Community & Editorial
Charter schools Initiative 1240 is a bad investment in our children’s education
Three times over 16 years, Washington state voters have been asked to consider allowing charter schools. Each time voters said “No.” On Nov. 6, the same question of whether or not we should allocate tax dollars to fund charter schools comes before us, this time as Initiative 1240 (I-1240).
Voters again need to say no.
Charter schools are quasi-public schools that are allowed flexibility from certain government regulations in operations and curricula in exchange for mandated accountability for student outcomes. Run by private organizations, the schools may or may not have any oversight. They can limit the number of students. And they are not required to have teachers’ unions, nor can any teacher join an existing union.
Charter schools receive funding by tapping into state dollars already allocated for students to attend public schools. Many charter schools are able to raise additional dollars from private donors. One famous example is the acclaimed Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City. The school’s annual per-pupil spending is roughly $23,000, thanks to assistance from private investment bankers. No traditional public school district could ever hope to equal that amount.
Big-money support is reflected in I-1240 funding. The local “Yes on I-1240” campaign has already raised $4 million, with nearly $3 million coming from six families linked to Microsoft and Amazon.
So what’s the allure? For many parents, it’s choice: You choose to enroll in a charter school. Some parents of poor or immigrant children may be convinced this choice is good, even if they’re intimidated by the difficult application process.
It’s certainly not motivated by outcomes. Stanford University’s 2009 peer-reviewed study of charter schools, which covered more than two-thirds of the nation’s charter school population, found that 17 percent of charters score better than traditional public schools, while 46 percent do the same and 37 percent fare worse.
Statistics show that charter schools underserve special education and English as a Second Language (ESL) students and homeless youth. In New York City, there are 50,000 homeless students and 130 charter schools. To be on par with percentages reflected in the city’s public schools, charter schools should enroll roughly 1,500 homeless students. In reality, the city’s charter schools have enrolled only 100. Elsewhere across the country, most charters don’t even mention homeless youth, with programs in California and Arizona being the exceptions.
In Washington, out of a 2010 school population of close to 1 million students, 18,062 were homeless. (Sadly, the number of homeless students has grown: In 2008 it was 5,835; in 2009 it was 7,928.) Even while I-1240’s language acknowledges special education and ESL students, it doesn’t mention homeless youth. In short, it ignores them and their parents.
But the federal McKinney-Vento Act mandates a public education system for homeless youth. It states that homeless students are entitled to free and appropriate schooling, cannot be separated from the mainstream school environment, and have the right to attend their school of origin or a school where they currently reside.
The act also requires each school district maintain its own local homeless education liaison. Seattle Public Schools has one. Under I-1240, each charter school would constitute its own district, so each charter school would have to supply its own liaison. It’s hard to imagine how each single charter school could provide the necessary help to homeless students in need.
The question of how best to serve homeless students fuels an ongoing debate. In the research article “Separate & Unequal in the Same Classroom: Homeless Students in America’s Public Schools,” Eric S. Tars, an attorney for the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, writes:
“Although these new charter schools would be theoretically optional for homeless students, history indicates that homeless students will be pressured into attending these special schools, either actively or through the district’s failure to provide adequate services at mainstream schools. Additionally, because such specialized charter schools are often started with a combination of public and private dollars, if they lose some of that funding, the result will be the exact segregated, under-resourced schools the [McKinney-Vento] Act sought to prevent.”
Currently, Washington ranks in the bottom quarter of states when it comes to public school funding. By approving I-1240 and bringing on more underfunded schools — charter schools — we won’t help our most vulnerable students. The bottom line is that charter schools have not proven their worth in innovation, accountability or outcomes. I-1240 would be no different.
This November, I urge you to vote no on I-1240.
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