Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Charter

A Charter is defined as:

  1. 1.
    a written grant by a country's legislative or sovereign power, by which an institution such as a company, college, or city is created and its rights and privileges defined.
  2. 2.
    the reservation of an aircraft, boat, or bus for private use.

    "a plane on charter to a multinational company"

    synonyms:hire, hiring, lease, leasing, rent, rental, renting; More
  1. 1.
    grant a charter to (a city, college, or other institution).

    "the company was chartered in 1553"
  2. 2.
    reserve (an aircraft, boat, or bus) for private use.

    "he chartered a plane to take him to Paris"

    synonyms:hire, lease, rent;  

To understand the issues around charter schools is to truly understand the difference between what is a public school versus that of a private school.   And as I said in the Last Word blog I will not write anymore about the issues that surround the strike as they are simply more complex and too personal for me to properly comment on them.

But I read this today and thought this is the key issue - funding.  Our schools from K-12 (now pre-k) throughout post secondary have been inadequately funded for decades.  I wrote about the switch to neoliberal education in He/She/They Said,  that changed the goal and emphasis of college and in turn led to the slow decline of federal funding, the reliances upon endowments, sports programs and of course tuition.  That is why we have the student loan debt of today as we have found out that we can predict like a Magic 8 Ball the carreers and jobs in demand in 4 years and have fully functioning trained workforce ready to step into those private sector jobs that have convinced the leaders in Education that this is what they need and want.  And oddly it is never enough unless they are from of course Private universities that were their alma mater as we have come to learn from the US World and News Reports annual rankings.

So when the idea of charter schools came they were to resolve the problems of students arriving to the colleges unprepared and unable to do the minor skills required to meet the standards established by the private sector.  The universities did not have the time nor apparently the skills nor abilities to actually work with those students deemed so unfit so they just let them take longer to complete their degrees and charge them more for it or drop out and still pay for it.  Seems clearly it has been a system of bait switch bribe and hide for quite sometime now.

And of course this year we have the lowest SAT scores in a decade or so which means all that testing and all that hysteria was right, the public schools have failed.  But what is not said is how many of the eligible student body took SAT's this year - from all the graduating classes across the country.   Would that not be an interesting number.  Say 300K graduated and only 100K took the test. Hmm?  And if those are the best and brightest who were expected to go to college failed, where did they go to school? Suburban/Urban? Student demographics?  What is their family  background, from color to socioeconomic class? Note that I never read any of that data,  in a country that mines for data as Africa mines for diamonds.  Cause if the goodest  bestest and smartest could not pass maybe its not them it might be the test.  Cause these kids have been the testing guinea pigs for the last 4 years and they have no problem filling in a sheet or clicking a box.  They are the test monkeys as they are way past the guinea pig stage.

And to understand that truly charter is another word for private but using public funds.  It was once referred to as voucher education but that was never taking off so now they came up with a new scheme/plan to privatize public education.  That is your oxymoron right there.  See I am educated and quite coherent I just don't say it in the way people want to hear it.

And that funding measurement and distribution that is already so convoluted and complex and putting public school kids at risk for years that it has finally across several states, not just Washington, their State Supreme Courts are demanding adequate funding as demanded by their respective constitutions. We have seen it in Kansas, Nebraska, Louisana and I suspect Wisconsin is not far behind.

It has been an ugly battle and as I have tried to explain to people that this is the strike that is ground zero, the backyard of all things Gates in a city who has had no labor upheaval, no dramatic racial riots or any true economic downturns since the 70s. The last strike in the schools in 1987 lasted 19 days and was resolved in the Court.   So it tells you it was not a pretty ending in the least when anything is decided on your behalf for you. And now it has come again full circle.  This strike and the decision about Charter Schools are as the article below states - the perfect storm.

**and for the record that is Franklin the school a few blocks from my home, I know several of those teachers in that photo by name whom I like, and  it is one of the few schools I sub at almost weekly. They are good people in a tough area but yet that school works in ways that never stop surprising me. It is a good thing and I look forward to subbing there again but I go out of my to not walk by there despite that the light rail is there, my bank is there and it is a major transit hub.  I cannot say I am against nor with them as I need to stay out of this fight for my own sanity. 

A perfect education storm in Washington state

Washington state is in the center of a perfect storm over education.

