Alas, California's sclerotic public sector can always be counted on to make life as hard as possible for would-be reformers. Now, as a result, some of the state's largest charter school operators are deciding their interests are better served by opening new schools elsewhere in the country than by attempting to expand in the Golden State.
Louis Freedberg has the story at EdSource:
Aspire Public Schools, the state's largest charter school provider, with 34 schools in six California cities, wants to open ten charter schools in Memphis over the next five years. Rocketship Education, which currently runs five charter schools in San Jose, wants to open eight schools in Nashville and another eight in Memphis. It has already signed on to open eight in Milwaukee over the next several years.
Based on finances alone, the allure of operating in a state like Tennessee is self-evident. If its application to open a school in Memphis is successful, Aspire will receive an average of $8,100 per student. In California they get an average of $6,300 per student.
It is significant that Aspire, which operates schools in Los Angeles, Oakland, Stockton, Sacramento, Modesto and East Palo Alto, has no specific plans to open more schools in California, beyond increasing the enrollment in its existing schools, which have a total enrollment of about 12,000 students. A 2011 study by Bellwether Education Partners actually did a simulation to see how Aspire would fare financially in other states compared to California if it opened up exactly the same operations there. The report found that Aspire would do better in 18 out of 23 states it looked at.
[Former Peabody Charter School principal Kate] Ford noted that for a California-based organization, opening a charter school in another state, especially one as distant as Tennessee, presents obstacles of its own. "It is a huge, huge challenge," she said. "It must say something that despite all these hurdles, it is a better bet than growing in California right now."
Certain aspects of the charters' complaints are open for debate. School financing, for instance, is a matter of prudential judgment. The track record clearly shows that higher spending doesn't necessarily purchase better results, but there's obviously also a point beneath which schools will be strapped for necessary resources.
Other aspects, however, are unquestionably deplorable. As is mentioned a few times in the Freedberg piece, the barriers to getting charter petitions approved or renewed in California are legion. That needs to change if the state's political leadership hopes to see meaningful improvements to public education. Otherwise, the same forces of competition that give charters a competitive edge will also lead them to seek sustenance somewhere other than the Golden State.