This article from the League was published in the Gainesville Sun. It delineates the consequences of School Choice in Gainesville. For-profit, self dealing CSUSA charter schools want to come to Gainesville.
When a gathering of about 100 parents and educators convened in Gainesville to get a glimpse of the schools of the future, they were equally concerned about the here and now. Parents and educators alike rue the lack of time to fit everything in a day that must be done. How can they even think about the future?
The League of Women Voters, the Education Foundation, and Alachua County Council of PTAs banded together to hear what the future could be from Peggy Brookins, CEO of the National Professional Teacher Certification Organization. Ms. Brookins described K12 students from varied backgrounds and diverse achievement levels united in their excitement about studying engineering. These students were learning math in groups and applying concepts to build something they had imagined themselves. Such examples of hands-on learning do exist, but not everywhere. The money for such learning environments goes to support school choice and test-based accountability.
Instead of fostering excitement to learn, Florida’s education policy promotes high test scores in basic skills. The consequences are becoming clear. Schools, teachers and students are ranked. Parents, trying to make the best choice for their children, opt for specialized classes, magnet programs, charters and private schools.
These choices have consequences.
- As students move around, the funding for each school changes. Larger schools get more funding than smaller schools. Good schools become poor schools.
- Some children and programs are more expensive than others. Thus, many charters and private schools find ways to select the children they wish to serve. If some do enroll who are difficult or expensive to educate, they are ‘counseled to leave’. This could be your child.
- Charters and tax supported private schools can destroy neighborhoods. In 2002, four east Gainesville schools received school grades of an ‘A’, two ‘B’s and a ‘C’. Now, due to the selective expansion of charters and funding for private schools, one school has become only a pre school/kindergarten. The others earned two ‘D’s and an ‘F’. School choice and school grades downgraded this community. Those who could leave, did.
In New Orleans where charters are now city-wide, there are no neighborhood schools. Charters are highly segregated by income and race. Parents must drive or send children on lengthy bus rides just to find a charter where their child can enroll. The administrative and building costs skyrocketed with so many smaller schools. All of this disruption improves nothing, least of all student achievement.
Now CSUSA, a for-profit charter chain, has submitted a proposal for a K-8 school for 1100 students on the west side of Gainesville. Enrollment at four other westside schools will decline, and the money supporting those schools will be reduced. Will those charter students have an advantage? No! Consider examples from other Florida cities like Tampa.
- CSUSA pulls over a million dollars per school out of the school budget for lease payments to real estate companies CSUSA owns. The money comes out of instruction.
- Parents who think they are giving their children an advantage do not realize they have no voice in the operation of the school. If they are unhappy, they can withdraw their children. This happened in a Gainesville charter school. The local school board could do nothing.
Which future do we want? We can find ways to build diverse communities where all children have access to meaningful learning activities. This, as the Pew Research Center reports in the New York Times, is how children must learn the collaborative skills needed for the future. Or, we can have a fragmented educational system which is convenient for no one and outright harmful for many. The League of Women Voters supports the Florida constitutional requirement for access to a uniform system of high quality schools for all students. We do not support a fragmented, cost ineffective system of charters and private schools. We must recognize that not all choices are good choices.