Separate public, charter school boards will hurt education

May 13, 2013 

Republicans in the state legislature are in the process of making a multitude of bad decisions with regard to public education.

And the antipathy they feel toward public school teachers, some of whom have criticized cuts to education, is leading GOP lawmakers down a path that will do much damage, from making it harder to get good teachers in the state to dividing public school governance between charter schools and conventional schools to providing vouchers of public money for parents to send kids to private schools.

Most recently, the state Senate passed a measure to set up a separate governance board with great power over charter schools. The State Board of Education would still be perfunctorily in charge, but its oversight would be weakened. In effect, charters would be, in one sense, on their own.

Except, of course, they’re not on their own. Charters are public schools funded with public money. But sometimes it seems they are viewed by advocates as alternative, quasi-private schools. A separate governance board will only reinforce that view in the minds of many.

As an original concept, charters were supposed to be freed from some of the rules of conventional schools (using teachers with different educational backgrounds for one example), in order to allow them to experiment with curricula, etc. Ideally, it was believed some of the successful innovations in charters might then be adaptable to regular public schools.

It was a good idea, and it still is a good idea.

But unfortunately, the charter experiment has been uneven, with some hits and some misses and imbalance in terms of economic and racial diversity. But some conservatives see charters as a way to “have our own schools” and to treat them as publicly funded private schools, which is ludicrous by definition.

Now the GOP Senate has set up a separate governance board for charters and continued to free them from certification requirements for teachers and other common-sense rules. It is fair to question whether, with separate governance and in the pursuit of appropriations, charters and conventional schools will be competing against each other. That would not be healthy.

Bill Cobey, Gov. Pat McCrory’s State Board of Education chairman, objects to the measure, but GOP senators don’t care.

Nor are they concerned that some charters might not work out. What if a lot of new charters spring up without enough due consideration, enroll hundreds of students, and then fail?

Sen. Jerry Tillman of Archdale says, no problem, that the free market will drive inferior charters out of the business. First, charter schools aren’t grocery stores, senator. Second, what happens to those youngsters who lose years of education in a poor charter before it’s taken out by the free market? Tillman’s logic may seem harmless (if woefully misguided) in debate. But this is public education we’re talking about.

This idea has moved too far, too fast. Lawmakers could pay a political price for their reckless haste one day, but in the meantime their risk-taking is going to hurt a lot of innocent bystanders.

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