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There is nothing “healthy” about competition from charter chains

It is a myth without a grain of truth, but it won’t go away. The myth is this: Competition between charters and traditional, neighborhood public schools is “healthy” for students and their families.

Bunk. The only things getting healthier are the bank accounts of the investors behind the corporate-style charter chains that are increasing their presence in Texas and the private management companies that operate the schools.

Charter advocates are at the forefront of the school privatization effort in Texas, and one of their loudest mouthpieces is the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which is intent on starving public schools – and many other public services – and replacing them with profit centers for investors eager to cash in on our tax dollars.

“Because charter schools are another school option for many students, they help provide a crucial impact on education in Texas – competition. Competition drives growth, innovation and it improves results,” a legislative fellow with the Texas Public Policy Foundation claimed in a recent oped.

In truth, the only competition that corporate charters drive is a competition – a sort of feeding frenzy from the public trough – to create more charters. And it doesn’t improve results for most Texas school children.

Repeated studies have shown that charters, on average, are no better than traditional public schools, and some are much worse. Consider the first-year results of Texas’ experiment with SB1882, the 2017 law enacted to improve struggling campuses by turning them over to charters and nonprofits. Twelve schools were in the first group placed in SB1882 partnerships, and seven received F ratings from the Texas Education Agency this year, according to a recent story in The Texas Tribune. Four schools received worse ratings than they did in 2017-18, before the interventions.

Charters received more than $2.2 billion in state revenue in 2017 alone, and much of that money went to charters operated by for-profit management organizations that don’t have to answer to parents or other voters, don’t have to hire certified teachers, don’t have minimum salary requirements, don’t have class size limits, don’t have to accept every child who applies and don’t have to provide bus service.

Competition? The competition is among charter chains for a bigger and bigger slice of the tax pie – at the expense of neighborhood public schools. Every time a student leaves a neighborhood public school for a charter, he or she takes a pile of tax revenue to the charter. And the school districts they leave remain stuck with fixed expenses – utilities, building maintenance, transportation costs – that don’t go down as the student enrollment decreases.

Neighborhood schools are being closed, and competition from aggressive charter operators is a major reason. That is not healthy for students or taxpayers. And neither is the racial segregation of schools that the charter movement is exacerbating.

More than 60 years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education, it is no secret that many schools in Texas and the United States remain segregated by race, class and economic factors. But a new study, published a few weeks ago in the Journal of Education Sciences, says national data show that “nowhere is the problem more acute than in the nation’s charter schools.”

The authors – Julian Vasquez Heilig of the University of Kentucky (formerly of UT-Austin), T. Jameson Brewer of the University of North Georgia and Yohuru Williams of the University of St. Thomas – report that the problem “is not simply explained away by locality or demography.”

Some charter supporters, they note, try to downplay the issue by emphasizing the need to provide greater choice to low-income and minority students as a means of achieving equity in educational outcomes regardless of the racial composition of a school. But the authors cite research that charters, like traditional public schools that serve predominantly poor students of color “do so with reduced resources, less academic vigor, in the form of limited access to advanced coursework and largely untrained or inexperienced teachers.”

“Nationally, we find that higher percentages of charter students of every race attend intensely segregated schools,” they report.

This condition isn’t healthy for education, children…or the future of democracy.

A 13-year-old speaks truth to fear

The letter below, published in the Austin American-Statesman and written by a 13-year-old classmate of my daughter, Caroline, pretty well sums up the waste and futility of building President Trump’s wall along the southern border.

The writer, Joaquin Bartelli, represents part of a future that no amount of wall-building is going to stop or even slow down. Trump tweets bigotry and fear, while Joaquin tells it like it is.

Our country has a lot going for it. But it will be a better place in which to live for everybody when Trump is removed from the White House and young people like Joaquin are old enough to vote. Joaquin is a U.S. citizen, the son of U.S. citizens, and like millions of other citizens he is proud of his Mexican heritage. Here is his letter:

Border wall a bad idea for these three reasons

I am 13 years old and I am Mexican. I think that the border wall is a bad idea because it’d be expensive, ineffective and its message is so negative. The wall’s cost would be in the billions, which is too much when it could be going to better causes, like feeding starving children or helping the homeless.

On top of that it will be ineffective at keeping people out. People would still be able to climb over it, dig tunnels or otherwise find a way past it.

Most importantly, the wall sends the hurtful message that “Mexicans are not welcome here.” I can’t help but take it personally. The president may want to keep Mexicans from coming over the border, but he did not realize that message is being sent to Mexicans already here. Does he really want me to leave?

Joaquin Bartelli, Austin

An enlightened society values education for all children. Does the governor understand that?

