N.C. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest has by law a seat on the State Board of Education. Last week, he had a solution for some bad news on charter schools scheduled to come to that board in a report: Ignore it.
Forest got the report pulled from the state board’s consideration because, he said, “The report, to me, did not have a lot of positive things to say.” In other words, because the report wasn’t to the liking of charter school advocates, it didn’t deserve consideration without first being looked at by the state’s charter school advisory board.
This is an abuse of Forest’s position as a member of the state board. And his reasoning was transparent. He and others who relentlessly push expansion of charter schools don’t want to hear the straight-up facts in the report.
Among them: The student population at charters is wealthier and whiter than regular public schools; enrollment of Hispanic students is about half, percentage-wise, in charters compared with mainstream public schools; racial imbalance at charters is clear, as a Duke University study showed little integration within charters; charters have a smaller proportion of lower-income students than regular schools.
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Charters began about 20 years ago with the idea that they would be free of some rules governing regular schools. They didn’t have to adhere to the regular teacher pay scale, and they could alter their school calendars. They could expermient, and successes could be integrated into regular public schools.
Unfortunately, conservatives have crusaded for charters, which are funded by taxpayers, almost with the attitude that they represent a private school system within the public one. That’s not good, and critics have warned that the expansion of charters could indeed lead to these exact problems of economic and racial imbalance.
Forest and other state officials need to face the fact that there are problems with charters that may require some serious changes in structure and rules. Otherwise, charters will become exactly what some advocates appear to want: a publicly funded private school system with little accountability.
The charter school mission needs to be refocused on its original intent. And weak charters, or those with dramatic racial and economic imbalances, should be shuttered.