Editorial | Charter-school plan had too many questions

Editorial | Charter-school plan had too many questions

There's always next year.

In a move that should have surprised no one, the Champaign school board last week summarily rejected a proposal to create a special charter school aimed at boosting the educational performance of under-performing black students.

Board members approved a lengthy resolution that explained their objections in detail. But to sum it up, the school administrators and board members said no because, in their view, the plan is half-baked, not fully baked, and it makes no sense to pursue such a costly and ambitious venture with so many questions left unanswered.

As attractive as the charter-school option may be on the surface, it's hard to argue with the board's decision.

A charter school isn't instantly magical just because it carries a different name and operates under different rules. The ones that work well exercise their educational strategies in ways that work for a self-selected student body in a more flexible atmosphere.

Proponents have the option of appealing the board's decision to state education officials. But from the outside looking in, there's no compelling reason for them to do so because it's unlikely the state would embrace that which the board has rejected after a long, serious review.

Community members presented their plan for a special school aimed at low-income K-5 students in February, a move that was greeted with disdain by the local education establishment.

Teachers unions, school administrators and some board members are decidedly unenthusiastic about charter schools for a variety of reasons. Charter schools operate by their own rules, and the cost of operating them diverts funds from the school districts in which they operate.

But they have become a viable option in some school districts across the country. That's why proposals like the one here required the scrutiny this project received.

Although the charter-school plan was submitted by members of the minority community on behalf of minority students, the minority community is not fully supportive.

The local NAACP announced its opposition to the charter school, but not because it's happy with the status quo. The organization wants to see a program for improvement, but within the current educational format.

Former school board member Nathaniel Banks, one of the charter school's chief proponents, indicated he and others will pursue the issue "until our children receive what they need."

But in what form?

From the very beginning, the proposal's timeline seemed overambitious, asking in February 2018 to open a new charter school in August/September 2018.

As disappointing as the board's decision may be to some, they now have more time to fill out the details and then go back to the board in the hope of opening a charter school in fall 2019.

In the meantime, however, there are children — many of whom are minorities — failing.

Proponents of the charter-school plan ought to redirect their energy to addressing that shortfall student by student.

This is a national, not a local, problem that has defied solution. That, of course, does not mean that educators ought not consider all options.

For the immediate future, however, they do not include a new charter school in Champaign.

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