Despite the second concerted legal attack on Washington charter schools in as many years, educators, parents and students are preparing for the new school year with enthusiasm.
As the Washington Roundtable recently reported, editorial boards across the state condemned the court challenge, which is being led by the teachers labor union, the Washington Education Association.
It turns out that Washington isn’t alone. Challenges to the funding of public charter schools or other campaigns to prevent their growth are unfolding across the U.S.
Strengthening Resolve Of Charter Communities
One effect, as in Washington, is to strengthen the resolve of charter school supporters, including parents and students in minority communities.
The NAACP at its recent annual meeting approved a resolution calling for a charter school moratorium. The organization asserted that charter schools have contributed to increased segregation and have had weak oversight.
However, according to U.S. News & World Report, “…critics of calls for a moratorium, including those who might normally align with the NAACP on other issues, argue that charter schools exist in part to address the very issue of inequality, and point out that they’ve been particularly beneficial for poor students and young African-American males.”
Challenge In Mississippi
In Mississippi, The Southern Poverty Law Center is calling on courts to rescind the funding mechanism for charter schools that exists under current state law. The lawsuit claims the state is siphoning taxpayer funds away from non-charter public schools, a similar argument made in both lawsuits filed in Washington.
Charter school parents in Mississippi fought back against the lawsuit. A non-profit group, Mississippi Justice Institute, filed a motion to intervene in the case. The group’s director Mike Hurst said, “SPLC’s lawsuit seeks to shut down charter schools and send these children back to schools that are not meeting their educational needs.”
Charter Growth In Massachusetts At Stake
In Massachusetts, stakeholders on both sides of the charter school debate are clashing over a proposed ballot question that would lift the state cap on the number of charter schools permitted to be in operation. The measure would allow for more charter schools in the lowest performing districts, some of which are predominately minority communities.
A first time candidate for the state House of Representatives, Marty Walz, writes in a Boston Herald op-ed that charter opponents are guilty of misdirection. She stated, “dig deeper, and you realize that the funding formula isn’t the issue. It’s a talking point that masks the real issue: teachers unions oppose public charter schools no matter how successful they are.”
She added, “…opposing more charter schools means blocking access to great schools for the 10,000 Boston families with children on charter school waiting lists, who are desperate to give their children a better education and a brighter future.”
New York City Controversy
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has continued to attack charter schools, with recent comments sparking city hall protests by parents. He asserted charters in New York have a history of excluding lower-performing kids, and union-run schools are doing better despite their lower scores.
The New York Post editorial board responded: “The mayor insisted his approach is outperforming charters in terms of ‘actually teaching kids.’ And that union-run schools are ‘doing better’ — despite their lower scores. (The proof? There isn’t any.)”
The Post continued: The mayor is “‘practically kicking kids who did well in the shins to try and please the teachers union,’ said school-reformer Jeremiah Kittredge. ‘De Blasio needs to realize that his approach isn’t working and that charter schools are the proven solution,’ said Sharita Moore-Willis, a charter parent from The Bronx.”
At the Reason Foundation’s blog, associate editor Robby Soave writes, “New York City’s failing public schools are still failing. They are failing, despite the herculean efforts of Mayor Bill de Blasio to throw money at the problem.”
“If this is the outcome of government-management and ‘local control’ – which, to my ears, is really just code for teachers union control – why should any parent prefer it?”
Interest in Washington state charter schools is also particularly strong in minority communities.
Somali Parents Aid Washington Charters
More than 70 percent of charter school students in Washington are racial minorities, compared to 43 percent of students at traditional public schools. Just last month the Washington Charter Schools Association convened its new Parent Steering Committee in partnership with the Somali Parents Association.
Separately, at a summer open house in Tacoma attended by Lens, educators gave prospective parents and students a look at the operations and values of charter schools.
Through a guided tour, kids engaged with teachers in a music class where they learned a short Samoan chant that integrated patterned clapping. In the next room, an energetic teacher led kids through an obstacle course, where he encouraged healthy competition by citing kids’ times.
In the cafeteria, guests were served lunch while they mingled with other parents, the board chair of the local charter school SOAR Academy, teachers at other local charters, and members of pro-charter organizations like Stand for Children.
Minority participation at the event was evident, and spanned from parents and kids to educators and top school leaders. SOAR board chair, Dr. Thelma Jackson, described her students as “wonderfully different.”
Jackson said she believes all students come to school with potential to learn and achieve, and the job of educators is to identify and build on that potential.
Forty-three states and Washington, D.C. have charter school laws. There are seven states that do not. They are Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia.