If we are going to fix education in North Carolina, we must be willing to try something new. But that is not what we got when the Court finally released the 300-page WestEd report in the long-running Leandro lawsuit
to ensure school children receive a sound basic education. Instead, we got a proposal to send more money-$8 billion over the next 8 years-to fund the same programs that have failed to produce results in the three decades since the litigation was filed
Worse, although the report was meant to focus on district schools, it recommends cutting funding to charter schools, which provide much needed alternatives for students whose families might be assigned to failing schools. That is not surprising. The authors of the report interviewed 1,270 district superintendents, administrators, educators, and central office staff, but was anyone interviewed who teaches or works in nearly 200 charter schools? It doesn't appear so and the fix was in.
While district administrators might not like them, charter schools are not controversial among parents. They are public schools providing tuition-free education to students. The only difference is they are not run by district-school administrators or bureaucrats. Instead, most are run by groups of dedicated teachers, board members and parents who simply want to do what is best for children. Charter schools provide an option for families desiring a school other than where their zip-code assigns them. State testing data shows charter schools academically perform well. According to a legislative annual report, over 55,000 students sit on waiting lists trying to get in charter schools across the State.
Funding for charters schools is simple. The money follows the child. When a student attends a charter school, a per-pupil share of the State and county funding is transferred to the charter school. Even still, because much of a district budget is tied up in red tape, charter school students, on average, only receive 73% of the funding that district students receive. Charter schools also receive NO facility funding while district schools have these costs covered by the county.
According to the report, school district CFOs complained about this setup, arguing they should not have to transfer ANY local money to charter schools. Instead, they suggested it would be simpler if charter school students only shared State funds, which are only a portion of education funding. The districts would then keep the local funding meant for these children as a way to supposedly keep district CFOs "out of the middle."
That is an astonishing and dishonest suggestion. It assumes money for education belongs to district administrators who want to pad their budgets. It is also no "fix" at all, since it would actually cut charter school funding. Indeed, the North Carolina School Boards Association has recommended for years that the State pays charters directly, but the devil is in the details. Charters school students would receive less, not a "new"
Allowing school districts and teachers' unions to cut out the competition will never fix education. Judge Howard Manning, Jr., who oversaw the first two decades of Leandro litigation, understood this. In 2002, exasperated at the lack of progress, he issued an order demanding that, "The State must step in with an iron hand and fix the mess."
And, if that requires "removing ineffective superintendents and administrators"
or imposing "effective management practices"
from the top down, he wrote, "so be it."
The State has provided children and families an effective alternative by giving them the option to attend charter schools. We should increase the number of such schools and see that they are funded fairly, not cut them back.