The RCA’s 2009 Resolution on Day School Education includes the following paragraph:
Considerable research has demonstrated that the years spent in a Jewish day school environment play a powerful and essential role in Jewish identity formation and ongoing commitment to observance and Jewish community. Even proposed "Hebrew language" charter schools fail to provide an environment conducive to the development of deep-seated Jewish identity. Further, these schools are mandated to teach limited aspects of Jewish culture, self-consciously avoiding Torah and mitzvot.
I have heard from a few people who are upset that this resolution rejects the idea of Hebrew Culture charter schools. They argue that charter schools would be a great option for smaller Jewish communities, which cannot support day schools and high schools.
Unfortunately, my sense is that those people don’t actually understand how a charter school functions. As someone who worked hard on trying to create a Hebrew Language charter high school locally, I can tell you that it is not possible for a Jewish community create one - unless that community has enough kids to support a full Jewish day school.
There are two reasons for this – one political, one economic.
First, the political:
A charter school operates as part of the public school system, and must be approved by the local public school board. Although the charter school is technically under the state’s jurisdiction for certain matters, and although the charter school can appeal school board decisions at the state level, the school must be studied, voted upon, and consistently reviewed by the school board.
Understandably, school boards do not take kindly to charter schools – because the charter school takes their money to support the education of a small group of children. (Yes, we already give them our money in taxes, but that's not the way they see it.) School boards require the charter school to define precisely why those children cannot get a proper education in the normal public school system. And when you tell them your difference is in terms of Hebrew language, and even culture, they are unimpressed, to say the least. In our case, the district gladly offered to institute Hebrew language electives in the public school.
Second, the economic:
This one is an even tougher nut to crack; it’s really what renders the charter idea an impossibility.
Charter schools cannot charge tuition, by law; they can only receive funding from the district. The district provides them with the same funding per child that it provides each public school – in other words, $6,000 to $9,000 in most districts. This means that the Jewish charter school will receive only that amount.
Now imagine you are trying to run your Hebrew charter school in some small community, with ten kids, or fifty kids, or even 100 kids. And let’s say it’s a high-end district, so you make the maximum per student. Still, do you think you can run a complete school for ten kids on $90,000? Or for 100 kids on $900,000? The economies of scale that allow public schools to spend this small amount per child don’t operate until you are up in the 200 kid range – when you really should be able to support a private school.
And, of course: You could charge more than that in tuition if you were a private school, and still be giving parents an incredible break on current tuition costs.
So that’s the deal: Aside from politics, the charter school idea cannot work economically unless the Jewish community has so many kids that it can support a private school – and it could have far more money than a charter school would have, by going private and charging a relatively minimal tuition.