Thursday, July 27th, 2017

Charter schools: The way of the future, or a Paul LePage pipedream?

Posted on April 08, 2013 in Perspectives
By Spencer McBreairty

Alex Greenlee | The Free Press

In recent months, several conservative governors in the U.S. – notably Chris Christie of New Jersey and Paul LePage of Maine – have come out strongly in favor of charter schools. In both cases, strong opposition has sprung up from the other side of the aisle.

Under the current system, enacted in 2011, students choosing to attend a charter school as opposed to a ‘traditional’ public school are funded by state money following them from the traditional school to their new one. This provision, seen by many as the only self-sustaining way to allow charter schools, is at the center of controversy. Administrators and parents in public schools argue that this siphons away crucial funding for an already underfunded public school system.

Skowhegan public schools, as noted in an April 1 article in the Bangor Daily News, saw 50 students and more than $450,000 leave with the arrival of two nearby charter schools. While this does amount to roughly $9,000 in loss per pupil, Maine as a whole spends roughly $15,000 per student per year, ranking as one of the states spending the most in the U.S. The losses, therefore, are actually less than what the school likely would have spent to educate those students.
According to LePage, the attacks on charter schools in Maine are unfair to the parents looking for the best educational option. And if, as the numbers seem to indicate, the charter schools can educate students for less, isn’t that a win-win across the board? Not so fast, say the Democrats – who believe bailing on the public school system is what makes it not work.

Studies have shown that charter and magnet schools work. A notable example, the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone, is consistently ranked among the top 20 high schools in the U.S. In cities such as Camden, New Jersey, where public schools are literally falling apart from defunding, charter schools are bringing Democrats and Republicans together as a locally-run, cheaper option to educate the city’s students.

The lesson Maine can take from Camden is that we cannot remove any option from the table. As a Democrat, I feel obligated to oppose charter schools or vouchers, as they seem to be infringing upon public schools. Yet part of me also sees the validity of a parent’s desire to seek the best education available for their child. In a time where job openings are few, a good education is the key to financial stability. Can we really begin scrapping ideas that could potentially alleviate some of the strain on our public education system?

It all comes down to one simple question: Can we handle the possibility that education as we know it has failed? It hasn’t failed everyone – the students in the one-room schoolhouse who end up going to Yale or Stanford are shining examples of what can happen in the current system. But poor education, as a result of the hugely consolidated, under-staffed larger schools, is directly linked to increased violent behavior, and in turn, a more violent community.

Education is not a simple issue. If Social Security is the one issue politicians never want to touch for fear of imminent political death, education must be the next rung on the ladder. But we see the successes charter schools are having nationwide, although they obviously are not free of corruption, as revealed by the problems at Portland’s Baxter Academy of Technology and Science.

Therefore, it appears that we must consider charter schools viable alternatives to the public school system in America. Perhaps in a decade we will find the charter school project has failed, and return to step one. But unless we try – and trying is what we owe every student – we will never know if the problems that persist in education can be solved.

I believe in public schools. As a product of a public school and a public university, I believe they are an important part of our society. That being said, they are not right for every student, and to educate without recognizing this ignores the possibility that students are unique and in need of individualized education. While I have never considered myself a fan of LePage, on this one issue it appears obvious that both sides can come together and negotiate.
Let charter schools come to Maine, as the state legislature has already said it should. We stand only to gain a more affordable educational alternative in the short run, and in the long run, the benefits are yet to be known.

  • Anonymous

    Donna, you should write an op-ed for the Free Press with all the above.

  • Anonymous

    Your logic doesn’t make sense to me. For one thing, Social Security hasn’t been a sacred cow in 15 years, and a Democratic President is right-this-very-minute beginning the process of dismantling the Social Security safety net. Education has also been under attack for about as long, ever since No Child Left Behind tied funding to “assessment” and began the process of discrediting and disempowering teachers and teachers unions. The school system in this country didn’t break because teachers suddenly forgot how to do their jobs, or because age-old principles suddenly ceased to apply — it was deliberately destroyed. The crisis in the school is a wholly manufactured one – starve schools of funding and hold them to ridiculous standards, then as they fall apart, move in with the forces of privatization. Pick on poor and minority areas first, because they are most vulnerable. And don’t forget: privatization means for-profit schools, which means *extracting* ever more money out of the school system and into the pockets of multinationals such as Pearson. This is all about getting at one of the last remaining streams of public money. High-performing charter schools are propaganda show-pieces, the con, the carrot — but the real plan is all stick.

  • Andy Warner

    Please tell me that somewhere, out there, you have a daughter, and that she believes just as you do.

  • “Follow the money.” – All The President’s Men

    We should not experiment on our children. A decade long failed experiment will ruin an entire generation. The “failure” of public schools around the country is due to the withdrawal of support for public education. Why has this support for full funding of public educaton and infrastructure maintenance disappeared? Who is it who is pushing this agenda? “Follow the money.”

    The Greatest Generation understood some basic principles about the value of using tax dollars for “the common good” – the middle class was not yet caught up in the consumer society – they had survived the Depression and WWII.

    Private educational institutions are exempt from any rules regarding screening for or serving children with disabilities. They can and will keep a child with a learning or other disability in the school (if the parents are making payments) to fall further and further behind unless the parents can pay a third party for private therapy and tutoring. Teachers do not have to be qualified in any way. They do not have to teach science or social studies, they do not have to adhere to school nutrition guidelines or provide free or reduced meals. They do not have to provide transportation, they do not have to be accredited – graduates may have limited options for higher education.

