Thursday, January 25, 2018

Peeling Back the Layers of ‘Choice’ by Terri Michal

There are so many stories in the news about the mismanagement of finances by charter school companies.  There are stories of parents who are forced to move their child to a new charter school year after year because the ones they had chosen thus far were far less than what their child needed, and deserved. There are stories of property management companies charging outrageous amounts in rent to charter schools. There are stories of charter schools cherry picking their students and ‘counseling out’ special needs students.  I can find reports and data that show a majority of charter schools fare no better than traditional public schools. I can find a story for just about every injustice in the charter school vs. public school argument that you can imagine.
But I won’t. There is no purpose, the line is drawn in the sand. No quicker would charter school proponents convince me that parents are the ones that have choice in this charter school movement than I could convince them that the real choice belongs to our legislators to more equitably fund our schools.
We have dug our heels in. Both sides are at an impasse concerning the stories that tug at our heart strings and the data that supports our views.
So what are we left with? The elephant in the room.  We talk all around the subject, coming up with all sorts of ‘solutions’ to improve public education. The truth is, however, nothing will work on a large scale, nothing will improve our struggling schools across the board until we are ready to face that elephant.
The way I see it, it comes in three forms:
Poverty. Alabama is the 6th poorest state in the nation, and the 4th highest in childhood poverty.  For our public schools to move forward we need, for a start, wrap around services to ensure the children are prepared to receive the instruction that is presented to them.  It’s hard to learn when you are hungry, have untreated health problems, or no consistent place to lay your head at night.  Our public schools in Alabama have the power to do this through Innovation Waivers.
Racism. Segregation still exists.  In 2014 Alabama had 54 desegregation orders still open, the second most in the nation.  While working in a district still under a desegregation order here in Alabama I had a white Chamber of Commerce employee tell me that the reason the predominately black side of town had no AP classes in their schools was because those students ‘weren’t capable of taking them’.
 Education laws, including the Alabama Accountability Act and the Alabama School Choice and Student Opportunity Act, were written and sponsored by a predominately white Legislature, with the predominately black minority in opposition. This predominately white establishment has singled out a predominately black feeder system in Montgomery and the entirety of Birmingham City Schools, which is 97% black and brown students, to be ground zero for the charter school movement.  
Greed. When the Alabama Accountability Act was passed it was said to be a mechanism for helping low-income students get out of low-performing public schools. According to Larry Lee, in 2017 3,458 students across the state were on scholarship through the AAA.  Of these, 967 went to students “zoned” to attend a “failing school”. Since the passing of this bill, 14,914 scholarships have been awarded and over 93 Million dollars have been collected.  That is well over the $3500 scholarship that each student received. So, not only are a majority of the students that have benefited from vouchers NOT from failing schools, but the Scholarship Granting Organizations are making millions.  Supporters of the bill have since been forced to admit that the bill was not the mechanism for helping low-income students like it was originally touted to be.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the money one can make by investing in Charter Schools.  In 2000, President Bill Clinton established the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC). Concerning this, Stephen Vita with Investopidia states: “NMTC provides a tax-advantaged way and direct way for hedge funds to cash in on the charter school juggernaut. The NMTC has two components: a 39% tax credit on charter schools contributions over a seven-year period plus the ability to collect interest on the money they contribute. A hedge fund could double its investment in seven years, and the tax credit can be combined with other tax breaks without limit. It is not surprising that hedge funds have flocked to this deal handed out by the federal government.”  An added advantage? The investment is being made on an item created with the tax payer’s dollars, a funding source that is guaranteed.  
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. If, indeed, Birmingham City Schools is turned into a conversion school district, the entire $280 million dollar budget would potentially be behind the doors of private management companies.
So, let’s put all of this into focus: On Thursday, January 25th there will be hundreds of people at an event at the State House in Montgomery touting school choice, but on January 23rd in Birmingham, ground zero for the charter school movement, there will be about 20 people at the Board’s regular called work session.
The squeaky wheel gets the oil, but that doesn’t mean the motor is going to work.
No matter the stories cited or the data quoted on both sides of this argument, the truth does not change: Until Alabama’s Legislature values ALL STUDENTS, our high poverty students and our black and brown students will struggle.
What will influence this change? The ‘majority’ truly caring about the ‘minority’.
I say to ALL of our communities in Alabama: It’s time we start eating this elephant a bite at a time.
#StandUp #SpeakOut #VoteSmart #BeTheChange

1 comment:

  1. Poignant and thoughtful argument. Who will STAND for children? How is the status quo allowed to be able to speak for people that they wouldn't even live next door to--how many participating in this meeting at the capitol, actually live in the areas where the students will be targeted for enrollment. Ultimately, it is a matter of sincerity and TRUE concern...about the children, the community and public education.


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