backpage editorial

Choose & Lose

School "choice" stacks deck for profit-seekers

Posted

George Orwell must be proud of the school choice movement. “Choice,” after all, implies that the government is empowering parents to select the best school to meet the educational needs of their children. “Choice” also implies that those mean teachers’ unions are standing between our children and a better life. They say there’s nothing to fear about “choice” if your school is doing its job. After all, it’s only those “failing” and “turnaround” public schools that are losing students to private and charter schools.

This could not be farther from the truth. I, for example, work at a school that earned an “A” grade for the 2018-’19 school year. Now that we have an “A,” everything is turning up roses, right? Not necessarily. You see, current state policy puts even successful public schools at a disadvantage where unregulated charter schools are concerned.

We were forced, for example, to cut a teaching position because our enrollment did not meet its target. This is part of our annual budget process which is based on per-pupil funding. Schools must take an accurate count of their student enrollment during the first 10 days of the school year, and this snapshot determines how much funding they’re going to receive for the entire school year.

This is where the suffering begins for our public schools. If the 10-day count of students falls short of predicted enrollment (funding for approximately 22 students can support one full-time teacher), that school must cut teaching positions. This is what we call the surplus process. School are forced to cut “surplus” teachers and send them to public schools that need to add positions due to increasing enrollment.

This doesn’t bode well for teachers, who are shuffled around in the first month, or for their students, who have to deal with this bizarre turnover when the school year has barely begun. Students need structure in their lives, not the uncertainty of not knowing if their teacher may go bye-bye and their class schedule will be altered.

All this is bad enough, but the most galling aspect of per-pupil funding and the surplus process is what happens once the dust settles from the initial 10-day count. The morning after my school’s principal announced that we did indeed have to do away with a teaching position (science) and revise the schedules of affected students, I noticed a new face. As I teach at a school with “high mobility,” it comes as no surprise that we have students who come and go, depending on their military parents’ orders. In this case, however, it was a student who enrolled at my school after leaving a “choice” school—and that “choice” school will keep the per-pupil allocation even though it’s no longer responsible for the student. It’s after 10 days, after the budget was formalized, after my school was forced to cut a teaching position, after my “A” school lost students.

Did I write “A” school? Yes, I did. Contrary to popular belief, the regime of “school reform” put in place under Gov. Jeb Bush is hurting our public schools across the board. So much for “rewarding good teachers,” as our friends in Tallahassee like to crow proudly. Where is the reward for “good teachers” when they break their backs all year to serve their students and communities, only to see their schools lose students (and funding), which results in those teachers and schools being put at a disadvantage the next school year?

All of this seems to play into the hands of the very lobbyists who have perverted the term “school choice” by channeling that “choice” toward for-profit charter, private and parochial alternatives to traditional public education.

It gets more depressing. The current majority in the state legislature and its for-profit charter school supporters are banking on parents voting with their feet and enrolling their children in charter schools. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, really; years of underfunding traditional public schools has resulted in the surplussing of great teachers from great schools, rising number of permanent substitute teachers, and an inability to recruit new teachers to reverse the exodus of educators leaving the profession. How else would our state legislature explain how they can support a state funding formula that allows public schools to operate on such a tentative basis every year and expect their students’ learning and data to be the better for it?

_______________________________

Former Teacher of the Year, Meeks is a 16-year veteran of Duval County Public Schools. The University of North Florida grad also served in the United States Air Force before he began his teaching career.

2 comments on this story | Add your comment
Please log in or register to add your comment
drbilljones

Mr. Meeks seems to indict the public school management process more than anything else. Getting an "A" grade doesn't mean that it is the best school for everybody. Sometimes those "A" grades are earned at the expense of many students and families. If you don't believe that the traditional public schools manipulate enrollments and many other factors to increase their scores, then you are either not on the inside of administration, you're naïve or you see those manipulative practices as normal business.

You don't address why parents are choosing to put their children in charter schools. Parents are not stupid. They often see the Monopoly of district schools for what they are. They work for some kids, but not for all. What about those that the traditional schools do not work well for? Why don't they work well? A man with your extensive experience and apparent success should be leading the charge to answer those questions. You are lamenting the decline of a system in which you were very successful. No everyone is in your position.

Concerning the money. Have you compared the cost of traditional public schools to charter schools? When Senator John McKay was President of the Senate, he commented that "charter schools were the biggest bargain in public education." They are not only effective educationally for many, many students nationwide, but they are cost effective as well. People decry for-profit management companies and the expense of managing a charter school. Do you think that management of the public schools and everything involved is free? Of course not. In fact, they are overwhelmingly more expensive than charter schools. Please explain the significant increase in administrative costs in South Florida School Districts during a time when the only significant increases in student growth were in the charter schools. Are public schools influenced by politicians, developers, bankers, newspapers, etc.? The answer is, constantly. It's not all black and white.

I appreciate your service and I applaud your success, but I think sometimes that success clouds the ability to objectively step back and see the situation for what it is. Wednesday, September 25|Report this

SusaninFlorida

Drbillhones--

If charter schools are such a bargain, why do they keep asking for more and more money? The charter school movement stopped the school board's referendum from getting on our ballot in 2019. Chartrand and other charter school profiteers wanted part of our sales tax money. Chartrand convinced the city council to block the voters from voting on the school board's referendum.

I think you missed the point of Mr. Meeks' post which was that kids return after 10 days at the charter school but the budget for the neighborhood school is based on the first 10 days. That is the doing of the state legislature and it needs to be fixed.

Quote from below link:

What’s obscured in the misleading narrative, though, is that Somerset’s new charter schools in Jefferson County have had millions of dollars more to work with than what was previously available to the traditional public school district there.

https://chartered.wlrn.org/millions-difference-somerset-charters/

Quote from below link:"

Integrity Florida has released a new in-depth report, examining the growth of the charter school sector in Florida and the impact it is having on the state’s public education system as a whole.

http://www.integrityflorida.org/the-hidden-costs-of-charter-school-choice-privatizing-public-education-in-florida/

And then there is the problem of duplicating services:

https://gadflyonthewallblog.com/2019/06/15/charter-schools-will-always-waste-money-because-they-duplicate-services/

Article at this link talks about a great speech by Republican Thomas Lee where he says the charter industry said they could teach kids for less, but they keep asking for more and more money. He said “enough is enough.”

http://accountabaloney.com/index.php/2019/05/06/hb7123-is-a-bridge-too-far-and-president-lee Saturday, October 12|Report this