The charter-school explosion caught many advocates of traditional public schools off guard. Their argument that giving taxpayer money in the form of vouchers to private-school operators was wrong didn't apply to charters, which are public schools, too.
The impact on regular schools, however, has been almost as damaging as it would be with vouchers, with public dollars marching out the door with the students who transfer to charters. School districts with fewer regular students, but much the same overhead, have suffered as a result.
That's why the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that a charter school couldn't exceed an enrollment limit in the agreement it signed with the Philadelphia School District was so important. The Walter D. Palmer School, which had 675 more students than it had agreed to enroll, must refund $1.3 million as a result.
The case shows the need for some local control over charters - not only to ensure that traditional public schools, which still have most of the students, keep an adequate level of funding, but also to provide the close scrutiny needed to weed out bad charters.
Both New Jersey and Pennsylvania are considering updates to their charter laws that would dilute local control. A Pennsylvania bill would bypass local boards by allowing universities to authorize and regulate charters. A New Jersey bill would vest authority over charters in a new state commission and give local boards a minority role in approving new schools.
Each state's circumstances are different, but their goals should be the same: Make sure students seeking a better education in a charter actually get it, and that taxpayers footing the bill get their money's worth.