Day: <span>October 2, 2013</span>

Cherry picking students with tax dollars


A parent named Laurel, whose daughters attend the new BASIS charter school in San Antonio, took strong exception to my recent blog post about BASIS’ cherry-picking practices. The cherry-picking – or taking the best students from public schools and being paid tax dollars to do it — is just fine with her because she got to take her daughters out of an “awful” public school – her description – and put them in a better school for which she doesn’t have to pay private school tuition.

Sounds like a win-win, eh? It obviously is for Laurel, at least so far, and I hope it is for her daughters. But it isn’t a win for thousands of other students in San Antonio, nor is it a win for other Texas taxpayers, including me. I live in Austin, but a share of my state tax dollars find their way to charter schools in San Antonio and elsewhere.

You can read all of Laurel’s comments, if you wish, by clicking on my previous blog post at the link below.

The point of my earlier post was that BASIS, by weeding out struggling students and failing to meet the needs of special education students at its schools in Arizona and Washington, D.C., posed a threat to a public education system in Texas that already is inequitably financed and is getting worse.

Charter chains, such as BASIS, which is run by a for-profit operating company, are neglecting the needs of millions of struggling students and children with special needs – many from low-income minority households – the very children that Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick claimed to be trying to help when he convinced the Legislature last spring to expand the number of charters in Texas. Patrick shed crocodile tears during a public committee hearing one day as he pleaded the plight of the educational also-rans.

But that point apparently is lost on Laurel and, doubtlessly, many others.

“I would not say that BASIS is for every child, and the fact that parents with disabled kids have had to find a better option for them than BASIS is NOT necessarily a problem,” Laurel wrote.

But it is a problem for millions of Texas parents and taxpayers because the more cherry-picking that BASIS and other corporate charters practice with our tax dollars, the weaker become our traditional, under-funded public schools, the only resort for the vast majority of Texas children. Those children are overwhelmingly poor, many have special needs and they, too, represent the future of our state.

Laurel contends that charter schools are not under-mining the budgets of traditional public schools because they are paid only for teaching the children they enroll. But that argument misses the point that school districts can’t reduce their costs when they lose students to charters. The money goes with the students, but districts have fixed costs that remain, including building maintenance, bus routes and other costs that simply cannot be reduced proportionately.

And, remember, the Legislature still hasn’t fully restored the $5.4 billion cut from the public education budget two years ago, although total school enrollment has grown by about 170,000 students since then. Laurel, nevertheless, makes the tired old argument that public school budgets are “fat.” They aren’t. If they were, 11,000 teachers wouldn’t have lost their jobs in the first year after the budget cuts were imposed.

Laurel makes it clear she is not impressed with the public schools she has seen. Yes, many public schools in Texas are struggling, while many others do great jobs, much better than many charter schools. The bottom line for public education in Texas is the bottom line of the public education budget. And, as long as Texans continue to elect a legislative majority that is more interested in transferring tax dollars from neighborhood schools to cherry-picking corporate charters than it is in adequately and equitably funding the public school system, many parents will remain unhappy.