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
Project School parent
3/8/2015 01:58:03 am
In general Project School parents remain supportive of public education through neighborhood schools for the other children on our community. When MCCSC asks for more referendum dollars I will happily support them in spite of the fact the schools in our district are highly inequitable. I want more funding for all the schools, not less. This article feels like The Project School is being used as a politcal football. Throughout the years as dollars have been stripped from education we should be demanding more money. Instead of villifying our school as a scapegoat, shouldn't the collective 'we' stand for all schools in the community to get more funding? I don't want my children to have 'your' piece of the education pie. As a society we need to demand more damn pie.
3/8/2015 06:54:35 am
Dear Project School parent, thank you for posting here. I have kids in MCCSC and I am very glad that you are supportive of an MCCSC referendum. I think I am supportive of the Project School in the sense that I recognize that it is serving its families very well. It is a good educational option for those who are accepted through lottery. I have no wish to see it diminished in any way. We need to have excellent--nurturing, challenging-- and publicly available educational experiences for all children in our county.
3/9/2015 02:24:44 am
Dear Project School Parent,
3/9/2015 06:57:52 am
All great points in the comment above. I should start by stating I am a proud product of public education and my family attends a traditional public school. However, this article gives a skewed view of charters as a whole and promotes a divisive rhetoric of 'us vs. them' and has led to a polarizing debate. Why can't the conversation be more about quality options? Every parent is a parent of school choice regardless how they've chosen to educate their child. There are great charters and their are bad charters. The same could be said about every type of school.
3/9/2015 03:31:45 pm
Another parent (Try again)
3/9/2015 03:46:24 pm
- “Charters are public and must accept every student that applies, if more apply than they have room for they hold a random drawing.”
3/8/2015 03:21:10 am
While I believe that the Project School, no doubt, does some good, it drains public education funds...I know, the Koch brothers funded HFQE will claim public school status. Governor Taliban has insisted on increasing these opportunities. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled that charters did not constitute religious endorsement, yet 92% of charters parents surveyed noted religious education as a primary reason for seeking these services at tax- payer expense. This is criminal!
3/8/2015 03:47:32 am
This is an excellent article that explains a very broad picture of the implications of charter schools on the public school system. Locally, our community is supportive of the project school, but with a referendum now on the books since TPS founding, I personally believe any future charter schools erode in dangerous ways the broad and diverse educational options mentioned in the article, arts, PE, music, extra-curriculars, librarians. However, what seems most ludicrous in this entire situation is the fact that charter schools would get a $ 1500/student increase. To advocate for that seems self-serving, how about advocating for the fact that all charter schools will fall in place and get the same funding as their local district, that they will be accountable as a subset to the local board in their broad policies, and that they will take the same assessments as their public education peers and follow similar grading of schools and teacher practices. If charter schools aren't willing to play the same game and by the same rules, then they are not fully embracing their place as a public school. I will continue to recognize TPS school as a great option for children, but let's not fool ourselves or our neighbors and support legislation that proves harmful to the public schools used by the majority of families in our community. More $ from the state under different rules comes off the top of money sent to public schools, should local community members pay for an increased referendum to make up the dollars the statehouse is sending to charters and voucher schools??? I think not!!!
3/9/2015 06:29:13 am
I think you are confusing charter schools with the voucher program. Public charter schools are public schools...there is no religious connection at all. Vouchers are only accepted at participating private schools.
3/9/2015 06:24:28 am
Who is the author of this blog post?
3/9/2015 06:31:26 am
3/10/2015 05:27:57 am
I follow the Parent Community Network of Monroe County, and appreciate the information it provides and often write letters to my representatives to advocate for all of our children based on the information provided.
3/10/2015 08:51:55 am
Dear TPS mama,
3/10/2015 06:31:45 am
I have said this time and again: the aims of TPS are admirable, as is its dedication to the students who are there. I also believe it is no better than our public schools here in Bloomington, though I understand some students might find a better fit there. The parent who said we "should all demand more pie" might be right. However, that is not the political reality, not in Indiana. The additional money to be spent on charters -- which for all the reasons Jenny Robinson mentioned are not public schools in the traditional sense -- comes from the public school pie. We can parse this any way we want, but this is a zero-sum pie. The Orwellian named HFQE is the wrong bedfellow for TPS to partner with if it wants those of us who advocate for public education to accept that we ultimately share the same goals -- because that organization is dedicated to the ultimate privatization of education for profit. And I would also like to give this warning: organizations such as HFQE might seem like expedient allies, but if its goal of destroying traditional public education comes to pass, they will come after the next entity that uses educational tax dollars -- charter schools. If HFQE is a partner, it is the one using you as a political football, not advocates for traditional public education.
3/10/2015 10:08:29 am
A couple of other interesting posts have sprung up from this post and our discussion. Here is one from local blogger and former HT education reporter, Steve Hinnefeld:
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