As Gov. Greg Abbott pointed out in a controversial tweet, five liberals on the U.S. Supreme ruled (in 1982) that Texas (as well as every other state) had to provide and fund public education for the children of undocumented immigrants. But in his haste to pander to the racism, fear and bigotry that is growing in this state and country, he didn’t tell the whole story.

The case, Plyler v. Doe, was brought on behalf of a group of students from Mexico after the Tyler Independent School District adopted a policy requiring undocumented students to pay tuition. Tyler ISD was acting under a 1975 Texas law allowing districts to deny admission to undocumented immigrants.

The five high court justices in the majority based their ruling on the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says in part, “No State shall…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” This is known as the Equal Protection Clause. The majority found that the Tyler district had no rational basis to deny children a public education based on their immigration status, considering the harm that such a policy would inflict on the children and the entire society. The five justices wrote: “By denying these children a basic education, we deny them the ability to live within the structure of our civic institutions, and foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our Nation.” They also determined that punishing children for their parents’ actions in bringing them illegally into the United States “does not comport with fundamental conceptions of justice.”

If you accept Abbott’s tweet as the definitive word on this issue, you may be led to think that the four other Supreme Court justices at the time believed that states should be allowed to ban undocumented immigrants from attending public schools. If so, you would be mistaken.

As the American Immigration Council points out in its analysis of the case, the dissenting justices – including such historic non-liberals as Warren Burger and William Rehnquist – pointed out that it “is senseless for an enlightened society to deprive any children – including [unauthorized immigrants] – of an elementary education,” in part because “the long-range costs of excluding any children from the public schools may well outweigh the costs of educating them.”

Not to mention the fact that many immigrants, when educated, are more productive and may pay more taxes than some native-born Americans.

The Supreme Court minority would have allowed school districts to charge undocumented students tuition. Despite the difference over tuition, though, the entire nine-member Supreme Court recognized the critical importance of making a public education available to all children, regardless of immigration status.

Texas officials need to confront the schoolyard bully, the one in the White House

Gov. Greg Abbott is not a racist, but the same statement cannot be made with any degree of certainty or credibility about the president of the United States, and therein lies a dilemma for the governor of Texas and for many of his elected Republican colleagues. But it is past time for them to gut up, put partisan politics aside and demand the president stop the inflammatory trash talk.

Any schoolyard bully who talked like the president would have been sent to detention a long time ago.

Following the shootings in El Paso, Abbott acknowledged the alleged gunman was intent on murdering Hispanics, and he condemned what he called “racist domestic terrorism.” Abbott obviously deplores white supremacy. And you can argue until you are beet red in the race over whether President Trump’s provocative tweets and comments, including a declaration that there was an “invasion” threatening the southern border, had anything to do with motivating a hateful young man to drive hundreds of miles and target Hispanics in a shooting spree at the El Paso Walmart.

But you deny reality if you deny the fact that Trump, intentionally or not, has promoted racism and emboldened white supremacists from the day he announced his campaign for the White House by decrying Mexican immigrants as drug-dealers and rapists and vowing to erect a border wall.

Racism – plus cruelty and government ineptness – resulted in thousands of immigrant children being separated from their parents and put in cages along the border.

It came to a head in Charlottesville, Va., when white supremacists emerged from the shadows to take to the streets in a violent demonstration that resulted in one death. It came to a head again in El Paso with the deaths of 22 people who went to Walmart at the wrong time.

And sometimes it is more subtle. Over the weekend, the Bloomberg news outlet reported that Stephen Miller, the president’s chief immigrant-basher, had tried to find ways a couple of years ago to block children who were undocumented immigrants from enrolling in public school.

The effort was abandoned after Miller and Trump were reminded (if they had ever known) that the U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision in a Texas case years ago, had guaranteed admission to public schools for all immigrant children who are U.S. residents.

I am glad to see Abbott and other Republican leaders in Texas attack racism and white supremacy, even though it should be a no-brainer. Abbott has appointed a special commission to recommend strategies for combating hate and promoting healing in the wake of the El Paso tragedy. And Land Commissioner George P. Bush, whose mother was born in Mexico, wrote an oped in the Atlantic condemning racism – but not Trump’s rhetoric — right after the shootings.

They refuse to call out Trump over his race-baiting remarks because they don’t want to undermine his reelection chances in Texas or their own future reelections for that matter, even though U.S. Sen. John Cornyn will be the only top elected Republican on the ballot with the president next year. Border security and immigration are major concerns of many Texas voters, even though Trump’s brand of immigrant-bashing has nothing to do with real border security.

In truth, Abbott and his colleagues are practicing political expediency, a former of political cowardice, at a time when racism, intolerance and fear are much greater threats to our country than is immigration.