A look inside 1 of Iowa’s 2 Charter Schools

Explaining charter schools in Iowa
Published: Jan. 30, 2021 at 7:40 PM CST
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MAYNARD, Iowa (KCRG) -Charter schools are common, public and private in big cities like New York, but here in Iowa, they’re a rarity. Iowa legislators are considering a bill that would grow their numbers. Right now the state only has two- one in Storm Lake and one in Maynard. Charter Schools are different from public schools.

Daniel McDonough is from Oelwein. He says he’s happy he transferred to West Central Charter High School in Maynard.

Charter Schools have more flexibility than regular public schools when it comes to following regulations set out by the State Board of Education. Advocates say that spurs innovation and lets them tweak what they teach to fit a kid’s needs. McDonough wants to work on a farm, so West Central lets him get hands on experience while also getting college credits

“Instead of me sitting in high school going through all of your normal high school and everything,” he said. “I’m actually specializing in beef science my whole senior year. Actually spending my days at NICC on their campus.”

“There’s only a couple of charter schools in the state,” said State Representative Chad Ingels. “So maybe we can find a better way to make charter schools work in public schools, and improve options for children and parents that way.”

Ingels is also on West Central’s School Board. He has some concerns with the governor’s overall school choice proposals. Specifically the school voucher program that lets kids from low performing schools use vouchers for private education. “My perspective,” he said. “Maybe we should be using that money to improve that failing school so it benefits all of the kids.” West Central is a public charter school with about 80 students. It’s also the only high school in the district. It says unlike a private school, this public charter is more transparent and has to check in with the State Board of Education every four years to make sure they are up to par.

“We have to go to Des Moines and present to the state board of education every four years to justify our ability to keep our charter,” said School counselor Steve Milder. “We have to show data to show how our kids are progressing, and if we are living up to what we said we were going to do.”

In a statement the teachers union, ISEA, says “ISEA supports public charter schools – including those that already exist – in Storm Lake and Maynard. We do however want to make sure that any additional charter schools remain public and accountable like they are under current law, 256F.

As SF 159 Division II is currently written, it does not comply with the same standards and transparency already in place in our existing law. Instead of being under the umbrella/authority of a locally elected school board, the oversight would be left to the appointed State Board of Education that functions out of Des Moines and wouldn’t be able to provide the same on the ground, local oversight. From our perspective, any of the flexibility in curriculum and ideas for innovation, we believe can be accomplished through our existing public charter school law. ISEA supports the structured and equitable approach to public education that exists in current law.”

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