Month: <span>September 2015</span>

Charters – and the truth – suffer a setback


The Wall Street Journal shares an owner with Fox News, and the Journal’s editorial page shares the TV network’s ability to ignore facts in promoting its politicized viewpoint, as it did this week in an editorial rebuking the Washington Supreme Court for striking down a new charter school law in that state.

The court’s 6-3 ruling was pretty straightforward. It held that privately operated charter schools cannot receive public funding because they do not quality as “common schools” under the state’s constitution. The law – which siphons tax dollars from traditional public schools where the vast majority of Washington children are educated – was the result of a ballot initiative backed by billionaire, self-styled education “reformer,” Bill Gates, among others, and approved by voters in 2012.

The Wall Street Journal accused the court of supporting the “public school monopoly,” when, in truth, the court did nothing of the kind. The court did not strike down the ability of entrepreneurs to open and operate charter schools to compete with or supplement public schools. The court simply ruled that private owners didn’t have the right to dip their hands into public tax dollars.

The Journal’s editorial also claimed that charter schools are “far more accountable than traditional public schools.” Hooey. Public schools in Washington operate under elected school boards. Charters do not. They operate under privately appointed boards, and, despite what some promoters claim and parents hope, charters are not miracle workers.

Nationwide, research has shown that charters, on average, do not perform as well as traditional public schools.

The Journal claimed the court’s main concern was “preserving the union monopoly” in Washington. In truth, the lawsuit against the charter school law was brought by a coalition that in addition to a state teachers union also included school administrators and the League of Women Voters. They all shared the same concern – protecting public funding for public school children.

So far, only nine charter schools have been opened under the disputed law and eight of them opened for the first time this year, according to the Tacoma News Tribune, which reported that operators will try to keep them open with donated funds, if necessary.

The timing of the court ruling, at the beginning of a new school year, obviously is bad for the charter students and their families. But if the charters are forced to close their doors, no childen will be left out in the cold. Local school districts will be there to take them in.


Schools need funding, not “pixie dust”


During today’s hearing over the school finance lawsuit, a lawyer for the state told the Texas Supreme Court that “money isn’t pixie dust” that can automatically improve public education. I don’t know how long it took him to come up with that line, but if he is proud of it, he shouldn’t be.

It’s quotable, but meaningless.

The 600 or so school districts that sued the state over funding never claimed money alone can perform academic magic. That is the job of educators.

But here are just a few of the things that better school funding can do:

# Reduce class sizes so that more students – particularly young, disadvantaged children — can get more of the individual attention they need from teachers. Last year, the state granted waivers allowing 5,883 classes from kindergarten through fourth grade to exceed the 22-student limit, mainly because of financial hardships claimed by under-funded school districts.

# Allow districts to hire more teachers and keep the best teachers in the classroom longer. Texas public schools hired 3,700 fewer teachers in the 2014-15 school year than they did in 2011, before the legislative majority cut $5.4 billion from the education budget. Student enrollment grew by more than 220,000 during that period, and some districts are still spending less per student than they did in 2011.

# Purchase more computers and updated instructional materials for students.

Texas ranks 38th in per-student spending among the states and the District of Columbia, spending more than $2,000 per kid below the national average.

As TSTA President Noel Candelaria pointed out: “The arithmetic is simple. Our students and teachers are being shortchanged, and every day the state fails to invest in our classrooms is another day that students are forced to pay the price.”

School districts, their employees and students will have to wait until at least next year before the Supreme Court rules in the case. They are demanding an adequate, fair and equitable school funding system. They will know what to do with the money, and they won’t need “pixie dust.”