Ky. must reject false hope of charter schools

Matt Wyatt
Matt Wyatt

Diana Ravitch, assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush, wisely cautioned: “American education has a long history of infatuation with fads and ill-considered ideas. The current obsession with making our schools work like a business may be the worst of them, for it threatens to destroy public education. Who will stand up to the tycoons and politicians and tell them so?”

You will be hearing a lot of talk about charter schools over the course of the next two months during the General Assembly. Gov. Matt Bevin and the new Republican majority in the House have indicated that they are going to do everything that they can to pass charter school legislation.

Kentucky remains one of seven states which does not permit the privatization of public education.

On Dec. 19, the Elizabethtown Independent Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution stating our opposition to charter schools in Kentucky. We were the first board of education in Kentucky to pass such a resolution.

Our opposition is based on 25 years’ worth of data which confirms that when the privatization of public education is allowed, public schools suffer, taxpayers are swindled and students are often left worse off.

Charter schools are privately managed, taxpayer-funded schools which are legislatively exempt from many of the rules applicable to all other publicly funded schools. The main argument initially offered for creating charter schools was a desire to create flexibility for innovation within public education. It was hoped that successful innovations could be adapted to benefit public education more broadly.

The results have shown that charter schools hire less-qualified teachers, are often subject to unexpected closures when the profits dry up, and are ripe with fraud and abuse due to the lack of public oversight and accountability.

Are “public charter schools” actually public schools?

The term “public charter school” was developed by a PR firm to reframe the way we understand schooling in relationship to public funding. Language and marketing is important when you have a debate, and the pro-charter schools, pro-privatization, groups know this.

It’s similar to how the inheritance tax all of the sudden became the “death tax.” Corporate interests utilize marketing strategies in politics much better than the rest of us realize. In order to gain support and calm fears, supporters need to believe that charter schools are public schools when, in fact, they are not.

Kentucky public schools have elected school boards made up of community members. Charter schools have an authorizer who appoints a board. Often charter boards are run by executive boards, management companies, universities, committees or corporations whose members may live outside the community and are not accountable to parents and taxpayers.

Kentucky’s solution for better student outcomes is not to open the doors of our public schools to “management companies” or profiteers who claim that they can “run things better,” if only they have less accountability and pesky rules.

How did that work for Wall Street?

Kentucky has come a long way over the past 25 years and we should never be satisfied with where we are. We should always push to improve and not rest until every educational gap is closed and every child has equal opportunity. Against great odds and fewer resources, Kentucky school districts are doing just that.

I envision a commonwealth where we are giving our public schools every resource and tool that they need to succeed. I envision a commonwealth where our public-school educators are valued, our parents are more involved, and our students are ready to compete with anyone in the world.

That vision cannot exist in an atmosphere where already-limited public funding for our schools is squirreled away for corporate-management companies to the detriment of our existing schools.

However, my vision can be a reality if we commit to making the investments in our schools that are needed to succeed.

Matt Wyatt, a political and marketing consultant, is chairman of the Elizabethtown Independent Board of Education. Reach him at wyattgroup@gmail.com.