Charter schools? You get what you pay for.

Washington voters have repeatedly rejected ballot measures approving charter schools, and we’ll have another opportunity this November by voting “No” on Referendum 55.

Rather than supporting adequate funding (and the taxes to support it) charter school proponents argue that subjecting public schools to free market competition is the only way to improve education. But according to an article in the NY Times, this national experiment with our children’s future hasn’t been going so well: “Nation’s Charter Schools Lagging Behind, U.S. Test Scores Reveal“.

The findings, buried in data quietly released by the US Department of Education, showed that fourth graders in charter schools lagged about half a year behind similar students in other public schools in both reading and math.

Put another way, only 25 percent of the fourth graders attending charters were proficient in reading and math, against 30 percent who were proficient in reading, and 32 percent in math, at traditional public schools.

Personally, I’ve got nothing against charter schools in theory, but in practice they’re really just a union-busting effort to defund traditional public schools.

And at the risk of being branded a Marxist, I’d just like to suggest the unpopular notion that perhaps the “free market” is not always the best and most efficient means of allocating resources. After all, if competition is such a magic elixir, why is it that successful companies like Microsoft are always striving to squash it?

The truth is, a lot of the appeal of charter schools is that it promises taxpayers something for nothing… it says we can improve public education without spending more money, if only we let the free market work its magic.

But it ignores one of the basic rules of free markets: you don’t get something for nothing. That’s something the 600,000 students in charter schools are learning the hard way.

(For more information on R-55, go to