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The Washington State Supreme Court voted 6-3 to strike down charter schools, saying they “aren’t governed by elected boards and therefore not accountable to voters.” Read the decision here

Some background: In November 2012, voters approved a referendum to establish as many as 40 charter schools in the state. Charter school opponents became “Alarmed over the lack of local accountability and fiscal impacts of the Act” and filed a lawsuit against the network. The Washington State constitution says funding must be given to “common schools”, which were essentially defined as traditional public schools. The main complain is, charters and other school choice options are “selective” and force traditional schools to take “problem students.” The schools must also be “uniform”, or the same. If charters have lotteries and restrictions public schools do not have, then the schools are no longer uniform and charters cannot be provided public funding.

Delaware has a similar constitutional law which requires the government to fund a public education system, though it does not say the schools have to be run by the government, only provided. But the point is the same: these rules were set up not to ensure everyone an education, but to make sure as very few kids would be able to have an option besides the traditional public school. The way public schools are funded requires as many kids as possible to get into the buildings so the schools receive money.
Anti-charter proponents celebrated; at long last, they have succeeded in their quest to prevent students from going to a charter school. Most of these children will either end up home-schooled, sent to a private school which can take them, or, most likely, sent back to traditional public school where their attendance will ensure the schools get more taxpayer dollars and make any sort of education reform even more unlikely. Sadly, some adults are so opposed to school choice, the idea that a child might leave public school, that they openly cheer for the demise of alternative schools and education freedom just to make sure public schools (and those whose livelihood derives from public schools) keep getting money AND the status quo is maintained.
If you don’t think there is a problem yet, keep in mind SAT and ACT scores are flat, or even in decline. Here’s an article from left-leaning Slate acknowledging this.
The excuses abound: more students are taking the test (which is 1. dumb policy and 2. aren’t we supposed to improve everyone’s education? Isn’t that the whole point of No Child Left Behind?), Common Core State Standards are so stringent they are raising the bar too fast, the SAT and ACT are not fully aligned with student goals. The problem with this argument is, scores have declined for decades now in reading, and since 2006 writing scores declined across all ethnic and gender groups, and is now being eliminated from the SAT. Therefore, blaming Common Core for raising the bar and making the test now too difficult is a convenient overlook of the long-term problems we’ve had in this country.
What is not acknowledged is the stark reality: Most students just are not ready for college. Some ought not to go, but even then too many students are graduating high school lacking the basic skills needed to obtain a decent-paying job and career advancement opportunities. Of course, every entity except our current education system is to blame.
The same people who go after charters almost always include homeschooling and private schooling as a problem as well. Their attacks on charters and choice are little more than a thinly veiled effort to push all students to attend public schools, no matter how good or bad the school is run, no matter how ridiculous the government mandates are, or even irregardless of whether public education is right for every child.
Take the battle over HB 50, the Opt-Out bill. Supporters see this as a way for parents to have a say in their child’s education and keep their children from having to submit to a standardized test many feel is a problem. We agree- parents should be allowed to have a say in their child’s education, and absolutely students, especially in public schools, are over-tested. But what HB 50 supporters do not seem to understand is how futile their efforts are the long run, the “big picture” if you will. HB50 supporters seem to believe if you just get rid of Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), somehow everything will be alright in the end. But they continue to believe in the system which gave them SBAC, they will find the bureaucracy will just provide a new program and standardized tests with similar, if only slightly different, objectives.  As long as they continue to keep the current system of education in place, there will be no real change.
Supporters of HB50 and anti-testing advocates also need to find a common alternative to Common Core/SBAC which will give principals the data they need to measure student progress and teacher competence. There are, in fact, teachers who are incompetent; admitting this is not “anti-teacher”, but a reality that no organization has complete competence from every single member. Not every student is motivated to learn on their own. Not every school is run well, or run poorly. As long as a method of measuring student progress is offered, education progress can be made.

Education Savings Accounts by themselves will not improve our education system, but they will move us forward when parents realize they do have the power to improve their children’s education if they want to. It’s parents, not school boards, not school districts, not teacher’s unions, not elected officials, not employees of the state Department of Education, not employees of the U.S. Department of Education, not private sector companies, who ought to have the final say in how their child is education. With a more competitive education system in place, one which empowers teachers and principals to do what is right, one which allows parents to have choices beyond what is in their zip code, education will improve.

And for those who say it won’t, look at our university system. We have arguably the best system on the planet, and there are plenty of public and private schools to go to. Oh, and public schools receive plenty of funding and are in no danger of going under, even though the government provides student loans to students who might go to a private school.

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Hispanic CREO2014

photo: hcreo.com

Yesterday, January 7, our Director of the Center for Economic Policy and Analysis (CEPA) Omar Borla appeared on 104.1 and 930 AM “La Exitosa” (the success) on the Cristian Tijerino show for a Spanish-language interview about the most recent Friedman Foundation poll on attitudes toward school choice. The interview transcript is available by request and we will begin to integrate more content towards the Hispanic community, which comprises nearly 8% of the state’s total population.

The observation Cristian made was that for many Hispanic families, lack of information about school choice options prevents them from ever considering alternatives such as charter schools or private schools. Since many parents are either not able or capable of homeschooling or cyber-schooling their children they are often left in the traditional public school system, typically in schools which lack the resources to properly educate Hispanic children. Many Hispanic children come from homes where one or both parents do not speak English and it is this language barrier which discourages many parents from being more active in their children’s education, whether that means not going to parent-teacher conferences or being able to help with homework.

Omar explained the poll results and pointed out the huge enthusiasm gap between people of ALL groups who supporter school choice versus those who don’t. For Hispanics 74% of parents and for Blacks over 70% of parents were supportive of the idea of charters and vouchers. You can read the full results by clicking that link but there were overwhelming majorities in every demographic group: ethnicity, age, gender, party affiliation, among others.

In regards to the Hispanic community, where language is often a barrier, the question is what to do to help bridge this gap. Cristian pointed out that in addition to a lack of information about education alternatives, two other barriers which exist are: lack of interest with many parents in regards to the children’s education (NOT the same as not caring- just means by and large accepting the status quo without personally seeking alternatives) and also the negative perception floated around about alternatives. Cristian cited one parent who told her he though charter schools were for “kids with learning problems.” Many told her they thought charter schools are private schools and thus they cannot afford them.

Omar answered this by showing a data point where support for charter schools, vouchers, and Education Savings Accounts went up in every demographic when the options were explained, meaning more people were supportive when the understood exactly what these ideas were. Understandably school choice isn’t good for every child but parents can and should be better educated about these opportunities. Efforts to misinform parents about what these options are (how else would a parent think charter schools were private schools) are well underway and it’s up to us to counter these false perceptions.

At the end of the day we have only one question for parents, grandparents, legal guardians, educators, principals, elected officials, appointed officials, community leaders, and everyone else: Of all these groups,  who is likely to know best what is best for the child? We’re going out on a limb and saying “Education Department bureaucrats” and “elected officials” are not going to receive the majority of votes.

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