Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Charter schools: House K-12 committee today

I encourage parents and taxpayers to support charter schools as a way to expand our system, bring some accountability to the system, and allow families to choose a public school that meets their child's needs. The system ought to exist for the children not the other way around.

Nothing could be a more dramatic retelling of this battle than the difference between Sen. Jim Bryson's weekly update and that of the Tennessee Education Association (TEA).

From Sen. Bryson weekly update of 5/8/05:

Tennessee Education Association (TEA) fought the bill at every level. In committee, the TEA testified that in other states charter schools had not been successful. They cited statistics stating “charter school students did no better than students from other public schools.” They neglected to mention that charter schools typically enroll at-risk students; therefore, reaching the performance level of other schools is quite an accomplishment!! It was almost sad to sit on the Education Committee and watch the TEA struggle to come up with arguments against charter schools. Their arguments were weak at best and groundless in general.

More than any other vote this year, the vote on charter schools showed the strength of the TEA in this Senate. With only 10 votes against charter schools, it is obvious TEA’s influence in the Senate is waning.

The charter schools bill will have more difficulty in the House. The TEA is stronger and Democrats have a numerical advantage. However, the Senate has made a statement that we are willing to try some new things in education.

We can’t continue to be 47th in education. We owe it to our children to find ways to improve the system. By their nature, charter schools are education laboratories where innovations can be introduced, tested and evaluated. I’m proud to serve on an Education Committee and in a Senate that is willing search for new ways to improve education.
From the TEA's weekly Legislative Report dated 5/6/05:

Charter School Expansion Bill Rammed Through Senate
Gives “Blank Check” to Experimental, Unproven Schools

This means that 25% of the school’s enrollment can be “cherry picked” from any population of students! For the following reasons, the Senate-passed bill potentially will have a very negative impact on public schools:

  • It makes thousands of additional students eligible to attend these unproven schools.
  • It very dangerously waives rules, regulations, and even statutes – the waiver (with some limited health and safety exceptions) would be automatic, and would not have to be approved.
  • It allows unlimited numbers of these experimental schools to be created.
  • It takes away virtually all local school board control of charter schools.
  • A charter school would have complete fiscal autonomy from the local education agency. (Note: Several charter schools in other states have been closed due to fraud and financial mismanagement.)
  • It drains much needed funding from the education budget.

The TEA regularly uses the phrase 'cherry pick' as if it was a pre-meditated federal crime. It's not. These schools are PUBLIC schools and but they operate under a different set of rules as determined by the representatives of the citizens of our state. Throwing around words like unproven, dangerous, blank check and unlimited as a fear tactic fully demonstrates to me how factless their position is. Professional educators, who have tried a whole host of experimental educational plans on our children, have begged us for years to allow their experiments the time and finances necessary to be proven as valuable. Let's do the same for charter schools. At least, this time, it's an experiment that parents are choosing.

A slew of charter bills are scheduled in the House K-12 committee this morning. I hope folks will e-mail and call legislators expressing their support for educational freedom for our children.

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