Just Because Everyone Else Jumped Off The Cliff, Doesn’t Mean We Should

Kentucky is one of only seven states that has managed to avoid jumping off the charter school cliff, so far. However, our state legislature is poised to pass a charter school bill this month. As a parent volunteer and staunch advocate for public schools, everyone keeps telling me I should “just deal with it.” If you knew what I knew about the real challenges our public schools face, some of the 100+ other solutions we should try before opening our pocketbooks to outside interests, and the corruption and self-dealing going on behind this movement, you would not “just deal with it” either. You would fight until there was not an ounce of fight left, and then you would fight some more.

Research shows that if Kentucky passes harmful charter school legislation this month, our already struggling schools and our most vulnerable students will suffer. Our democracy will suffer. All of the gains and momentum currently underway in our public schools will fall right off that cliff, as well.

Charters are funded by our tax dollars meant for our public schools, but they are run by outside corporate interests and authorized by entities outside the purview of our democratically elected school board. By opening the door to charters, our already underfunded public schools will become destitute. They will end up serving the neediest of our population, begging for scraps, and exacerbating the extreme poverty, segregation and discrimination we already have in this city.

Shameful agendas.

For some, charters are a dog whistle for those looking to resegregate schools, to discriminate against LGBTQ policies, to strip rights and services away from special needs students, and to bring religion into schools. Others see them as a way to isolate their children from students dealing with poverty, trauma and behavior issues.

Paid pro-charter policymakers have been coming after our volunteers, attempting to convolute or discredit our concerns. Lawmakers, pushing out-of-touch education bills, have blocked their own constituents from commenting on their social media posts. Soccer moms, teachers and students are routinely ignored or bullied by grown men who often don’t even have experience (or kids) in the public school system.

In actuality, Kentucky public schools are improving. But the oft-hailed idea that charters are a “lifeboat” implies that the system is sinking. Charter advocates would rather jump ship and save a few than plug the hole and save all. The charter lifeboats will only save those students whose parents know how to navigate the system (which are not the kids that charters purport to help) leaving the existing schools more broken than before.

Charter schools are a slippery slope.

Look at what’s transpired in the 43 states, plus DC, where charter school operators have run amok. Like locusts, they ravage communities, taking their inexpensive-to-educate, high-performing students. Once they’ve locked their jaws onto our succulent recurring, AAA-rated tax dollars, they move on to their next most lucrative, vulnerable target. In a recent interview with Insider Louisville, House Bill 103’s sponsor Phil Moffett said, “The most likely areas that will see charter schools first are Owensboro, Bowling Green, as well as counties near Cincinnati, Lexington and Louisville.” They’re not even trying to hide it!

Charter operators will find other ways to suck funds from our public schools, such as vouchers and online schools and multi-county “academies.” This leaves us, the taxpayers, to make up the funding difference and clean up the mess they leave behind.

Charters don’t work, not even for “urban kids”

Despite relentless propaganda and cherry-picked “research” financed by wealthy special interests, charter schools don’t produce better students. There is no statistically significant evidence that shows that charters improve outcomes for minority students. In fact, they have been known to hurt urban public schools, often preying on vulnerable, at-risk, low-advocacy students who are desperate for change. The NAACP, Black Lives Matter, and ACLU have recently spoken out against charter schools.

Charters magnify the divide between the have’s and the have-not’s because students with involved parents (the ones who jump through hoops so their kid can attend a charter school) often outperform those who don’t, leaving the public schools in those communities worse off than before. Just look at Detroit!

Speaking of Detroit … With the recent confirmation of the wholly unqualified, public education enemy, Betsy DeVos, to Secretary of Education, opposing charter school legislation in Kentucky has become more critical than ever. It may, in fact, be the only hope we still have and protecting our public schools from the devastation that has happened in districts like Detroit, where her failed policies have run rampant.

Kentucky has been fortunate to be one of the few states to keep vulture charter operators at bay. Let’s not jump off the cliff just because everyone else did. Call your legislators at 800-372-7181 and tell them to #StopChartersInKY.

Gay Adelmann is co-founder of a grassroots public education advocacy group called Save Our Schools Kentucky. She can be reached at moderator@saveourschoolsky.org.