Seattle public school teachers are on strike over issues including evaluations, pay and the length of the school day. The strike, called by the 5,000-member teachers’ union, started on Wednesday, Sept. 9, the day the 2015-16 school year was supposed to start.

The state legislature is racking up fines of $100,000 a day since the Washington State Supreme Court ruled on Aug. 13, 2015, that lawmakers have not been adequately funding public schools. Lawmakers were ordered in 2012 to fully fund education but have failed to do so, and the justices got tired of it, ordering up the hefty fines.  As the The Seattle Times reported:
Despite a record-setting 176-day session and a two-year budget agreement that pushed substantial new money into the K-12 system, the court said lawmakers had again failed to live up to what the state constitution calls the state’s “paramount” duty — amply funding schools.
And there is the court’s ruling on Sept. 4, 2015, declaring the state’s charter school law unconstitutional. The law was passed by voters in 2012 — after three earlier attempts failed — with the help of significant financial support from wealthy philanthropists, including Bill Gates. The Supreme Court justices decided that state education funding could not be used for charter schools because charter schools are not operated by elected boards and, therefore, not “common schools.”

Here is a post on what is going on in Washington state by Wayne Au, an associate professor at the University of Washington Bothell and an editor for the social justice education magazine, Rethinking Schools. He was also a  plaintiff in the charter school legal challenge, along with organizations including the Washington Education Association and the League of Women Voters.

By Wayne Au

Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, was a good day for me. Late that afternoon the Washington State Supreme Court issued an earth-shattering ruling for corporate education reformers: By a 6-3 decision, they determined that Washington State’s charter school law was unconstitutional. This felt like a personal victory because I was heavily involved in the fight against charter schools in Washington State. In the lead up to the 2012 election season, where Washington voters would decide on the legality of charter schools here through popular vote on Initiative 1240 (I-1240), I was a very vocal opponent of the initiative and voiced my concerns about charter schools in newspaper editorials,

Washington State citizens narrowly passed I-1240 by a 50.69 percent majority vote (winning by roughly 41,000 of the over 3,000,000 votes cast), making charter schools law here. In response to the new charter law, I was asked to join a group of individuals and organizations as plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of I-1240, where, in addition to lending my name to the suit, I provided expert advice and research in support of the legal arguments.

When the Washington State Supreme Court announced its decision overturning I-1240 as unconstitutional, I was elated. As an educational scholar-activist trying to defend public education from the forces of privatization, rarely have I felt like my personal efforts have contributed so concretely to such an important victory.

At the heart of the Washington State’s Supreme Court ruling was the idea that charter schools, as defined by the law, were not actually “public schools.” The key issue is this: Washington State’s constitution has a provision that only “common schools” receive tax dollars allocated for public education. The law in Washington State is structured so that charter schools are governed at both the school level and state level by an appointed board, not an elected one. As such, charter schools in Washington State would receive public monies without any guarantee of accountability to any democratically elected, public body. The Washington State Supreme Court decided that this lack of public oversight of charter schools meant that did not meet the definition of “common schools” and therefore are not eligible to receive public monies made available for public schools.

Conservative and free-market education reformers are furious about this decision. The Washington Policy Center (whose tagline is “Improving Lives Through Market Solutions”), the CEOs of both the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the Washington State Charter Schools Association, and several politicians have called on the Washington State Legislature to “correct” the law by changing the funding structure so charter schools would receive tax dollars through a specific fund not associated with public schools.

These calls to shift the charter school funding in Washington State as the solution to making charter schools constitutional here point to a key issue in the agenda of charter supporters and free-market education reformers. Rather than change the governance structures of the charter schools to have publicly elected oversight of public tax dollars, as teacher Peter Greene has suggested at his Curmudgucation blog, charter supporters seek to redefine “public schools” as schools that have public money but without public accountability and regulation.

Calls to redefine what counts as “public schools” from charter supporters in Washington State should come as no surprise, considering that a good portion of the language regarding charter governance comes directly from model legislation provided by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

ALEC is perhaps more widely known for promoting a broad privatization agenda, “stand-your-ground” gun laws, and anti-democratic voter registration laws, amongst others. ALEC also has a privatization agenda for public education, including the promotion of charter schools generally, promotion of corporate charters and virtual schools specifically, private school vouchers, anti-union measures, “parent trigger” laws to flip public schools into privately managed charter schools, increasing testing, reducing (or eliminating when possible) the power of democratically elected local school boards, and limiting the power of public school districts.

