School teachers may be enjoying the summer holiday but their union is not. The Post Primary Teachers' Association has taken out newspaper advertisements to alert the public that the opportunity to file submissions on legislation permitting charter schools expires in nine days.
The news is unlikely to come as a jolt to the nation's sunny slumber but the PPTA has done well to seize the attention of anyone whose thoughts are returning to political issues.
The timing of the deadline for submissions on the education amendment bill is probably not as devious as the association suggests. Parliament's select committees set these deadlines and some bill has to start the year's work.
The charter schools proposal has not been so contentious that the Government would fear its exposure to criticism. Since the critics are mostly busy teachers the legislative calendar might have done them a favour, giving them most of the holidays to prepare a well researched and reasoned submission.
The PPTA is attempting to widen concern by presenting charter schools as "the dismantling of New Zealand's public education system". They are, in fact, nothing of the sort. Charter schools would be fully funded from the public education budget. They would have to accept pupils on a first-come-first-served basis, they could not select them. In that sense they will be much more like state schools than private schools or the "integrated" schools that receive public grants and can charge fees.
Unlike state schools, they will not have to give preference to pupils in a designated zone. They will be able to accept them from anywhere. If a charter school receives more applicants than it is allowed to enrol, it must hold a ballot. Like state schools, the charters will have to provide the national curriculum and qualifications. Their contract with the Education Minister will state their required performance standards and reporting obligations.
Their right to employ some unregistered staff has been a point of contention for the teachers' unions. So is their lack of accountability to the Auditor General, the Ombudsman and the Official Information Act. Those elements of the legislation should not survive the select committee's examination.
So long as the schools are spending public money they ought to be subject to the usual instruments of public scrutiny.
But fixing those deficiencies probably would not reconcile state sector professionals to the idea of charter schools. They fear them because those running these schools would be largely independent of the state education establishment. The public service employment and management systems operating in state education would not apply. Publicly funded but privately owned and managed, they would be a version of the "public-private partnerships" the Government favours. Officially they will be called "partnership schools".
The PPTA calls this privatisation. It plainly fears the model will perform well enough, and become popular enough, to displace state-owned schools. But charter schools in the United States remain a minority preference.
Here, too, they are likely to appeal to parents with a particular educational, cultural or religious outlook.
Parental interest and the zeal of those putting educational philosophy into practice, mean the pupils are likely to do better than the average. If they are in deprived areas, where the first schools may be located, so much the better. It is hard to see harm in a little more choice.