Wednesday, November 22, 2017

DC: Should Charters Be Paid More?

Spoiler alert:

When Monday comes, however, the city stops treating its children — and the public schools they attend — equally. 

Sigh. That is, I'm sure, the view of some DC public parks. But let's consider what we would see if we went to a DC charter park. The charter park would be surrounded by a fence, and only some children would be allowed in through the gate. Mind you, it wouldn't always be explicit. It might turn out, for instance, that the gate is narrow and you can't fit a wheelchair through it. Or the playground monitors might keep yelling at certain children every two minutes until those children gave up and left. And of course every child would have to go through an application process first.

That's what happens to the children of DC on Monday morning-- the charter and choice schools of DC stop treating the children of DC equally.

The complaint from charters is predictable. Once upon a time part of the charter brag was that they could accomplish more with less. Inevitably, they decided that "less" wasn't enough. You might blame that on greed, but I'm more inclined to believe that they learned that their claim about being able to do more with less was.... excessively hopeful? Aspirational? Flat out wrong? Take your pick.

So now they find themselves up against one of the basic lies of charter and voucher systems, the lie that we can fund multiple school systems for the same money we spent to fund (or in DC[s case, underfund) a single system.

Until that lie is addressed by legislators, the problem will remain-- tax dollars may leave public schools, but many costs stay behind. It's a zero sum game and somebody will have to lose.

Charters don't want to lose, and that's understandable. But the plea here is that the multiple systems all have equal standing, so they should get equal funding.

That's incorrect, and to see why, I refer you back to the opening of this piece. Charters and voucher schools do not do equal work, and do not make an equal commitment to educate any and all students. Charter and voucher schools do not make an equal commitment to stay open and operating even if "business reasons" argue otherwise. Charters in fact enjoy one tool that public schools do not have-- charters can control their expenses by controlling their staffing (just keep churning cheap entry level teachers) and by controlling their student body (keep those high-cost students with special needs out of here).

In short, charter schools are not public schools (and the voucher schools of DC are certainly not public schools). The field is not level, the playground is not open to everyone, and not everyone has made a commitment to keep the playground open and operating for all students, no matter what. When charters decide they want to behave like real public schools, then and only then will they have earned the same funding that public schools receive from taxpayers.

1 comment:

  1. For a little extra instruction, those charter folks should go visit playgrounds in different parts of DC during the week, while school is in session: in the cushy Capitol Hill neighborhood, for example, many of those parks are teeming with preschoolers brought there primarily by nannies, while in poor areas of the city, many of those (much-neglected) parks and playgrounds are virtually empty at those times.

    Maybe those charter operators, who will theoretically have the opportunity to educate these same children in the next 3-5 years, would benefit from asking themselves what drives this disparity....