The concept of charter schools is not a bad one, and I know there are some very good ones that have made a difference in the lives of children and communities. But let’s be clear: True school choice means I live in my chosen community, surrounded by great public schools and other educational options.
As a parent (we have raised 11 children and put them through public school) and as a public school teacher, I deeply resent much of the rhetoric being used to promote so-called “school choice.”
Much of this rhetoric is aimed at parents in communities that have been historically underserved by public education systems. Therein lies the hypocrisy.
I’ll use my own community as an example; you can change the names to fit your situation.
For generations, our community has had an openly unequal educational system for black and white children. The court battle has focused on the issue of desegregation; the bigger issue is unequal resources. Parents, students, many teachers, and even some administrators have been fighting to change these flagrant inequities (e.g., one school had fully-equipped science labs; the other had none, etc.) As the community would try to take these issues up the chain of authority (local school district, local school board, state dept. of education, state school board, federal department of education, federal elected officials…) they got promises, a superficial change or two, a committee, a plan, and more years of frustration.
Meanwhile, the state of Mississippi enacted legislation in 1997 called the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). This program is a funding formula created by the Mississippi State legislature, after lengthy study and debate.
What is MAEP? The state formula used to establish adequate current operation funding levels necessary for the programs of each school district to meet a successful level of student performance as established by the State Board of Education using current statistically relevant state assessment data.
Purpose: Ensure that every Mississippi Child regardless of where he/she lives is afforded an adequate educational opportunity, as defined by the State Accountability System. (from Mississippi Department of Education)
Since it’s adoption, the formula has only been fully funded by the legislature twice (both times in an election year), which has led many opponents of the program to call for its repeal (MPB). This year, legislation to expand charter schools has raced through the state legislature, being pushed by the governor and others. Yet, once again, the MAEP will be underfunded.
Don’t give the schools, especially those serving Black and poor communities, the resources they need and deserve to at least reach minimal thresholds of adequacy; then act shocked at their underperformance. Is a school a failure when failure was clearly the intention all along?
The same political structure (in some cases the same individuals) that have conducted or colluded with decades of deliberately making the schools that serve children like mine inferior to the ones that serve their own children, now feign concern and offer longsuffering parents the “choice” of charter schools.
Here’s the lie: It’s a false choice.
Had these public officials and institutions fulfilled their legal and moral obligations (or would they yet), I wouldn’t have to make a “choice” for my children or grandchildren between continued inadequate education and a real one. That’s not choice; that’s extortion.
The concept of charter schools is not a bad one, and I know there are some very good ones that have made a difference in the lives of children and communities. But let’s be clear: True school choice means I live in my chosen community, surrounded by great public schools and other educational options. Maybe there’s one that specializes in innovative fine arts programs, another that has pushed forward with hybrid classes, and yet another known for its community service learning projects. Every public school in every community adequately funded, staffed with fully-trained, qualified teachers, and housed in safe, clean facilities.