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Letter: Has the time come for North Dakota charter schools?

Letter: Has the time come for North Dakota charter schools?

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The past six months have brought much unexpected change and uncertainty. If you are like me, it can be difficult to cope with it all. On top of everything going on with our jobs is the additional uncertainty of being parents to school-aged children. No parenting book prepared us for life in a pandemic.

Our lawmakers made the right decision when they shuttered our schools and adopted an online K-12 education model last spring. What else were they to do? Teachers and administrators worked tirelessly to facilitate a smooth transition, and I am grateful for their efforts. The problem was that our schools are not equipped for online teaching, and many parents and teachers saw firsthand the pitfalls of forcing schools to make a sudden switch to an unfamiliar platform.

As we approach a new school year, parents and teachers are again preparing for the possibility of a sudden shift to online instruction. If only there was a way to better prepare students, teachers, and parents for online learning. If only there were viable alternatives that are both feasible and effective.

Good thing such an option exists.

A feasible and effective solution for North Dakota exists in the form of public charter schools. A public charter school is funded by the state but operates independently from the traditional school district. This independence gives charter schools greater flexibility to design innovative approaches to learning and accommodate unique education needs.

In particular, charter school provisions often allow the creation of fully online public charter schools. These are schools that specialize in online K-12 education all the time; not just during a global pandemic. Charter schools offer the flexibility needed to provide online education to students across our state.

Because the instruction is 100% online, these schools can serve the needs of students in our rural communities as well as students in more urban areas. Such schools have operated in Minnesota for over a decade. The expertise and pedagogical knowledge to implement this approach exists, but not in the state of North Dakota.

North Dakota is one of only five states without a provision allowing families to access public charter schools. Charter schools are uniquely situated to take on innovative approaches to education, including online models. Our governor has championed education innovation, and the creation of a public charter school provision is an obvious step toward improving education access and opportunities in our state.

It’s time to open North Dakota to the innovation and possibilities brought by charter schools.

Jeremy Jackson is director of the North Dakota State University Center for the Study of Public Choice and Private Enterprise and a professor of economics

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