    Today, many are interested only in their wealth. Not only those who are weathy, but the middle and working classes have the delusion that lower taxes will result in an economy where they can and will move up. This is a fallacy – the United States has one of the least mobile societies of all industrialized nations – we are NOT the land of opportunity.

    Baby boomers embrace abandoning public education. Their children enjoyed the benefits of this support and are now no longer in school.

    The wealthy or wealthy wannabes who insist that a private education is best can afford the tuition AND the taxes but they are indiffernt to those children whose only option is free public schools. Their concerns are entirely selfish – a view encouraged by our culture which views wealth as virture, and poverty as sin.

    Business owners no longer want to contribute to the necessarily rising cost of educating their future employees and are enjoying the lowest corporate tax rates since WW2. They move their factories and engineering operations to third world nations where higher education is paid for by the state rather than support similar free access to higher education in this country or pay a reasonable salary to American graduates with high student loan debt.
    Owners of for-profit education mills want taxpayer money in their pockets. We won’t see these McSchools in underpopulated areas, only in Southern Maine where there are plenty of people living in McMansions. The shifting of tax dollars to these schools will further defund public schools in underpopulated areas.

    Those obsessed with shielding their children from exposure to modern science and are so zenophobic that they don’t want their children learning about other cultures work tirelessly to turn our public institutions into platforms for enforcing their religious and political values upon the entire population. They haven’t suceeded, so now they work to strip public schools of funding – “if we can’t beat them out, we can starve them out.” It is a puzzle why people so convinced they have been saved are worried their children will become “contaminated.” This fear is the lever they are using to convince the legislature we should put tax dollars into the pockets of their favorite religious institutions.

  • Narsbars

    It is all about freedom and the duties of being a parent. You are free to choose a public school. The ones in my area are failures. Two administrators for every teacher and teachers forced to spend their salary on school supplies.
    Duty: It is my duty to provide for my child the best way I know how. The school she attends is the best I can find. Until you respect teachers enough to pay them a good salary and get the politics, the no child left behind, B.S. off their backs so they can teach, I will take my tax money and save my child from a failed system.
    When I had a special needs child the school received 40K a year for that HOME SCHOOLED child and refused to give me copies of the text books or any teaching materials. The administration, not the teachers are the failure. Fix it and I would be glad to send my children.

  • StillRelaxin

    This push is coming from a man that sells charters by telling us that our public school students are among the worst in the nation (lie) or are so bad that they need special consideration to get into some colleges, also a lie. If you buy such lies then you should expect to get taken. All the while Mr. LePage and the business people he sells your kid’s education to will be laughing all the way to the bank.

  • KTinME

    I have experience with one charter school. It’s a good school, and fills a niche for a lot of kids who otherwise aren’t getting what they need at the public school. However – they claim 100% graduation, which is true. What they don’t say (and you don’t find out til it happens) is that they get rid of everyone in danger of failing – they send them back to the public schools – even if it means kicking them out two months before the end of their Senior year. Voila! 100% graduation rate. They also do their best not to accept students with special needs, as they are not equipped to deal with special needs. (Again, I am speaking about ONE particular charter school, not ALL of them in general, but I’m willing to bet my experience is not unique.) I am fine with parents sending their children to the school that is best for them. I am NOT fine with sending my tax dollars there. Public schools need all the money they can get to deal with all the students they have – they don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing their student population.

  • Anonymous

    If charters abide by the same federal, state and municipal laws, regulations and standards that are required by public schools I have no problem with them receiving public funding.

  • anon

    You’ve done an admirable job communicating how divisive this issue can be (and how individuals, including me, can feel internally torn between the competing priorities here). I’d be cautious before announcing the “success charter schools are having nationwide.” Studies have consistently found that nationwide, charter schools are more likely to deliver significantly worse results (37%) than they are to deliver significantly better results (17%), relative to their public school peers (2009 CREDO Stanford & DOE stats). The more difficult task is predicting which individual charter schools will be successful. Rather than deciding the issue of charter schools en masse, we need to make sure we have a rigorous, thoughtful, and accountable process for the approval and supervision of charter schools. Those with promising missions and solid support and governance should be given a chance. Unfortunately, the Governor sees charter schools as a matter of principle, and supports them almost universally (equally unfortunately, Portland’s mayor universally opposes them). Accountability and oversight are key here: it’s about finding ideas and schools that work, and rejecting those that don’t. Those who wish to determine the issue on principle, without looking at the specific schools and models, are purposefully ignoring the most important information we have to measure the value and viability of the proposed schools.

  • Ed Ecker

    It is all about “Freedom of Choice” !

  • Narsbars

    I am a Democrat, a Union member, and a liberal. The first thing I am is a father. My daughter is 15 and attends a charter school. She is getting an education, she is getting attention not possible in a public school, and after several months I have found that this is the best thing she has ever done.

    My child, my choice. We may or not save money as we have to have her stay there due to the distance and the board goes to $10,000.00 this year. As a working man I will apply for a scholarship but if not, she won’t be able to go. Tuition is not tax deductible for either state or federal taxes.

    Any parent that loves their child will always do what they think is best regardless of political leanings. I like teachers, I like teacher’s Unions. I support public schools and high quality charter schools. As long as they are not allowed to turn into profit centers at the expense of the children I will continue to approve of charter schools.
    My child. My taxes. My choice.

  • very well said …good info on a controversial subject….keep up the good work…