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Take a Look Inside Of the Charter School Movement - Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Hear the Echoes No. 42



Take a Look Inside

Of the Charter School Movement


New Opportunities, New Challenges

For all of its potential, the sector still faces many challenges. Though many funders remain excited by the possibilities of chartering, they nevertheless share a number of concerns about the state of the sector.

• Quality. The quality of charter schools remains uneven. It is not uncommon to find charter schools among the very best of a city’s or state’s public schools—but also, sometimes, among the worst. And it has proven difficult for those who oversee charter schools to shut down those that are unsuccessful. Many funders wonder if they have done enough to insist on high quality in the schools they support.

• Funding. Charter schools continue to be under-funded. Almost all states deny charter schools capital funding, forcing them to spend a portion of their operating funds on facilities. And in many states, charter schools receive less than 100 percent of the operating funds district schools receive.


Less I be taken as being overly critical of the charter movement in bring the news to this page, it is not my message.  It is a direct quote from Page 13 of "Investing in Charter Schools: A Guide for Donors” from the Philanthropy Roundtable.


The President of that organization in his opening letter confesses "The Roundtable is committed to helping donor achieve dramatic breakthroughs in the improvement of K-12 education—an area in which many charter schools have proven themselves especially effective.”


I really feel for these poor philanthropists whose charter schools have to struggle without state help in getting facilities.  No so in Louisiana!  In Louisiana the Recovery School District (RSD) simply takes away facilities built with bonds authorized to Parish or local school districts because Louisiana is one of only nine states that contribute ZERO dollars to public school facilities.


Make no mistake the Recovery School District in New Orleans has been significantly over funded by comparison to the Parish and local school districts in Louisiana for all of its six year existence.  Yet the vast majority of the RSD schools are listed among the bottom 30 schools in the 1,300 plus schools in the state.


Even the better performing schools in the RSD benefit because of several different strategies used to improve their standing.  Some charters have closed for funding or academic achievement failings and been assigned to new charter groups or new management which gave them another three years of not being held accountable.  Some charters are very selective in admission and by using very demanding student handbooks as dismissal guides churn out less successful students.  Still others, such as the two highest performing KIPP schools serve grades K through 2, and grades 4 through 7.  In so doing they escape the critical LEAP testing years of 3 and 8.


Then if those conditions don’t provide sufficient signs of growth the RSD administration "scrubs” the LEAP and iLEAP test records in such a unique way that last year there were 16.67 percent of students enrolled in February who were untested in March.  The Orleans Parish School Board schools, by comparison, tested February’s entire enrollment but 1.7 percent.


Now Gov. Bobby Jindal proposes to offer free passes to almost anyone who wants to open a new charter.  Not satisfied with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education or the Parish and Local School Boards as qualified authorizers, he has caused introduction of legislation to open the door to unrecognized parties to form a charter.


Leading research into charter schools have routinely noted that the better performing charter schools are always found in locations where charter authorizers offer the most demanding governance.  Gov. Jindal would virtually eliminate authorization governance.


Apparently his memory is sufficiently short to forget that BESE authorized an early charter that was so badly misused in overcharging for rental of church buildings and double dipping salaries in controlling families that the charter had to be revoked.


When charter friendly groups such as the Philanthropy Roundtable and the Stanford University CREDO Institute candidly admit that there something less than glaring success in the charter movement, Gov. Jindal would loosen control that is already shaky. 


The influence of the current administration over the newspapers and telecasting outlets in Louisiana would have the public believe that the governor has a reform agenda, but his former Superintendent of Education was more candid when he renounced reform in favor of transform.  Transformation involves changing the composition or structure and that is exactly what Gov. Jindal proposes.  And the structure to which his agenda points is turning public schools, paid for entirely with locally raised funds, into profit centers for hedge-fund led charter schools.


A look at how charter school governance – or truly lack of governance – leaves out the parents of students tells the tale.


Left to the devices of the administration the local public school districts will be continuously starved of funding, loaded with additional costs dictated by the administration, and have their buildings stolen—in some cases while the local public school district is still paying debt service  to the bond holders that enabled the building construction.


Unless voters in Louisiana awaken to these threats to their local schools, the children of this state will be victims of an experiment that has given every indication of being failed.


The charter sector remains heavily influenced by the philanthropic community, which has played an enormous role since its beginning.  Gov. Jindal has introduced his plan that would bring the philanthropic community its rewards.


Take for instance K-12, Inc., a publicly traded company, in which former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and the former junk bond king Michael Milken have financial interests.  They have advertised, on their web site, direct enrollment tuition that averages $4,100 per pupil, but BESE agreed to pay the company $8,100 per pupil.


Not a bad margin for a company with no lunch room costs, with no bus routes to maintain, with no building maintenance costs, with single teachers managing somewhere between 50 and 200 students each.


Such is the Jindal reform agenda.


Don Whittinghill




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