The War on Charter Schools

While charter schools have been endorsed by people from across the political spectrum, there’s still opposition from some quarters. Are they favoring the establishment over the needs of children?

In an article titled “Back to Failing Schools,” The Wall Street Journal (link for subscribers) commented (August 13) on charter schools in Georgia and elsewhere.

It notes that in the past 4 months, 15 of 17 applications for charter schools have been rejected.

What’s the reason for this? It might have something to do with a provision of the law that should be familiar to Kansans: “Under Georgia’s charter school law, only local school districts have this authority, and they’ve made it clear that these alternative public schools are not welcome.”

The article discusses the plight of several would-be charter school operators:

  • Indea Snorden wanted to start a school focused on math and science. For months s he got the runaround from Jim Mullins, an official with a school system in DeKalb County. When she was able to submit the application, Mullins told her that it was too late.
  • Ed Chang wanted to “graduate every child,” and reach out to low-income black children. He wanted to limit enrollment so as to promote a high-quality operation. The Atlanta school board said that he was “exclusionary,” and denied the application.
  • Nina Gilbert wanted to start a charter school for girls in a district in which 80 percent of children were considered to be in poverty–and in which 33 percent of blacks and 13 percent of Hispanics graduate. The school board said that the NAACP would object (it didn’t) and said that she was “not fair” for having a girls-only school, even after conceding that it was legal.

We’ve mentioned that 15 of the 17 applications were rejected. What of the two that were approved? Glad you asked:

“As for the two charter proposals that were approved in metro Atlanta, both originated with the district itself. Which means that the schools, unlike those proposed by Ms. Snorden, Mr. Chang and Ms. Gilbert, will be extensions of the public school bureaucracy rather than the independent operations envisioned by the law. And therein lies the problem.”

A TV station in Georgia gives a further description of the situation:

This school succeeded in opening, yet, most start-up charter face uphill battles in Metro Atlanta. [Tony] Roberts [who heads the Georgia Charter School Association,] acknowledges local system fears that start-up charters take money away from school system operations, but he argues that, “they’re really not losing money. They’re reallocating money to we’re the students want to be.” (WXIA-11, “Charter Schools Open Despite Obstacles,”August 21)

Georgia–and we would add, Kansas–ought to take a lesson from other states. Here’s what the Journal says:

“In California, Arizona, Florida and elsewhere, universities, mayors, nonprofits and others outside of the existing public school bureaucracy all have the power to authorize charters. Each of those states has hundreds of charter schools, while Georgia has only 60.”

And back in Kansas, at the June 2006 SBOE meeting …

… board member Sue Gamble, a Shawnee Republican, dismissed Howard’s presentation as a “sales pitch” and the debate about charter schools as a distraction.

“The board is finding itself continually distracted by bright, shiny objects, and this is just the next object,” Gamble said after the meeting.

No wonder charter schools are but a speck on the Kansas landscape.

(Source: Kansas Ed Board debates charter schools, June 13, 2006)

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