Stephanie Klupinski currently serves as the Vice President of Government and Public Relations for the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools. She is responsible for overseeing advocacy, communications, and legislative/governmental affairs for OAPCS. Prior to joining OAPCS, Stephanie graduated from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and worked an associate editor at Catalyst Ohio, an education policy magazine, where she won numerous awards for journalism excellence. Stephanie holds a masters degree in public policy from the University of Michigan and a bachelor of arts in English from the University of Pennsylvania.
She is also a Teach For America alumnus and served the city of Los Angeles at Locke High School during her two-year commitment.
1. What is one of the most common misconceptions you hear about charter schools.
That they are not public schools or that they are private schools. Charter schools are public schools that operate independent of a school district. Charter schools can contract with private companies to run services, but they are not private entities. They don’t charge tuition. They do generally have to accept every student who seeks admittance. This is another important misconception—people mistakenly think charter schools can pick and choose their students. Not so. If a school has too many students who’ve applied, they have to hold a lottery, but they don’t pick and choose students.
2. What role do charter schools play in the public education system?
Charter schools are an essential component of the public education system. I don’t think every single school should be a charter school. But I think they can infuse innovation into a system in dire need of it. Charters can offer different types of instruction and curriculum. They can experiment with alternatives to collective bargaining agreements They have more flexibility in hiring and firing teachers. They can have longer school days, or different calendars. Charters are much like what used to be called lab schools—they are schools offering new types of ideas. Other schools can learn what works and what doesn’t work from charters.
Also, charters play an important role simply by offering more choice to parents and their children. Parents should have options when deciding where to send their children to school. We at OAPCS are deeply committed to ensuring that charters offer a quality choice.
3. If the public school system worked perfectly, would there still be a need for charter schools?
I envision charter schools always having a place in the education system. You have your public school district, generally large entities serving large numbers of kids, and then you have your charter schools with specialized themes. Districts could do that, but charter schools are good vehicles through which districts can do that.
4. Is the charter school model sustainable? Why or why not?
Funding is the biggest problem right now because they don’t have access to equitable funding; in Ohio, they get funded at 2/3 the rate of public schools, almost half the rate of urban districts if you compare them to urban student funding in the Big 8 where most charters are. In terms of sustainability, it is a big problem for charters, and sadly, it is usually a bigger problem for higher-performing charters. The sustainability question is multi-faceted. Funding is a big part of it. Facilities is a big part, too. Charters don’t get any special money for facilities. So they have to use their general operating funds, and that can create huge budget strains. So, helping them get situated into a building suitable for educating students would be a big help. Another issue is that the teachers at charter schools are usually younger and don’t always stuck around for a long time for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they leave because the charter schools hire them and then can’t keep them. But sometimes the teachers come in and give it 110 percent for a few years and then leave because they want to start their own family or go back to school or whatever. I don’t think you need to teach for fifty years necessarily. Teaching, when it is done well, is an extremely hard profession. I think it’s fine to rely on some recent college grads who want to teach for 5 or so years, but you also want teachers who are there for the long haul, to gain that institutional knowledge and to help support sustainability. Many charter schools are struggling to find how to staff their schools to make them last.
5. As a parent, what can I expect from a charter school?
Public charter schools are not subject to a lot of the regulation district-run public schools are subject to. They have flexibility in hiring and firing, they have more flexibility in hours and scheduling, longer school days, and those things are really important. That’s the main thing - they are less bureaucratic, for lack of a better word. A parent would probably enjoy a charter school because they don’t have to go through as many channels to get something resolved. The charter school can have its own set of performance requirements and higher, stricter guidelines than the state sets and require parents to get more involved, to volunteer, to be held accountable. It also can have a specialized focus. We have charter schools that get students ready for college, have an arts focus, are afrocentric. And again, district schools can also do that, but it is usually a lot easier for a charter school to do those things.