Republican Legislators Push Charter Schools to Privatize Public Education

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Task Force Says Bad Schools Hurt National Security

by Glynn Wilson

Republicans in the Alabama Legislature are pushing a bill to take some funding away from already cash-strapped public schools in the attempt to privatize public schools, a move that most experts say will just make public education in the U.S. worse.

A report just out from a task force led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Joel Klein, the former chancellor of New York City’s school system, says the nation’s security and economic prosperity are at risk if America’s schools don’t improve.

“The dominant power of the 21st century will depend on human capital,” the report warned. “The failure to produce that capital will undermine American security.”

The task force says the State Department and U.S. intelligence agencies face critical shortfalls in the number of foreign language speakers, and that fields such as science, defense and aerospace are at particular risk because a shortage of skilled workers is expected to worsen as baby boomers retire.


Meanwhile, there is no evidence charter schools will improve the situation, and in fact, they could make it worse, according to labor unions and other professional groups that represent teachers.

“Legislators in Montgomery would have you believe that charter schools are the solution to Alabama’s public education woes. Don’t believe the hype,” the Alabama AFL-CIO said Tuesday in a press release sent out by e-mail and posted to Facebook. “Research has continually shown charter schools are a detriment to public education.”

Due to loose compliance laws, some charter schools are closed due to corruption and graft, the group says.

“The lack of transparency and potential for mismanagement of funds is something Alabama school children cannot afford,” said Al Henley, president of the Alabama AFL-CIO.

In 2009, there were roughly 5,000 charter schools and more than 15 percent had been closed due to mismanagement of taxpayer monies. Most charter schools, funded with taxpayer dollars, have little to no oversight from local authorities.

One cautionary tale exists in Florida. Charter schools were billed as the “sensible alternative to struggling inner-city schools.” However, as the Miami Herald recently reported.

They were supposed to help public schools improve and give parents choices – not steal limited resources from those struggling public schools. Charters started as nonprofit endeavors mostly to help inner-city students succeed. They have evolved into money-making suburban enterprises with for-profit management companies lobbying their way up the Tallahassee food chain to keep expanding – even at the expense of public schools that are making great gains in student learning. Talk about bait and switch.

Civil rights activists say creating schools with populations that are heavily Hispanic or African-American simply creates more campuses that lack money, have poorer-quality teachers and lower student improvement.

A study of Michigan charter schools was released earlier this year after Michigan’s Legislature opted to lift the cap on the number of charter schools. With more than 250 schools and 120,000 students, Michigan’s charter schools have shown remarkable growth in the last 20 years. While many charters produced outstanding results on statewide tests of academic achievement, taken on average, their test results were at or below statewide averages.

In fourth-grade reading, math and writing tests, the statewide averages for traditional-school students ranked as meeting or exceeding standards were 84.8 percent, 91.8 percent and 48.2 percent, respectively. Charter-school students scored 76.8 percent, 87.6 percent and 37.7 percent on the same tests.

In New Orleans, taxpayers are struggling to get charter school boards to adhere to the open-government laws. Frustrated taxpayers confronted local charter school boards and demanded answers.

“Indeed, the Orleans Parish School Board made it clear during its budget-approval process that they couldn’t vouch for the budgets of the 11 schools chartered by the board,” one exasperated local board president said. “Those budgets had to be included in paperwork sent to the state along with the board’s budget, but we are unable to require adherence to the law.”

Of Louisiana’s fourteen public schools up for renewal, 13 had failed to comply with open-government laws. All 14 charters were renewed.

“You get little clues about the budget, minor things here and there, but as far as the big picture, I don’t know,” one disgruntled parent leaving a local charter school board meeting said.

As state government funding for education in Alabama has fallen more than $600 million in the past four years, according to the AFL-CIO, “Alabama’s schoolchildren will suffer irreparable harm if charter school legislation is allowed to pass.”

© 2012, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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