A couple of days ago, The Project School, our only charter school here in town, put up a Facebook post urging their supporters to speak up to the legislature:
The link that went with that post enabled the reader to go to Hoosiers for Quality Education's site and write to legislators to ask the senate for more funding in the charter school facilities grant program: "It's time to give our public charter school students the funding they deserve."
Before I address what children "deserve," I want you to understand that Hoosiers for Quality Education is a PAC. Formerly known (and,perhaps more honestly named) as Hoosiers for Economic Growth, this group is interested in "school choice" through the promotion of vouchers and charters in an ever-increasing competition for public education resources and funding. Their money comes from primarily out-of-state wealthy donors (not Hoosiers at all) interested in the privatization of public education and the profits they can make on our kids and schools. They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on our state legislative races backing candidates who repeatedly vote for more test-driven "accountability," union-busting, voucher and charter school-friendly bills. To understand their agenda, you need only know that our former superintendent of public instruction, Tony Bennett, is now working for them as a consultant.
Let's talk about the model of charter schools overall. We know that charter schools across the country are no more successful as a whole than public schools are. There are also many charter schools who do a terrible job. Charter schools are not that new and we know that this "experiment" is failing children miserably all over the country where charter schools are multiplying.
An interesting piece was written recently by a superintendent who had once strongly supported charter schools. He now points out that charter schools inevitably "skim" their kids:
Charters do not serve students with the greatest challenges: Charters will be quick to point out they enroll high percentages of low-income students. Some do. However, the citywide charter lottery inherently skims. Every student chosen has someone (parent, pastor, friend) who encouraged and is advocating for her/him to apply and succeed. That fact by itself creates a select pool of students and a corollary depletion of those students in non-charter schools.
He also explains how the choice of charters harmed the kids in his regular public schools.
Charter funding is also negatively affecting regular public schools. Charter advocates rely on the premise that as money flows from a regular school to a charter school, the costs of the regular school go down proportionately. Sounds good; it's just not true. Costs in schools sending students to charters cannot shift as fast as students and revenue leave. The costs for the principal, heating, lights, building debt and many other things remain; thus, the remaining children face the prospect of larger class sizes and cuts to core academic programming, music, art and other inequities.
Charters are proliferating unchecked and supported by corporate education reformers for one reason: profit. There are movements in other parts of the country to try to make these schools more accountable, but overall it's not happening.
What is the end game? How does taking funding and families from public schools to charter schools (who are arguably not truly public schools) help the kids left behind?
I know that the very popular charter, the Project School, here in town is a place where the parents of their 270 students have found a community that they love. I have no doubt that it is a fine school. This does not mean that it has helped the children remaining in our public schools. Many of the 10,000 or so students in MCCSC have also found schools that they love.
As I have written before, the same reasons that many parents seek alternative schools (smaller class sizes, less emphasis on testing, freedom in the curriculum for kids to follow their passions) are coming from the top down "reforms" that groups like HOOSIERS FOR QUALITY EDUCATION are pushing! How ironic, then, that they find themselves on the same page.
Public education is the cornerstone of our democracy. Our schools are a reflection of that. Do we support a competition of three tiers of education: private religious schools, charters and public schools? How could we fund all of that? Or do we recognize that all children deserve a high quality free education? Clearly at one time we valued this so much that it is found as a right for all children in our state constitution.
Our schools (as with our society) are what we make them. Accountability in a democracy is found in the voting booth. How many parents helped and voted on the school board races last fall? (A school board that has no bearing on the Project School as it is a separate entity). How many parents concerned about testing voted for legislators who reject the drive for data over the education of the whole child? How many voted for Hoosiers for Quality Education-funded candidates who are now supporting the expansion of vouchers, the redirecting of public school funding to charters, and the rewriting of the school funding formula to take funds from poor districts and give them to the wealthy ones?
The competition for resources in our own communities will continue as long as we are unwilling to embrace the idea that all children deserve adequately funded schools and equal educational opportunity.
“What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”-John Dewey