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March 28, 2010

Charter Schools: Under the "Pretense of Loving Liberty"

Ever wonder where the money comes from for the charter school movement? Follow the money and you get a sense of who really benefits from all this choice: it’s not the kids.

Rhode Island’s General Assembly recently voted to raise the limit on charter schools from 20 to 35. Governor Donald Carcieri was quick to sign the measure and voice his support for charter school growth.

"It is imperative that we offer students challenging environments in which to learn," Carcieri stated.

The statement should have clarified that by this the Governor meant new challenging environments: just one month earlier the Governor proposed the largest cut to education spending in almost two decades according to the Providence Journal.

Central Falls, the state’s poorest city as well as ground zero in the nation’s war on public school teachers and institutions, is slated to lose 1.7 million under the Governor’s budget.

This is the same city in which the superintendent recommended, and Rhode Islander's Commissioner of Education approved, the termination of every teacher at the sole high school. This misguided effort to "turn around" this low-performing school was prompted by President Obama's "Race to the Top," an ill-conceived state competition for education funding.

Pawtucket, another high-poverty district in Rhode Island, will lose $2.5 million under the budget. In this same budget, the Governor allocated an additional $7.2 million dollars to expand five charter schools and create two others.

Millions of state education dollars are being diverted from neighborhood schools and handed over to quasi-private entities, some with no track record of success. The strategy is to starve the public sector and simultaneously portray the private sector as the only remaining solution.

Proponents of charter schools do their best to depict their movement as a grassroots campaign driven by parents and children, but this is inaccurate.

The Rhode Island League of Charter Schools has a lobbying partner: Advocacy Solutions. This company’s clients include Delta Dental of Rhode Island, Verizon, and National Grid.

On its website, Advocacy Solutions takes great pride in its manufactured grassroots campaigns to facilitate charter school growth in other states, admitting it was hired by the Connecticut Alliance for Great Schools to "build a grassroots network of supporters and to generate a groundswell of grassroots letters, emails, and calls to state legislators’ offices." The result of this work: a substantial increase in funding for Connecticut’s charter schools.

Under the "pretense of loving liberty," words penned by President Abraham Lincoln in his rail against hypocrisy, but equally applicable to today's charter school proponents, education reformers now trumpet a child’s right to a quality education. But from where I stand, I see more pretense than liberty. The choice, if any, that students will gain, will be one that curtails their liberties by eroding the quality of education they receive.

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