Charter Caps…and Gowns

By Larry Sand
April 9, 2019

As charter schools continue to prove themselves, the threatened education monopolists try to kill them off. 

Just a month ago, I wrote about the problems that charter schools were having in California. No, there is not a problem with parental dissatisfaction or with inducing students to attend and thrive in a safe environment. Rather, there is a problem with the teachers unions and others who depend on the traditional public school (TPS) model and insist on maintaining its monopoly.

Well, there has been some bad news and good news since then. On the negative – and really pathetic – side stands one Tony Thurmond, California’s new Superintendent of Public Instruction. A few weeks ago, he appeared at a forum with CALmatters’s Ricardo Cano and said, “Here’s my concern: you cannot open charter schools and new schools to serve every single student in our state. If you take the competition approach, that means some students, a lot of students, will be left behind. And again, I don’t believe that that’s what our mission is.”

Thurmond does not seem to understand that charters are educating kids, unlike the failing public schools parents chose to leave…for charters. And in California, it’s especially so, where over the last five years, overall public school enrollment has declined slightly. Charter enrollment, however, is up 20 percent.

Meanwhile, over at the United Teachers of Los Angeles, which campaigned as if its life depended on it to get Thurmond elected, the anti-choice drum is beating louder than ever. Referring to the “privatizers and the corporate charter lobby,” the union is on the warpath to get four anti-charter bills passed in a compliant state legislature. If all of them are enacted, it will cripple the charter school movement and could very well be a step in eliminating them completely.

One of the excuses that the ed establishment makes to justify their efforts to get rid of those “ratty” charter schools, is that they “siphon funds” from TPS. However, the only funding they lose is for the students they no longer serve. In fact, an in-depth study just released by the University of Arkansas shows that money allotted to charters is money very well spent. “A Good Investment: The Updated Productivity of Public Charter Schools in Eight U.S. Cities,” examines the cost-effectiveness and return-on-investment for charter schools. The report finds that in each city, charters yield more learning per education dollar – on average 53 percent greater than for TPS. The report also finds that for each dollar invested in a student enrolled in TPS, that student secures $4.41 in lifetime earnings. The same dollar invested in a student enrolled in charter schools yields $6.37 in lifetime earnings for that student – 45 percent more.

Additionally, The B.A. Breakthrough: How Ending the Diploma Disparity Can Change the Face of America, a soon-to-be released book by Richard Whitmire, reveals that college success records at major charter networks serving low-income students produce bachelor’s degrees at rates of two to four times the 11 percent rate expected for that student population.

But when you have a self-serving agenda, why bother with facts and data? Unfortunately, it is not just California that is bowing to the anti-charter zealots. There’s a cap on charters in New York State, which is doing great harm to families in New York City. As Eva Moskowitz,  CEO of the celebrated Success Academy Charter Schools wrote recently, applications to the city’s public charter schools hit an all-time high in 2018, when 79,600 families competed for fewer than 27,000 seats, leaving 52,000 kids languishing on wait lists. However, the cap is not the only problem in the Big Apple. The city’s mayor Bill de Blasio is not letting charters co-locate in half-empty TPS buildings.

Elsewhere, Nevada’s Assembly Bill 462 would ban all new charter schools until 2021. With alleged sincerity, Ruben Murillo, president of the Nevada State Education Association, insisted, “We’re just concerned about the quality, the transparency, the lack of accountability when it comes to charter schools.” An editorial in the Las Vegas Review-Journal shot back, hitting a bulls-eye. “Sure. And the Las Vegas cab cartel is ‘just concerned’ with consumer safety in its battle to eradicate Uber and Lyft.”

In Wisconsin, the new governor is talking about capping charter growth, as is the just-elected mayor in Chicago. In Missouri, senators who are pushing a charter school expansion bill have run into fierce opposition that is concerned about the effect charter schools would have on the resources of the TPS.

And so it goes. No, not all charter schools are wonderful, and not all TPS are terrible. But when confronted with a local bomb of a TPS, isn’t it of the utmost importance to allow a parent to have an alternative? A choice? Of course it is. Yet unionistas and others in the big ed monopoly don’t really have your kids’ best interests at heart. Capping – indeed kneecapping – charter schools is much more important to that crowd than the number of students who ultimately get to wear a cap…and gown.

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Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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