Posted in Charters, Choice, Indiana, vouchers

Choice – No Choice, Part II, Choosing Profits over Children

A few weeks ago I posted Choice – No Choice, a rant about how the “choice” that “reformers” are so excited about is selective. They don’t, for example, want parents to have the choice of opting out of “the test.”

“Reformers” are all for giving parents “choice” when it comes to “choosing” a private or charter school, but not when it comes to high stakes achievement tests.

IS THE CHOICE ONLY FOR PROFIT?

The “choice” it seems, is only among ways that will put money into corporate or church pockets. Private school coffers (vouchers) and corporate CMOs (charters) are part of the “choice” parents can exercise. In other words, we can use vouchers to give public tax money to churches and we can enrich unaccountable charter schools, their corporate boards, and CEOs. However, parents don’t have any choice when it comes to restricting the amount of tax dollars flowing into the pockets of Pearson and McGraw-Hill. Everyone must take “the test.” Our state legislators have made that “choice” for us all.

In the early years of “reform,” we were told that “choice” would open up the public schools to competition. Good schools would proliferate and the bad ones (the ones with poor kids) would close. “Choice” was important because it would improve education for everyone.

When “reformers” found out how hard educating students actually was, however, that reason fell by the wayside and we are now told that parents should have “choice” for “choice’s” sake. We’re told that parents ought to have the option of public funding for their children’s education no matter where they choose to send them. Thus we have the situation in Indiana where millions of tax dollars are going to “failing” private schools and charters.

And by “failing” schools, I mean those schools with high numbers of poor children. Since the only way “reformers” can come up with to judge the quality of schools is by test scores, and we know that standardized tests measure a child’s economic status more than anything else, it’s generally safe to assume that a “failing” school is one with high numbers of poor children.

Could it be that getting all that taxpayer money into the church and corporate pockets was the purpose of “choice” in the first place?

MONEY FOR PRIVATIZATION

Vouchers now cost the taxpayers of Indiana $135 million. More millions are going to charter schools run by unaccountable corporate boards instead of publicly elected school boards. And Indiana has had their share of charter schools which have squandered funds meant for children’s education.

That’s more than $135 million that the taxpayers of Indiana paid so that the state could support quality public schools for everyone. That’s more than $135 million that could should have been used for programs and for wraparound services for all children, especially those in need. It should have been used for services like full-time school nurses, social workers, and guidance counselors. It should have been used for programs like the arts and physical education more than once a week, libraries staffed by librarians, and academic support services for struggling students.

Instead, public schools are losing much needed funds which get funneled into private schools and privately run charter schools.

NO BETTER

Do students who attend private and privately run schools receive a better education?

D and F private schools awarded more than $8 million in vouchers

According to state accountability letter grades, released earlier this year, 16 private voucher schools received a grade of D or F. Ten of the 16 private schools were in Allen and Marion counties.

Horizon Christian Academy in Fort Wayne was the largest recipient receiving $1,306,617 in vouchers. The school earned a letter grade of F in 2015.

Note: The Horizon schools in Fort Wayne, were originally charter schools. Ball State University withdrew their charters because of poor performance, so they reopened as private schools

Most Indianapolis charter schools scored below the Indianapolis Public Schools average on ISTEP

Many Indiana schools saw rock-bottom passing rates on last year’s tougher ISTEP exam but in a city where public and charter schools compete for students, it’s worth noting that a majority of charter schools in the city had passing rates below the district’s average.

Just 29.1 percent of Indianapolis Public Schools students passed the 2015 ISTEP. That’s far below the statewide average of 52.5 percent but many charters posted even lower scores. Three of the charter schools that had the lowest scores in the city have since closed.

Voucher program promotes religion, not better education

Voucher students were eligible to receive $134.7 million in taxpayer-funded tuition assistance this year, the report said. Ninety-nine percent of the more than 300 private schools that enroll voucher students are religious schools. With maybe three exceptions, those are Christian schools, primarily Catholic, Lutheran or Evangelical Protestant.

Proponents used to argue that the program saved the state money, because it would have cost more to send the kids to public schools. But with a majority of voucher students never having attending public school, they can no longer make that claim.

When the voucher program was created in 2011, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels emphasized the idea that students should attend a public school for a year to qualify. It was only fair, he said, that public schools should get a chance to show they could meet the children’s needs. But that idea fell by the wayside as legislators created additional ways to qualify.

Yes, there are successful private and charter schools in our state, just as there are successful public schools in Indiana. It’s important to understand, however, that private and charter schools, as a group, do not do any better than public schools as a group.

And if they don’t do any better, why don’t we use public funds for all of our public school students? Why don’t we provide extra resources for our most difficult to educate students: students for whom English is a second language, students who come from impoverished backgrounds, and students who have difficulty learning.

Public funds ought to go to public schools and every neighborhood and town ought to have fully funded, high quality public schools for their children.

For all children.

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Author:

Retired after 35 years in public education.