From Houston Chronicle, Feb. 23,2013:

 

Charter schools prompt fierce political battle

The proposal creates a new state agency with ability to approve an unlimited number of new charter schools, now capped by state law at 215. It also would allow traditional school districts to convert to charter operations. For the first time, charter schools – public schools freed from state regulations regarding such issues as teacher contracts and the school calendar – would be eligible for state funding for leasing or purchasing their own campuses.

Charter Schools operators want to use public monies for the purchase or rental of facilities. That is the first priority of  Senator Dan Patrick . Not restoring the $5.4 billion taken from public education by the Republican Free Market Fanatics in the last round of budget cuts. Moreover, Patrick wants to turn Texas public education into Charter School education. This is simply the latest round in the privatization of Texas Public Education.  With a straight face Patrick claims that it is all about the 100,000 students who are waiting for Charter school slots, not about killing public education. If he and the Repugs cared so much about Public Education – why did they refuse to protect it from the utterly disastrous funding cuts in the last cycle of budgeting. They could have tapped the Rainy Day fund. They choose not to do so, so spare me the crocodile tears please.

 

As an indication of what the underlying agenda is in all this the forces aligning themselves in support speak very loudly:

 Charter schools prompt fierce political battle

Meanwhile, politically knowledgeable groups are joining hands with philanthropic foundations committed to education reform. Houston’s Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the Greater Houston Community Foundation are backing a new pro-charter group: Texans Deserve Great Schools.

They have been joined by key leaders in the state’s premier political juggernaut, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, who formed Texans for Education Reform to work on behalf of the same goals. The group is led by former Sen.Florence Shapiro, R-Dallas, Patrick’s predecessor as education chair until her retirement last year. Influential lobbyist Mike Toomey, a former top assistant to Gov. Rick Perry who fought for tort reform, has signed on as a lobbyist.

What is ironic of course with this free market wanna be model is that it really isn’t a open competition . Remember this ? Charter schools are “public schools freed from state regulations regarding such issues as teacher contracts and the school calendar “.  So, how exactly are we comparing apples to apples ? And don’t get me started on the self-selective cherry-picking of students who attend these schools.  Also note the anti-teacher dig – the charter school teachers do not have the benefits of a contract to protect their rights. How lovely for the administrators, lord knows that they are all just totally above any need for a check or balance on their authority over anybody’s livelihood. If you think that bit of snark is true, let me assure you I know it is not. What the system of pure charter schools would produce is at least a two tiered system of non-standard public education that would perpetuate the inequalities of the present system and sharpen them.

As for the claims of superior performance, I covered that in my previous posting. This summarizes it the bottom line:

Something’s Broken: Hearing on Charter Schools

Excellent student performance at Texas charter schools is by far the exception, not the rule, as amply documented in a dozen state-sponsored evaluation reports. As the latest of these evaluations (Texas Center for Educational Research, July 2011) put it, despite “perceptions that new charter schools, as small schools, provide improved learning environments, this evaluation provides little evidence that new [state-approved] open-enrollment charters are improving students’ outcomes.”

Most telling for me in this latest development is what IS NOT being addressed – regulation of charter schools since they are exempt form most school regulations:

Something’s Broken: Hearing on Charter Schools

Along with Texas AFT, Dr. Soto also noted the lack of enough staff at the Texas Education Agency to oversee charter schools. At last report, after recent budget cuts only seven TEA employees remained to supervise and regulate the hundreds of charter schools statewide enrolling more than 100,000 students.

Soto also raised a more fundamental issue, illustrated with data from his home county. There are 15 school districts wholly within Bexar County, he said, four of them rated “recognized” and 11 rated “academically acceptable.” At the same time the county plays host to 26 charter holders—none of them rated “exemplary” or “recognized,” and 11 out of the 26 rated “academically unacceptable”—a 42-percent failure rate, Dr. Soto said.  Questioning the $31 million in state aid spent on these low-performing charter operators, he added:  “We need a clear and coherent vision of how the charter system fits into the overall Texas landscape and into local communities that these charters serve, including how they fit alongside traditional ISDs.”

The sad part is that to the degree charter schools are useful for Texas students, we already have access to these benefits inside the public education system. DeBakey High School for the Health Professions is an example. So it the highly acclaimed School for the Preforming Arts.  There are provisions for such an expansion in Texas charter law:

Something’s Broken: Hearing on Charter Schools

Texas also provides a glimpse of how the original charter vision can still bear fruit. At Friday’s hearing we urged legislators to look at the development of in-district charters initiated by parents and teachers working together in their neighborhood schools. There is a specific provision for this in the Texas Education Code (Section 12.052), and it has paved the way for promising experiments within districts such as San Antonio ISD. As of last year, 13 of these in-district charters were up and running there, created by collaborations between members of our local affiliate, the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, and parents, with community and administration support.

 

Why not expand their proven success? The answer is obvious – this it NOT about education, its about ideology pure and simple.

For more reasons that the expansion of charter schools is not a good idea see my previous posting, Inequality Perpetuated-Public Education at the Crossroads.

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