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Action Alert: Get the charter school clause out of the state budget

Senator Tom with his Republican buddies presented a budget last Thursday which included the K-12 funding that had been agreed to previously but  a clause regarding charter schools had been added. It was yet another attempt at an end run around the democratic process, something that Senator Tom and others around the country have been doing in terms of education legislation. See Stand for Children Stands for the Rich and the Powerful to get a very clear example of how this has worked in other states.

Governor Gregoire has stated that she will not accept such a bill and you can view a video of her statement in full at The Capitol Record.

To ensure that Governor Gregoire stands firm and that our legislators remember that the people of the state of Washington have voted in general elections against charter schools three times please contact the governor and your representatives, and let them know that yes, we do need education in our state adequately funded and no, we don’t need charter schools.

Charter schools are not public schools but are education corporations. They have independent school boards that are run outside the jurisdiction of a school district and because of that, parents and students have no place to turn and no legal recourse if an issue or disagreement arises. Parent and teacher associations are usually not allowed or are discouraged and these charter franchises such as KIPP are run by private companies and individuals where there is a transfer of money from public coffers into the hands of individuals and corporations.

And don’t let anyone tell you differently, charter schools do take money away from public schools. To understand this, you can read the beautifully written OpEd piece by a parent in Brooklyn, How Charter Schools Can Hurt:

A few weeks ago, for three days in a row starting at 3 p.m., a representative from the Success Academy charter school that is scheduled to open this fall in adjacent Cobble Hill stood outside the doors of P.S. 261, handing out fliers and attempting to recruit its students. On day two, outraged teachers asked the man to leave. He refused. On day three, a loose group of teachers, parents and students occupied the sidewalk next to him. Heated words were exchanged. It wasn’t until the next day, when a schoolwide rally unfolded in the front yard — and cameras from NY1 arrived — that the representative vanished. I can’t help wondering if this is the educational future that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg had in mind when, in his State of the City address earlier this year, he called for 50 new charter schools to open in the next two years.

Here in the Brownstone Belt, most elementary schools are overwhelmingly populated either by poor minorities or middle- to upper-middle-class whites. P.S. 261 is one of a minority of Brooklyn primary schools that manages to be truly diverse — racially, ethnically and economically. While 35 percent of its student body qualifies for free lunch, it also attracts and retains children from professional families of all races and creeds, who work in law, media and the arts.

If Success Academy succeeds in luring away even a fraction of 261’s students, however, it could well create a snowball effect in which its middle-class population ends up fleeing. In New York City, school budgets are determined in part by the number of students who attend. So fewer kids at P.S. 261 would mean less money for the principal to spend on everything from teachers to class trips.

At the moment, P.S. 261 is doing pretty well. Just recently, the Trust for Public Land selected the school to have its playground renovated, while a science teacher, Carmelo Piazza (otherwise known as “Carmelo the Science Fellow,” a Brooklyn legend in his own right), received a $10,000 grant from AT&T to refurbish his lab, which will soon be filled with small reptiles.

For reasons understood only by the statistics-mad New York City Department of Education, P.S. 261 recently received a letter grade of “C.” It was also designated as a “school in need of improvement.” But so far, in my book, considering budget cuts that have wiped out close to a million dollars in three years and forced the school library to close for lack of a librarian, the place deserves an A or A-minus.

Other schools nearby could use help as well. Instead of sending taxpayer funds to another Success Academy, why not use that same money to try to turn some of Brooklyn’s less popular elementary schools into institutions that, like P.S. 261, attract parents from across the socioeconomic spectrum? In studies, a mix of rich and poor has been shown to lift up those at the bottom of the economic pile. As for the children of professional families, it’s surely better for them not to spend their entire lives around people exactly like them.

The apparent reason for opening a charter school in a gentrified neighborhood like Cobble Hill (or the Upper West Side, where a Success Academy opened last year) is to bring more middle-class and upper-middle-class families into the publicly funded charter system. But if the Success Academy succeeds in its mission, it could well end up destroying schools like P.S. 261 that already succeed in attracting these families. My daughter’s new friends include the children of both marketing executives and maintenance workers. At drop-off recently, I watched as she and a friend who lives in a nearby housing project walked hand in hand down the hall. In its promise of a more just world, the sight made me almost teary-eyed. I wonder how much longer those kinds of scenes will prevail.

To read this Op Ed in full, go to the New York Times Opinion Page.

I will leave you with this Education Radio program titled Charter Schools: The Great Scam of Our Time featuring Julie Cavanaugh, Lisa Donlan, Pauline Lipman, Brian Jones, William Watkins, Karen Lewis, and Kevin Kumashiro.

A great program.

Dora

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