Do You Want School Choice or In-School Choice?

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by Bonnie A. Lesley, Ed.D.

Everybody needs to recognize that almost all charter schools are non-profit arms of for-profit charter management corporations. Those charters buy almost everything from or through the for-profit corporation, and that is how they make the millions that the hedge-fund managers and investors applaud! They would not continue to exist without profit.  Charter schools are not required to go through a bidding process that is required of all real public schools.

They also earn more profit by underpaying teachers, just as charters do in Texas. See http://www.texaskidscantwait.org/…/texas-public-policy-fou…/ .

And, importantly, they earn more profit by REDUCING CHOICES available for students.  They earn more profit by not offering high-quality athletic programs that are available in Texas public schools.  They earn more profit by NOT offering the range of elective classes; the range of advanced classes; the range of interventions for kids who struggle to learn; the quality added by good science labs and libraries; the access to diverse career and tech ed classes; the plethora of co-and extra-curricular activities addressing a wide range of student interests; certified and experienced teachers, counselors, and librarians; transportation services; free/reduced meals for economically disadvantaged kids; funded field trips; high quality band, music, and art programs; and on and on–all expected of public schools.
Too, it is much cheaper and easier to administer a school with as much homogeneity as possible! Thus, charters tend significantly to narrow whom they will serve, and that is why they have such a segregative effect on schooling in both the charter sector and the public school sector.  Rather than offer English for English-language learners, English for students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia or dysgraphia, regular-level English that addresses TEKS, honors or gifted/talented English for students identified for these programs, AND Advanced Placement English courses as public schools typically do, you will find charters that cater to just one or two of these populations in order to cut costs.

You want choice? Who doesn’t want choice? But what good is choice when charters and vouchers offer even fewer choices to our kids than does the public school system?  Further, charters and vouchers are not a solution to poverty, and poverty is the biggest predictor of student test scores, which is what Dan Patrick and Donna Campbell are valuing solely when they talk about so-called “failing schools.”
What really matters is the choice WITHIN a school. And public schools win that game hands down! They live within their means, but profit is not their goal. Student success is their goal! That makes a huge, positive difference.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his “peeps” obfuscate the truth with their constant insistence that “school choice” is a “civil right” or a high “moral” obligation.  Let’s look at their agenda.

The bills that facilitate the so-called “parent trigger,” the so-called “local control” school district, and the so-called “opportunity school district” will all reduce the choices available to the children affected by the implementation of these ideas.  All will result in the neighborhood school attended by children now will become a charter school, governed by people who do not live in the community and perhaps not even in Texas.  Curriculum and co/extracurricular offerings will all be narrowed immediately by the charter schools.  Gone will be the choice of the neighborhood school that is governed locally by elected officials who are accountable to the community.

The voucher bills, which will fund private school tuition for a small number of Texas children will take $100 million dollars out of the pot of money that in the past has funded public education.  Children from economically disadvantaged homes will not be able to afford the additional tuition that will be required from most private schools; will not have access to free/reduced lunches; will not have transportation; will likely have to purchase uniforms and pay fees for textbooks, field trips, etc.; will not have a right to an IEP if he/she has a learning disability; will not have a right to ESL/bilingual education if needed; will not have access to interventions available in public schools, and so on.  And do not think for a minute that established private schools will admit any child who applies.  The schools will have choice, but not necessarily the student and his/her parents.

So where are the civil rights that Dan Patrick talks about?  And where is the morality of creating a program funded by money-laundering tax credits that the vast majority of Texas kids cannot participate in?  And what is the morality of imposing a program about which there is no research evidence of its effectiveness?  Isn’t this scheme really just another way to avoid integrated schools?  And, isn’t this just another way to give a benefit to people who can already afford private school tuition?

Let’s make educated choices.  For example, eight bills have been filed by various legislators to reduce class size–an idea with lots of research evidence of its effectiveness in improving student learning.  Not one of those bills has even had a hearing yet.  A choice available to the Legislature is to direct the $100 million that some want to spend on vouchers, plus the millions that some have proposed go to expanding online courses, plus the $2 billion spent just this school year on a second state system of schools called charters and redirect those funds to create an equitably and adequately funded school system that includes smaller classes!

About thirty bills have been filed to expand charters, to provide them additional funding, and/or to generally make things better for them–and only three bills have been filed to create public options to improve schools that struggle–two bills to create community schools, and one bill to create Turn-Around School Districts that are supported by a nearby university.  The Legislature and Governor could choose to serve the more than five million children in public school, and so far they have not.

There is nothing to indicate that anyone is serious about addressing the court ruling finding the Texas school finance system is unconstitutional.

Again, there is no evidence that charters or vouchers are a solution to struggling schools.  The solution is providing adequate and equitable resources so public schools can do what they know needs to be done.

It is increasingly clear that austere budgets, punitive assessment and accountability systems, and denigration of educators all are designed to undermine the credibility of public schools so that the public will allow them to be privatized.  None of this pretense of concern is about children.  It’s not about choice.  It’s not about teaching and learning.  It’s about money. And desires to segregate.  And meanness.

Texas teachers and administrators used to decide who would win elections in Texas. Case in point: Remember when the legislature passed a bill to require educators who had life-time certificates to take the TCAT in order to determine if they were literate enough to teach? Teachers were outraged! And remember when “no pass, no play” was passed? Teachers, coaches, parents, AND fans were outraged, along with everyone who loves Friday night lights! And they took that outrage to the polls and unseated Mark White, the governor who signed those bills!

Teachers and the education community at large, plus football and basketball fans could carry the day again, not just for themselves, but also for the five million public school children and their parents who support public education. And high school sports. And other critically important traditions of public schools.

We call for teachers, parents, grandparents, athletic fans, the arts community, businesspeople, civic leaders, religious leaders, and all lovers of public education and democracy in Texas to unite and control Texas elections again! We know it can be done!  We must do it to protect REAL choices, not the fabricated ones invented by Dan Patrick and his friends.

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