When parents close charter schools

There’s a school of thought in educational choice that parents exercise the most brutally efficient form of quality control, steering their children clear of institutions that don’t teach them well.

That appears to be what happened with Valor and Virtue Academies, a quartet of single-gender charter schools in Duval County, Fla. They launched with hopes of raising achievement for low-income students in the same Northwest Jacksonville neighborhoods targeted by KIPP, but they struggled academically, drew warnings from the district about financial insolvency, and now they’ll be closed before Christmas.

According to the Florida Times-Union, the four schools enrolled roughly 360 students, which means they’ve fallen short of the projections┬álisted when they applied to the school district. Now families are being uprooted in the middle of the school year, the school district is picking up the pieces, and local TV news stations are running segments that aren’t exactly advertisements for the school choice movement.

Regulators have a role to play in any education marketplace. The question is: How could they have prevented an episode like this? Were there red flags in the schools’ charter applications that might have suggested a lack of budgeting expertise, and grounds for the school board to reject them or demand changes before they were approved? Could the school have used some help setting accurate enrollment projections? Or are other changes needed to ensure a system in which parents are the main judges of school quality can run smoothly?

Side note: Earlier this year I suggested we would start seeing fewer of these unexpected charter school closures in Florida. A few more episodes like this might prove me wrong, but it’s worth noting these schools had their applications approved back in 2012, delayed opening until 2014, and have had academic and financial difficulties ever since.