Here is a clip from a report from PBS last year on the NOLA charter movement, a clip that demonstrates a problem that even John Merrow, charter advocate, could not ignore:
Charter movement 'hurts children'
JOHN MERROW: But not everyone believes that charters are the answer. Principal Cheryllyn Branche turned down Vallas' offer of a charter for her school.
CHERYLLYN BRANCHE, Principal, Benjamin Banneker Elementary School: We have remained as we are. We think we're doing an incredible job with some of the most challenging children.
JOHN MERROW: Benjamin Banneker Elementary was one of the most improved schools in the district last year. Its progress makes Branche skeptical of Vallas' grand plan.
CHERYLLYN BRANCHE: I think there are good charters and bad charters. I really do feel that there's room at the table, but I don't think to designate that an entire city be charterized makes any sense. Good schools make sense for every child.
JOHN MERROW: National studies support Branche. Although there are many outstanding charter schools, reports show that overall charter success is mixed.
Branche has further reason to be wary: She says some charter schools are being unfair to disadvantaged children.
CHERYLLYN BRANCHE: Parents are seeking places for their children who may have physical handicaps, mental or emotional handicapping conditions, and they're not being accepted by charters. I get referrals from specific principals of charter schools. "Go to Banneker. Tell Miss Branche I sent you. Go to Banneker."
JOHN MERROW: It's what school administrators call "dumping," transferring those with special education needs or just kids who are behaving badly to other schools.
You're getting kids who are being pushed out of charters...
CHERYLLYN BRANCHE: Correct.
JOHN MERROW: ... more special-ed kids than you...
CHERYLLYN BRANCHE: Correct. Yes, exactly right.
JOHN MERROW: So the charter movement is hurting you.
CHERYLLYN BRANCHE: It is hurting children.
A question of exclusion
JOHN MERROW: District-wide data indicate that Vallas has a problem. The average special education population in traditional schools is 12 percent, but at charter schools, it's less than 8 percent.So if your policies and practices can less overtly exclude or push out those who don't produce the needed results to maintain the illusion of success, then we may conclude that this is not a breach of contract, yes? With lawyers and marketing majors aplenty to perfect the elusive lie, and now with the most substantial chunk of the 1,800 million dollars of FEMA cash, who needs educational expertise? After all, a Masters in Poli Sci from Western Illinois got Vallas to the top of the heap of corporate edu-kingpins. With such bona fides, who else would be considered for the job of educational savior for the most ravaged and needy nation of Haiti
Are your charter schools somehow excluding special needs kids?
PAUL VALLAS: No. No, not at all. Charters are generally much smaller than regular, traditionally run schools. You know, so charters may not have the capacity to have the various special education specialties like the speech therapists, et cetera. A parent's going to ask, "Do you have these services?" And if a charter doesn't have those services, the parent's going to look for another school.
KARRAN HARPER ROYAL, Parent Advocate: That's discrimination. That's discrimination. You can dress it up however you like to, but it's really discrimination.
JOHN MERROW: Parent advocate Karran Harper Royal has a child with special needs attending a New Orleans public school. She says Vallas needs to slow down.
KARRAN HARPER ROYAL: He needs to appoint a staff person or a few staff people who review the admissions of these charter schools, because clearly something is going wrong here. I want to see objective evaluation of the charters we have before we move forward with trying to charter everything.
JOHN MERROW: Aren't you asking an awful lot? This is early in the game.
KARRAN HARPER ROYAL: I'm not asking an awful lot; we're talking about our children. I have a child in this system. Why would I want less from a charter board than I would expect from a school board?
JOHN MERROW: While Vallas admits to no wrongdoing, he promises to hold charters accountable.
PAUL VALLAS: As more of our schools convert to charters and as more of our schools are granted charter-like independence, we're going to be doing more policing, we're going to focus more on accountability. If you are deliberating discouraging people or turning people away, that would be breach of contract. You can lose your charter.