Thirsty for Choice in Charter School Deserts

In a recent article by the 74th, a new report maps areas across the country where parents have few options for their children’s education. By analyzing the 42 states that have laws permitting charter schools, the researchers define locations where three adjoining tracts have at least a 20% poverty rate and no charter elementary schools as “charter school deserts.”

As the 74th notes, these maps have caused many to pause and ask, “why doesn’t this area have a charter school?” And although there are some places that have extenuating circumstances, like, for example, small populations that could not sustain a charter school, other locations have less clear reasons for the lack of choice.

Looking at one of the charter school deserts here in Raleigh, I am reminded of the fate of a city-owned property in that desert that was sold recently.  The old building was called Stones Warehouse. A group proposed to bring a successful charter school to the property, but in the end, there were complications with carpool lines, etc., and a charter school did not fit into the city’s comprehensive plan for the area. That kept the councilmen from considering the school. I mention this example because this is a familiar plot line for many charter school bids.

Looking at the “charter school deserts,” there are probably obstacles in lots of these communities that keep out the opportunity for more educational options. It should be a goal of city commissioners to be friendly to organizations that keep people in their cities and research shows charter schools act as a magnet to neighborhoods and can create significant economic development in a downtown community.

It’s also important to note that charter schools often don’t have a real estate developer fighting for them, but they might be the most needed commodity in a community.  It isn’t because charters schools don’t want to be in these places; they are often rejected. Zoning offices, mayors, city councils, etc. could benefit from being friendly to charters. So, take a look at your area. Are you living in a desert? If so, ask your mayor and city council to take action to end the drought. Happy National Charter Schools Week!