ALEC’s influence on Washington State’s charter law is unmistakable. Most immediately visible is the inclusion of its own “trigger” provision, allowing a small majority of teachers or parents to sign a petition and flip a regular public school into a charter school.

Additionally, and more pertinent to the Washington State Supreme Court ruling, ALEC’s fingerprints are all over the charter school governance structure outlined in I-1240. Consider the similarities between the language contained in both I-1240 and ALEC’s “Charter School Growth with Quality Act” model legislation, marked in bold, italics.

Regarding the state-level commission governing charters in Washington State, I-1240, Section 208, Subsection 2:

“(2) The commission shall consist of nine members, no more than five of whom shall be members of the same political party. Three members shall be appointed by the governor; three members shall be appointed by the president of the senate; and three members shall be appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives. The appointing authorities shall assure diversity among commission members, including representation from various geographic areas of the state and shall assure that at least one member is a parent of a Washington public school student.”
But here is what the ALEC “Charter School Growth with Quality Act” model legislation Section 3, Subsection C, Number 1 regarding state level charter commissions:
“(1) Nine members, no more than five of whom shall be members of the same political party. Three members shall be appointed by the Governor; three members shall be appointed by the President of the Senate; and three members shall be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives. In making the appointments, the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall ensure statewide geographic diversity among Commission members.”
And in I-1240, Section 208, Subsection 3:
“(3) Members appointed to the commission shall collectively possess strong experience and expertise in public and nonprofit governance; management and finance; public school leadership, assessment, curriculum, and instruction; and public education law. All members shall have demonstrated an understanding of and commitment to charter schooling as a strategy for strengthening public education.”
Compared to ALEC’s “Charter School Growth with Quality Act” model legislation Section 3, Subsection C, Number 2:
 “(2) Members appointed to the Commission shall collectively possess strong experience and expertise in public and nonprofit governance, management and finance, public school leadership, assessment, and curriculum and instruction, and public education law. All members of the Commission shall have demonstrated understanding of and commitment to charter schooling as a strategy for strengthening public education.”
These comparisons may seem nitpicky, but I-1240’s plagiarism of ALEC’s model charter school legislation is critical to understanding the privatization agenda for public schools. ALEC advocates that charter schools be governed by appointed boards with little-to-no accountability or oversight by the public because this establishes a chain of logic central to privatization: Once we agree that public tax dollars can follow the child into educational institutions not governed by the public, then we have accepted the basic premise for voucher programs that use our tax dollars to pay for private schools. This has been a major goal of ALEC and other free-market conservatives who seek to dismantle public education and profit off of our kids.

Washington State’s charter school law has other issues, such as the fact that it was promoted by a few wealthy individuals and their affiliated philanthropies. However, in this moment, what’s most important is that the Washington State Supreme Court’s decision is a major rebuke of the privatization agenda. Overturning I-1240 establishes that here in Washington state (and in the backyard of the charter-promoting Gates Foundation, no less), without public oversight, charter schools are not “common schools” and hence are not really “public schools” eligible for public funding—an argument many of us made from the beginning.

Calls by charter supporters to save charter schools in Washington State fall particularly flat in our specific context. Not only has our state legislature failed to fund the class-size reduction initiative passed by voters, but the Washington State Supreme Court has found our state legislature is in contempt of court for not fully funding public education here. In this context the hypocrisy of demanding the state legislature convene a special session to save Washington’s charter schools is glaring. There are fewer than 10 charter schools serving a total of almost 1,300 children in Washington state. While the timing of the Washington State Supreme Court’s decision is terrible for those families and children enrolled in our charter schools, our state has yet to meet their legal obligations to fully fund the education of 1 million children currently enrolled in our actual public schools.

Just as supporters of publicly financed charter schools understand the profound implications of the Washington State Supreme Court ruling, public school supporters also need to pay close attention. As Washington State’s Supreme Court has said: If a school is not controlled by a public body, then it should not have access to public funds. The logic is simple and compelling, and opponents of public school privatization in this country need to spread that message far and wide.

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