How to talk to your family about charter schools during the holidays

The holidays are a time of joy and relaxation but also uncomfortable conversations with family. Will Uncle Tommy go on another rant about windmills causing cancer? Does grandma still think Russia is the only reason Trump won?

So, what should you say when someone starts dissing traditional, neighborhood public schools and hyping up charter schools?

Charter schools generally perform academically about the same as neighborhood public schools.

Study after study show that, just like there are high and low performing neighborhood public schools, there are high and low performing charter schools.

In fact, because some charter schools effectively exclude special education students or expel students with perceived disciplinary issues, charter school academic success often can be overstated.

Charter schools can drain school district budgets, taking resources from neighborhood public school students.

Research is revealing that, in many states, school districts and the students they serve are undermined by policies that prioritize opening new charter schools.

For example, California’s unchecked charter school growth cost San Diego’s school district $65.9 million during the 2016–17 school year. That’s $620 less in funding a year for things like nurses, counselors, and computers for each neighborhood public school student.

Charter schools have been co-opted into a market-based model of providing education with winners and losers.

While some charter schools are founded and run by grassroots groups of parents and educators, many are run by large, corporate-like chains, such as Rocketship and KIPP.

Wealthy donors and organizations like the family who owns Walmart are bent on privatizing public education through the creation of a parallel education system in competition with neighborhood public schools.For example, since 1997, the Walton Family Foundation has invested more than $407 million in charter schools.

The seeds of today’s “school choice” movement were sewn in the years after desegregation.

Charter schools are more racially isolated than neighborhood public schools in virtually every state and large metropolitan area in the nation.

The vast majority of the school districts that have experienced state takeovers in the last 30 years are majority black and Latinx. Many subsequently were forced to allow for the creation of charter schools. Some middle and upper class, predominantly white communities are even using charter schools to opt out of neighborhood public schools.

This harkens back to the years following Brown v. Board of Education when southern legislatures enacted as many as 450 laws and resolutions attempting to discredit, block, postpone, limit, or evade school integration. Many of these acts allowed the re-direction of taxpayer dollars to benefit private schools, such as private school vouchers, as white Americans fled in record numbers from neighborhood public schools.

Even though most charter schools are nonprofit doesn’t mean the people who run them aren’t pocketing tons of taxpayer money.

Running a nonprofit charter school can be a highly lucrative undertaking. Some charter schools hire for-profit charter management organizations. Others rent buildings from real estate investors who specialize in charter school investment.

One charter school in California’s Bay Area rented school space at three and one-half times market rate from a company with business ties to its CEO. Through this and other schemes, the CEO diverted $2.7 million in taxpayer dollars without any supporting documents over a span of five years.

Public school systems should provide a great education to each and every student.

Students (and society alike) don’t need a public school system that creates winners and losers. They need smaller classes, better paid teachers, more support services, and cleaner and safer facilities.

Whatever you do during the holidays this year, don’t buy into the myth that the U.S. public education system is broken. There are countless neighborhood public schools around the country finding powerful and groundbreaking ways to educate students. There are hardworking, courageous teachers in every city and town across this land.

What’s broken is how we fund public education. Public schools simply need more resources, and, for that to happen, we don’t need anything all that complicated. Corporations must pay their fair share in taxes, and more resources must to go to the schools and communities that need them most.

Think public schools, water, transit, and other public goods should remain public?

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