School choice advocates argue that when certain local public schools aren’t working, children in those areas have a right to a decent education even if it means an alternative learning environment.
When defenders of the status quo refuse to let parents pick something other than their (failing) local public school, they’re saying that maintaining the current system is more important than providing a good education for children.
A story in today’s Wall Street Journal (sorry, subscription required) confirm the worst suspicion of school choice reformers. The story details a maddening case where people with plans for innovative charter schools were not allowed to establish alternatives to failing public schools. Who denied them? The local school board, of course. Read the extended excerpt after the jump.
In a couple of weeks, tens of thousands of underprivileged kids will head back to failing public schools in metro Atlanta. School choice proponents are eager to provide these students with alternatives, but the local school boards won’t let them. Welcome to another sorry example of the education empire striking back against reformers.
In the past four months, there have been no fewer than 17 charter school start-up applications submitted in the Atlanta area, and all but two have been rejected. School choice opponents employ many tools to stop reformers, including capping the number of charters in a state and forcing charters to pay rent out of operating funds. But one of their most effective weapons is simply restricting who can grant charters. Under Georgia’s charter school law, only local school districts have this authority, and they’ve made it clear that these alternative public schools are not welcome.
In DeKalb County, the local school board rebuffed Indea Snorden’s charter petition on the dubious grounds that it was submitted too late. The school would have had a math and science focus. And its rejection came after Jim Mullins, the district’s “charter liaison” and a vocal opponent of school choice, spent months giving Ms. Snorden the runaround. Try again next year, she was told.
In June, the Atlanta school board spurned an application from Ed Chang, a Teach for America alum who wanted to start a charter that would target the low-income black children who tend to be relegated to the city’s worst schools. Mr. Chang told us his goal was “graduate every child” and so his enrollment model centered around not accepting more kids than he would be able to educate properly. The board held that against him, rejecting the application on grounds that it was too “exclusionary.” And so Atlanta’s black teens will return to high schools that have nearly twice as many freshmen as seniors.
To fully appreciate the lengths some districts will go to deny education choice, it’s hard to beat what happened to Nina Gilbert last month. Ms. Gilbert wants to start a college prep charter school for girls in Gwinnett County. It would serve students who now attend schools where 33% of blacks and 13% of Latinos graduated last year, and 80% qualified for free or reduced-price lunches.
The first objection from the local school board was that the school model violated Title IX gender-discrimination statutes and that the district would invite lawsuits from civil rights groups like the NAACP. So Ms. Gilbert produced a legal opinion that said single-sex charter schools do no such thing and are permitted under federal and state law. She also produced the head of the local NAACP, who supports the school and read a statement from the organization’s state and national chapters that said they take no position on charters or single-sex education and didn’t appreciate the local school board invoking them as a reason to deny Ms. Gilbert’s application.
The board finally acknowledged, albeit grudgingly, that Ms. Gilbert’s school model complied with state and federal law. But it still denied the application on grounds that an all-girls school, in its view, was “not moral” and “just not fair” to boys. The board also chided Ms. Gilbert for such petty matters as omitting from her proposal the names of the bus drivers and bus monitors she would use to transport schoolkids.
As for the two charter proposals that were approved in metro Atlanta, both originated with the district itself. Which means that the schools, unlike those proposed by Ms. Snorden, Mr. Chang and Ms. Gilbert, will be extensions of the public school bureaucracy rather than the independent operations envisioned by the law. And therein lies the problem.