PAA opposes House charter school bill

This is the press release PAA sent out today:

Parents Across America opposes bill that would increase charter schools

National grassroots group: HR 2218 should give priority to children,not charter operators

July 5, 2011 – For immediate release

Contact: Julie Woestehoff, 773-538-1135 or pure@pureparents.org

Caroline Grannan, cgrannan@gmail.com, 415/412-5758

Today, Parents Across America (PAA), a grassroots organization representing public school parents from across the United States, released a position paper opposing HR 2218, the so-called “Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act.”

As parents, we fear that too much of this bill seems designed to alter a current law not to better serve our children but because it’s ‘not meeting the needs of the charter school community,’ as the Bill Summary puts it,” explained PAA founding member Julie Woestehoff of Chicago. “We believe that children, not charter school operators, should be the priority.”

The bill would provide extra support for charter school expansion, including providing new incentives for raising or abolishing charter school caps, and for taking decisions for authorizing new charter schools away from local school boards – despite substantial research showing that charter schools overall are no better than traditional neighborhood schools. The bill supplements charter school facilities funding and adds incentives for virtual (Internet-based) charter schools.

The PAA position paper, released on July 5, said: “We are concerned that the overall effect of the bill will be to rapidly increase the quantity and not the quality of charter schools, without the necessary safeguards, and to weaken the public school system, which we believe is the very backbone of democracy.” The organization is sending a letter announcing the statement to all members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which recently approved HR 2218, and to the members of the US Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. PAA members are also sending the statement to their own congressional representatives.

The PAA statement said the organization had hoped that HR2218 would address “concerns about the lack of equity, quality, parental rights, and accountability of many charter schools.” The organization recognized that “the bill makes some progress toward those goals” and offered to work to improve HR2218 “in order to assure better charter school transparency, accountability and governance, so that they fulfill the role … of partners in improving the overall quality of our nation’s public schools.”

PAA founding member and New Orleans parent advocate Karran Harper Royal said: “We need legislation that provides relief for parents who are forced to choose a charter school when the charter takes over the neighborhood school” – a situation that is particularly troubling in her city, where the school system was dismantled after Hurricane Katrina. “When students must compete for access in a lottery, they can be left without a school to attend in their neighborhood. And a concern that affects the lives of many families is the way students with disabilities have been systematically excluded or pushed out of many charter schools.”

Albany, N.Y., parent and PAA founding member Mark Mishler added his concerns about the bill’s lack of assistance to a school district like his. “The charter school industry has targeted our relatively small urban district with an over-saturation of charters that causes a financial drain, without concern for the impact on the majority of students who will continue to attend the public schools.”

The organization doesn’t criticize parents for choosing charter schools, Woestehoff emphasized. “We understand why parents might be attracted to charter schools because of the disinvestment in traditional neighborhood schools under the current administration,” she said. “Parents want their children to attend schools that are important to people in power, and that get the funding they need to provide a high-quality education. Right now, charter schools fit that description more than traditional neighborhood schools. We feel that this is unfair and undemocratic, and that all schools should receive equal resources.”

The PAA statement called for improvements in the bill, including replacing its call for centralized state chartering entities with “guarantees that there will be parent and community input in the charter school authorizing process” and “the right of local communities to approve or disapprove the establishment of charter schools in their communities, either through direct vote or through their school boards or other locally elected body.”

PAA urged lawmakers to include in the bill: prohibitions on charter school enrollment processes that pose a barrier to families: transparency requirements on school procedures, discipline, attrition and governance; and continued caps on new charter schools until improved oversight can assure the schools’ quality.

The statement concludes: “There is no reasonable rationale for using taxpayer funds to build more charter schools until and unless the federal government provides resources to build and renovate our traditional public schools, especially in underfunded and overcrowded urban districts, proportional to the number of students currently enrolled in them.”

Some problems with charter schools:

  • Charter school achievement overall is no better than that of traditional public schools.
  • Charter schools drain resources from traditional public schools and school districts.
  • Charter schools do not serve their share of the highest-need, most at-risk children.
  • Charter schools are not accountable to the public or to their own school communities.
  • Charter schools are often marked by often-secretly selective or exclusive admissions processes, including lengthy application forms requiring essays, teacher recommendations and more; pre-enrollment tests; and signed agreements to parent volunteer hours.
  • Charter schools are often marked by very high attrition – including the schools that are hailed for supposedly high graduation and college matriculation rates.
  • Charter schools provide fertile ground for incompetent or dishonest operators and have too often been marked by financial mismanagement or criminal behavior.
  • Charter schools consume far more than their share of the time and attention of school boards, to the detriment of traditional public schools.

A detailed fact sheet referencing some of the many recent reports of charter school problems is here.

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