Despite its importance, education - specifically the issue of school choice and charter schools - has not been a major discussion topic for any of the presidential candidates.
Charter schools can often be a complicated issue to debate, primarily because education experts say there is a lot of misinformation about how they operate.
How they operate:
Charter schools are technically public schools. They get their funding from the district, based on how many students they teach. These schools have more leeway in deciding curriculum than traditional public schools do. But they still have to meet some basic standards and submit fiscal, learning and accountability plans to the state, according to Joy Pepper, the Executive Director of Tapestry Charter School.
Public school teachers unions are often critical of the way charter schools receive their money; a report from the Buffalo Teachers Federation obtained by WKBW calls charter schools, "A severe financial drain on the Buffalo public schools." The report includes a cost analysis conducted in 2004 by the district's then Chief Financial Officer, Gary Crosby. According to that report, it cost the district $32,848,695 dollars more, annually, to pay the charter schools to take on their students, than if they educated the students themselves.
However, education expert Laura Amo says this can be misleading, as there is no guarantee all charter school students would return to public schools. Some parents may resort to private or home schooling, or the children may drop out altogether.
Charter schools recruit students based on a random lottery process. Based on recruitment numbers from Tapestry Charter School in Buffalo, acceptance rates range from between 11-12%.
Unlike traditional public schools, not all charter schools are unionized. While some are represented by third party organizations, there are noticeable differences in pay, according to Amo. The average annual salary for a traditional public school teacher is $53,000. For charter school teachers, that number drops to $44,000.
How they compare:
When it comes to results, Pepper - from Tapestry Charter School - says her students don't excel on state standardized tests. But charter schools often have educational missions - specific focuses for their students that might not be thoroughly evaluated in state testing, Amo explains. These missions can range anywhere from a focus on the arts, to a specialization in language.
Recent statistics from the State Education Department show Buffalo public schools have a graduation rate of 61%, and of that group, 67% go on to attend college. According to Tapestry's records, their graduation rate hovers at about 93%, with 100% of graduates attending college.
Opponents of charter schools claim this distinction exists because poor-performing students leave, and return to the traditional public school system.
Where the candidates stand:
(D) Hillary Clinton - UNCLEAR
The Democratic candidate's stance is the most difficult to determine. Clinton has said she believes charter schools should be a supplement, not a substitute for traditional public schools. she has also accused charter schools of failing to serve all students. It is also important to note Clinton draws strong support from teachers unions, which largely oppose charter schools.
(R) Donald Trump - PRO
In a recent announcement about his plan for school choice, The Republican candidate said: "Charter schools, in particular, have demonstrated amazing gains and results in providing education to disadvantaged children and the success of these schools will be a top priority for my administration. They also produce competition that causes better outcomes for everyone."
(L) Gary Johnson - PRO
While he was serving as governor of New Mexico, the Libertarian candidate signed several charter school bills, which he said freed public schooling from educational bureaucracy.
(G) Jill Stein - CON
The Green Party candidate has voiced strong opposition to charter schools, saying, "Charter schools are not better than public schools - and in many cases are far worse. They cherry-pick their students so they can show better test scores. The treasure of our public school system has been assaulted by the process of privatization."
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