It appears that Gov. Matt Bevin has appointed the fox to look after the chicken coop. He has arranged for long-time charter school promoter Wayne Lewis to become the interim Kentucky education commissioner.
The job is to help our public schools be the best they can be. But instead of promoting our public schools, Lewis seems to want to proliferate charter schools — schools that would savage the finances of our public schools. This is because charters operate by robbing public schools of their funding.
For example, if even one charter school were created in Fayette County with 300 students, $3.6 million would be sucked out of our public schools and handed over to the charter school, potentially requiring 62 Fayette County public school teachers to be laid off.
Some people say that Lewis, who is interested in the permanent position, has one goal in mind: to privatize public schools in order to create a string of charter schools. To understand his agenda, here are some things that Lewis has written.
He says, “the vast majority of Kentuckians are supportive of charter schools.” That statement has no basis in fact. More likely, the vast majority conversely want our public schools to be as excellent as possible. Robbing public schools of funding to allow money-grubbing entrepreneurs to profit from crippling our public schools and thus our children would be the last thing Kentuckians want.
Lewis says, “all charter schools are public schools.” This is turning logic on its head. Charter schools are basically private schools that take public school funds from public schools, then use them to line the pockets of charter school operators. Charter schools have fewer regulations to follow so charter school bosses can pay themselves whatever they want, even hundreds of thousands in salaries.
They can hire Uncle George to watch the door and Aunt Sara to keep the books. They could purchase $30 pencils from brother Billy-Bob and pay outrageous rental rates for property that the charter school bosses, themselves, own. They can perform legal robbery.
Lewis says, “Parents don’t take their children out of schools that are serving their children well.” The problem here is that charter-school operators gain enrollments through snake oil promises to convince parents that if their kids are struggling in public schools, they will thrive in charters.
But that’s a mirage because national data show that charter schools have a very bad record. In Ohio, for example, 64 percent of charter schools received a D or F grade while only 13 percent of public schools were so graded.
Lewis has the nerve to say, “The argument that charter schools will take funding away from traditional public schools makes no sense.” If Fayette County public schools would have $3.6 million yanked away and handed over to a charter school, how is that “makes no sense?”
Lewis says, “charter schools inject competition into public schooling, forcing local school districts to work harder to meet the needs of low income students.” It is not competition that public schools need, it is adequate funding. Charter schools clearly make that less possible. Besides, there is no empirical evidence of this wild claim.
He also says, “public schools are not meeting the learning needs of low-income students.” This is more snake oil. The traditional selling point of charter schools is that they can close the academic performance gap between middle-class and poor children. But this trite claim has been proven false in every state that has allowed charter schools to feed at the public trough.
Kentucky clearly needs a commissioner who values public schools as the highest priority, not a fox who may want to proliferate charter schools at the expense of the chickens.
Marty Solomon of Lexington is a retired University of Kentucky professor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org