"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, June 06, 2016

Charters Drain Needed Money from Public Schools

My op-ed posted today at the Tennessean:
Jim Horn
In a recent Tennessean article (“Nashville school official says charter funding debate clearer,” March 23), interim director of schools Chris Henson did his best to put a soft filter on the bright light that is now focused on the charter school funding issue for Metro Nashville Public Schools. According to Henson’s comments, Metro’s student-based budgeting system allows charter school operators to receive $9,300 per student each year without regard for student characteristics. On the other hand, regular public school students receive only $4,500 per student each year from MNPS, unless they fit within a special-needs category.

This formula is especially problematic, since we know from research studies that charters enroll lower numbers of special-needs children and English-language learners than do their public school counterparts. By doing so, the number of low-test-scoring students is reduced, which could otherwise threaten the brand names for high-scoring “no excuses” charters.

In an era of public austerity budgets that regularly require cuts to public school libraries, school arts programs, science labs, and drama and music programs, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify $92,000,000 in public funds for corporate charter schools each year, even as public school teachers are faced with having to buy their own classroom supplies.

In what appears to be an attempt to justify public expenditures for corporate charters, Henson points out that a large chunk of that $92 million going to charter operators each year would have to be spent to educate students anyway, whether they are in charters or regular public schools. Unfortunately, many fixed costs remain for public schools when some students leave for charters.

Even though 12 percent of Nashville students are attending charters, the other 88 percent of public school kids still need school buses, building maintenance, school nurses, social services, utilities and other fixed costs that do not change when 12 percent of students head to charter schools, each with $9,300 that is sorely needed by the public schools.

We know, too, that most of the public schools that are losing students are located where poverty rates are highest and the need is greatest to improve schools. Public schools can’t get stronger as funding gets weaker. To believe otherwise simply feeds the school privatization process that results when the most distressed and lowest-scoring schools are picked off 5 percent at a time each year.

We know that the charter industry and the billionaires who invest in them have benefited handsomely from public spending in Nashville and elsewhere. In 2012, for instance, former Nashville mayor Karl Dean committed $20 million to pay for renovation, technology, furniture and fixtures for a single KIPP charter school. In 2013, KIPP was found to have an 18 percent student attrition rate that just happened to spike just before state tests were administered.

To keep test scores high, their brand names intact and new contracts coming in, KIPP and the other “no excuses” total compliance charter chains use any means necessary, which includes caustic, demeaning discipline and control techniques that parents in middle-class schools would never allow for their own children.

While Henson is able to soften the glare, perhaps, on the charter funding issue, it is a tougher task to muffle that giant sucking sound that taxpayers hear as public school dollars are drained away to benefit charter school corporations and their investors.

Jim Horn, Ph.D., is professor of educational leadership at Cambridge College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He resides in West Meade. His most recent book is "Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys Through 'No Excuses' Teaching" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).

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