This post is from ICPE board member Jenny Robinson.
I have three young children, two of whom attend MCCSC elementary schools. The third will start next year. My children are receiving an excellent education in MCCSC. They have dedicated, experienced teachers. They love their home classrooms as well as P.E., art, music, and library. I value the fact that they are in classes with children from many cultural backgrounds, including non-native English speakers. I am glad they are friends with the children of people of a range of political persuasions, from tea partiers to lefties.
I believe that public education is fundamental to democracy. I have personally been unhappy with some of the priorities of our central administration and our school board; at the same time, I recognize that those priorities are largely driven by punitive state-level policies...for instance, policies that attach high stakes to standardized tests. I am glad that we have an elected school board. When parents and others in the community are paying attention, we have an opportunity to hold our school leaders accountable to our community as well as to the state. When the direction of our schools or issues of equity within them cause us concern, we need to advocate for better local leadership and work to change our legislature.
Our ALEC-led legislature, in the last several years, has given us an out from democracy, all in the beguiling name of "choice," opening up ways for public funds to flow out of a public system that is centrally administered and overseen by democratically elected school boards. This is why I opposed the Green School, though I found its stated philosophy sympathetic. I oppose Seven Oaks for the same reason. When given the option to attend what is essentially a private school, it is the relatively privileged families who will be able to take that option. When engaged families leave public schools, and take public funding with them, our common investment in the quality of the neighborhood schools (which are open to all, not by lottery) is eroded. That is bad for our city, our county, and our future.
Seven Oaks is proposing to open a school in downtown Ellettsville, at Eagles Landing. (The backup site in the proposal is in MCCSC's area, on Curry Pike.) They are proposing to start with 486 students and move to 702 in the next several years. I urge you not to look at this with indifference. The families and funding that our public school districts would lose are significant. At about $5000 per student, that would be an annual budget drop of $3.5 million dollars. Do you remember the pain of the budget cuts of 2009/2010, before the referendum passed? This is more than half of the amount that was cut from MCCSC then. Personnel costs are the overwhelming part of school districts' budgets. We would lose teachers and programs. If Seven Oaks is approved, it will have a significant negative impact on the quality of our district schools and on the quality of life in our community.
Subordinate to that larger concern is my concern with what Seven Oaks would actually offer as a so-called public charter school. It is sponsored by the Barney Charter Initiative at Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian college, and its web site (http://sevenoaksclassical.org/) and application seem to have been largely written by that entity. It refers to the founding fathers, the constitution, and civic and moral virtue. Nothing wrong there, but I believe that is code for a very conservative and monolithic view of what "western civilization" and our culture are. The application states that the plan is to seek a principal and teachers from Hillsdale College, among other possible sources. Like the destructive anti-teaching-profession guidelines recently approved by our state board of education in REPA 3 (in the face of large scale opposition from educators), Seven Oaks would not require teachers to hold a teaching degree, just a B.A. In other words, they could begin teaching without ever having done student teaching or having been mentored by an experienced teacher. They would not necessarily have had coursework in childhood development or in pedagogy. Here is the link to the Seven Oaks application: http://www.in.gov/icsb/files/Attachment_20_seven-oaks-classical-schoolapp-full.pdf.
What is our vision of Monroe County? Should our population of children be carved up into ideological segments so that we can all receive education with like-minded families who share our values, and, quite possibly, our ethnicity and socioeconomic status? I fear a vicious cycle. If a new charter means that our public schools get larger class sizes and fewer programs, more families will want to leave the public schools, and those who are left will be the ones with the fewest resources to advocate for themselves and their education. What would you do if a set of families, in conjunction with an out-of-state sponsor, were attempting to take public funds to start a separate police force that would have its own jurisdiction through lottery and that would not be accountable to any elected body within Monroe County?
As a community, we need to take a stand against loss of democratically elected local control of our school system. I hope that you will oppose the Seven Oaks application in writing to the Indiana Charter School Board. The e-mail address for public comment is firstname.lastname@example.org, and they will accept public comment through September 23. The public hearing will be held this coming Monday, September 22, at 5:30 p.m. at the Monroe County Public Library.