptic implosion in public education by thieving resources and good students from traditional classrooms.

Then there’s the truth from those, who—continuing the Walking Dead analogy—still enjoy full brain activity.

They are the characters in this narrative about properly defining charters who, despite their politics, ideology and views about the philosophy or even the performance of these schools, are intellectually honest enough to offer truthful definitions.

· The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools defines charters as “unique public schools that are allowed the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for advancing student achievement. Because they are public schools, they are: open to all children; do not charge tuition; and do not have special entrance requirements.”

· Mendell Grinter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options wrote in the Lexington Herald-Leader: “Like other public schools, charters are funded by local, state and federal tax dollars based on enrollment and are open to anyone.”

· Keith Hughes, who writes on, a Common Core-friendly website sponsored by progressivists like Bill and Melinda Gates, acknowledges: “Like traditional public schools, charter schools are free, and they can’t discriminate against students because of their race, gender, or disability.”

Not only does Hughes accurately describe charter schools, he notes there’s a higher level of accountability than what we see in traditional public schools: “If a school is mismanaged or test scores are poor, a charter school can be shut down.”

· Joe Nathan of the Center for School Change also accurately notes on the highly respected Education Week website: “state legislators in more than 40 states have decided chartering is part of public education.”

By claiming that charter-school proponents have cloaked private, elite, cherry-picking schools in a shroud labeled “public education,” does Cunningham also maintain that all of those legislatures that passed charter-school bills and the governors who signed them into law in 43 different states were duped into thinking they were expanding public-education choices for mostly poor, minority families when, in reality, they were just benefiting the wealthy at the expense of their public system?

The last time I checked—which was earlier today—not only were public schools still going strong in those states, but many of them are laying these zombie-like claims to rest by actually improving their own performance now that they aren’t the only game in town.

Jim Waters Waters

By Jim Waters

Bluegrass Beacon

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at

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