Denver Post | Charters dent public schools
Lobbing incentives and recruiting aggressively, charter schools have lured thousands of students from traditional metro-area schools, sapping tax dollars from district budgets and forcing some principals and board members to consider something new:

How to compete for students.

Charters are promising laptop computers, trips to the East Coast, experiential learning and a fast track to a college degree. Their principals are donning suits and ties and going door-to-door to talk to parents. They are forming partnerships with private developers to build gleaming facilities in new developments where a regular school might have gone, had the charter not gotten there first.

“We know we won’t have any kids if we don’t do it,” said Kay Frunzi, who runs Denver’s Wyatt-Edison Charter School.

In any other line of work, that would tell us that there is a demand for Edison’s services. Somehow, here, it’s being represented as little better than buying students with expensive perks.

…School officials say charters pose a challenge. For example, in Denver each student is worth about $6,500 a year.

Though Denver Public Schools officials do not track where individual students go, traditional school enrollment has declined by about 4,000 students in four years, while charter and contract-school enrollment has gone up by roughly 4,000 students over the same period.

That said, if the 3,800 new students who have enrolled in Denver charter schools since 2001 were sitting in traditional classroom seats, the district could have an additional $24.7 million a year to work with.

Aha. I had a feeling it wasn’t about the students themselves.

But does money just vanish? Doesn’t it follow the students? If it doesn’t–or even if it does–how do the charter schools manage to do all these things that public schools say they can’t afford?

[LATER: Wait a minute. Doesn’t this imply that those 3,800 additional students don’t actually cost the school system any money? Doesn’t it admit that the $6,500 each student is “worth” doesn’t actually get spent on that student? Isn’t there an implied assumption that there’s no particular reason that it should be?]

Theresa Peña, a Denver school-board member and a former US West executive, said she understands that charters have found niches in the marketplace and have responded to what parents want.

“We (DPS) haven’t caught up with that,” she said. “We will need to give our principals more training and capacity to handle this. Some of them have never been in the business environment where they have to compete.

You mean some of them have? How …unusual.

But in the end, Peña said, a school will survive if it does well academically.

“We’ve lost customers because our academic achievement isn’t there,” she said.

What an interesting thing for a school board member to admit to a newspaper.

Here’s a parent’s comment:

“During the interview process to get in, I kept thinking, ‘My God, they want my kid here,”‘ she said. “They took time in the summer to conduct testing sessions to gauge academically and socially where he is. They took a good look at him.”

There’s a wild idea. Wonder if it will catch on.

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