WHEN Tulsa Public Schools sued over the state's charter school law five years ago, we called it a shameful waste of taxpayer money. That's proven true.
After spending more than $100,000 to fight the law, the school district accepted the 2009 loss handed down by a district court. To the credit of district leadership, they gave up on the ridiculous legal argument that the law should be unconstitutional because charter schools weren't allowed statewide. Also, they didn't pursue a costly appeal.
This brings us to 2012 and the announcement that Tulsa Public Schools is planning to — gasp! — collaborate with the charter schools it sponsors. This shouldn't be shocking. After all, most charter schools are sponsored by the district in which they reside. In the case of Tulsa, it means charter schools are still serving Tulsa kids. But history and hard feelings can be hard to overcome. The Tulsa World last week noted the district's “firmly established reputation for being hostile to charter schools.”
This new day could prove an important time for charter schools and school choice in general. Even while Oklahoma City has enjoyed a better reputation with its charter schools, plenty of disagreements and hard feelings have surfaced.
Oklahoma City school officials in recent months have discussed coming up with a standard way to evaluate charter schools as it relates to their contract renewals and also explaining what charter schools get for the administrative overhead charges sponsoring districts can levy. Tulsa's compact addresses issues like sharing of teacher training, employee evaluation and vacant buildings, the World reported.
We'd like to think school districts are finally at the point where they realize charter schools aren't the enemy. Successful schools can and should learn from each other. Charter schools are still public schools and are serving the same children as traditional public schools. Sure, some charter schools do attract kids who are more driven academically. But there are also charter schools taking students no other school wants.
The truce might be tenuous. Despite a state budget that reflected flat funding for schools, it appears traditional school districts saw a reduction in funding when funding notices went out last week. State education officials said they've set aside more money this year for startup virtual and charter schools, which don't get funding until they've submitted enrollment counts.
Money has always been at the core of the charter school debate. Traditional schools claimed charter schools were a financial drain. But charter schools are more than a passing fancy. In Oklahoma City, more than 11 percent of the district's 43,000 students attend charter schools; enrollment growth at the charter schools has outpaced the growth rate at traditional schools.
Collaboration isn't necessarily the same as a full embrace, but we'll take progress no matter the terminology. The name on the schoolhouse door isn't nearly as important as what's happening inside. There's a reason parents are choosing charter schools. Traditional public schools are far better off figuring out why and working with charter schools to make sure every student gets the best education possible.
To the extent that this is happening now in Tulsa and even in Oklahoma City, better late than never at all.