Monday, December 19, 2016

Charter schools and astroturf

There's nothing particularly exceptional about the following story – if anything, it's pretty much par for the course – but it is a reminder of something that we all know on some level but often fail to acknowledge. There is a huge imbalance in the per-school money available for charters versus traditional public schools. This would always be a concern but under the current system it is nothing short of a fatal flaw. Today, schools with large lobbying budgets for getting funding approved and large advertising budgets for attracting students (particularly those who are likely to improve the schools' test scores) are at such an advantage that they can easily push other schools into a death spiral of budget cuts and dwindling enrollment.

If we want to have charters as a part of a functioning education system, we need to reform that system in a way that minimizes the impact of deep pockets rather than amplifies it.

The cost to bus charter school students and advocates to rallies: $87,870.

The cost of providing them food from Subway: $14,040.

The cost of launching a media blitz including a new wave of television advertisements after state legislators failed to recommend funding new charter schools: $300,429.

The impact on students “trapped in failing schools” if this campaign drives funding to greatly expand charter school enrollment: Priceless, says Families for Excellent Schools, the nonprofit organization behind the effort.

According to spending reports filed with the Office of State Ethics Monday, the organization spent $413,000 in April — more than double what the organization spent during the first three months of the legislative session. This brings the organization’s spending to $667,000 so far this year. Add in what other groups advocating for charter schools are spending, and the total nears $1 million.

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