School-choice opponents in my Twitter domain are having 140-character conniption fits over President-elect Donald Trump’s stellar decision to choose Michigan philanthropist Betsy DeVos as the nation’s next education secretary.
They claim their opposition is because DeVos doesn’t have “classroom teacher” on her resume.
Yet what’s really at the heart of the pushback from DeVos’ detractors is her stout support for charter schools, which are public schools that promise a higher level of student achievement in exchange for the freedom from many of burdensome regulations that often stymie innovation and hinder great teachers and administrators in traditional public schools.
These critics want Kentuckians to believe that any effort to give parents the option of sending their children to a high-performing public charter school is somehow a slap in the face to teachers or public education.
Yet the fact that Trump has been handed the presidency and his party the super majority-sized keys to the Kentucky House of Representatives indicates that voters saw through these arguments as being little more than emotional riffraff unworthy of standing in the way of making the commonwealth the 44th state to include charter schools in their public-education universe.
Opponents now have decided that if they can’t keep a law from being passed, they will attempt to intimidate policymakers into passing a weak policy limiting the number of charter-school creations and the opportunities for charters that do open to succeed.
Leftover appointees from the previous Beshear administration not only kept the Kentucky Board of Education from endorsing charter schools, but those lame duck board members also succeeded in getting the body to recommend that only local school boards receive authorization to create charters.
Legislators who back a policy restricting charter-school applications to a single path through local school-district bureaucracies where staunch opposition to any type of parental choice often lurks will unwittingly support an approach that limits the number—and likely success—of future Kentucky charter schools.
Per the Center for Education Reform (CER):
· Around 75 percent of America’s charter schools are in states offering more than one path to authorization for credible entities applying to open a charter, including universities and local governments.
· States with multiple authorizers “are also home to the highest quality charter schools, as evidenced by state test scores, numerous credible research studies and ongoing observation.”
CER observes that states limiting authorization of charter schools to local school boards “create hostile environments for charters because school boards often view charter schools as competition and reject applications not based on merit, but on politics.”
Without more than one authorizer, applicants who want to open a charter school have no alternative or appeals process outside the same system that fails many of the students who would find a better education in a charter.
Flashes of the kind of hostility we could expect from Kentucky edu-crats toward charter schools have been on full display in communities that previously had inter-district student-transfer agreements, which allowed parents to choose the best public school for their children to attend—even if the school was in a neighboring district outside the one in which they reside.
For years, hundreds of parents in communities from Jackson in the mountains to Murray in the West—and Corbin and Bowling Green in between—took advantage of these agreements between school districts.
However, because state law requires such agreements be signed by both districts’ school boards in order for state funding to follow students to a neighboring district, bureaucrats and local school boards in failing districts—who were losing students to higher-performing ones—quit signing these agreements, thus denying hundreds of Kentucky children a better education.
What are the chances these same bureaucrats would approve high-performing charter schools in their districts?
Probably about the same as they gave Trump of winning the presidency.
Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute; Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at [email protected] Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.