Kerii Landry-Thomas, a graduate of Northside High School, is a Baton Rouge attorney. She began researching charter schools while investigating education options for her own child.
I have received numerous advertisements for the new schools opening up in the Baton Rouge area. If you listen to Pandora radio, then you too would have been bombarded with the commercials. I’ve heard of the small class sizes, great teachers, culture of academic achievement and the new computer labs that will be made available. Conversely, the commercials don’t state historically high teacher turn-over rate, the lack of books and other resources, and the lack of oversight for these charters. Moreover, most people don’t know that charters can do absolutely nothing during their 3-5 year contract and still get their public funding. In addition, they can pack up and leave if they don’t want to stay in the “local market” or set up under a new name and a new concept and get another contract from the local or state government. All while taking public funds from public schools. I discovered this information by reading and asking questions of both former teachers who worked at charter schools and former parents whose children attended. Charters are a sneaky way of privatizing education and financially enriching a few off the backs of the many.
Too often, “the many” are low income minority students whose parents or guardians may not ask a lot of questions because they have full faith that the charter schools will do what is advertised. In addition, it is easy to persuade someone to come to the shiny, new building with no track record if that person is searching for a better option than they believe is available now. At issue for me is the fact that charters have limited accountability compared to their public counterparts. Charters are not under the same obligation that public schools are to have policies that foster diverse school settings. Charters are not constitutionally mandated to provide an education to all students and charters have no obligation or loyalty to a community. The profit motive is the driving force and is paramount in their decision-making process. In addition, recent trends in Louisiana indicate that charters tend to pick the students who require the least maintenance possible and expel those that might not be able to meet academic test standards or those who have learning disabilities. After “cherry-picking” which students they wish to service, students with the most needs are sent back to public schools absent the state funding needed to provide services for them. (i.e. kids with behavior issues likely need extra tutoring, counseling and other additional support).
The purging process begins, usually after October, which is the time that schools receive funding from the State. Trend analysis of enrollment data for school systems with a significant charter presence clearly demonstrates that the enrollment numbers of public schools in the area go up after October. At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, I believe that the confluence of Common Core standards, high stakes testing and SPS (school performance scores) are clearly being used to demolish public schools and foster an environment primed for private charter school.
I implore my community to please pay attention and look beyond the used car salesman pitch from the private charter companies that promise “achievement”, “rigor”, and “an assurance that all kids achieve”. Here’s a question, observe if any of the folks promoting charters actually send their kids to charter schools. Heck, the folks making decisions about public schools don’t send their kids to public schools (e.g. Chas Roemer, president of BESE). Public schools are not perfect, but what they provide is a guaranteed opportunity for education for all kids, a mechanism for communities to participate in the direction that education will take and accountability. We don’t want power, especially the power of education to be in the hands of a few and that is where the private charter road leads if we don’t take a stand now.