Op-Ed

Charter school column was incomplete, misleading. Why Kentucky needs charters.

The ABCs of charter schools

Charter schools are one option in the growing "school choice" movement. Funded by taxpayer money, these schools are growing nationally, though some states have yet to pass related laws. Find out what sets them apart from traditional public and pri
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Charter schools are one option in the growing "school choice" movement. Funded by taxpayer money, these schools are growing nationally, though some states have yet to pass related laws. Find out what sets them apart from traditional public and pri

The Herald-Leader recently ran an obvious hit piece titled “Charter school management full of schemers and scams. Kentucky should avoid them.”

The reality is that the vast majority of charter schools are not full of schemers and scams, so let’s put some balance into this discussion.

Linda Blackford’s column alleges that groups managing charter schools can potentially make money off of tax dollars. Yet traditional public schools also offer similar profit opportunities to private, for-profit firms.

A for-profit company administers Kentucky’s state tests known as K-PREP.

How about all the school buses we see on our highways? Do you think they’re manufactured out of non-profit thin air?

Ditto for textbooks, digital education systems, school furniture and much more.

Those beautiful, but expensive, school buildings going up around Kentucky were not put there by a fairy godmother, either. The construction firms that produced those structures are very much for-profit operations.

But, you might say, that doesn’t mean school leaders profited from this.

Sadly, sometimes that’s a wrong answer.

Aside from the possibility that school leaders invest in private companies, former Dayton Independent Schools superintendent William “Gary” Rye went to federal prison in 2014 for swiping hundreds of thousands of dollars meant for kids, not his personal aggrandizement.

Not long after, former Mason County Schools Superintendent Tim Moore was indicted for swiping tens of thousands, too.

Then, there was Benita Anglin, former Shelby County Public Schools payroll manager, who’s serving an 18-year prison term for embezzling nearly $600,000 from that district’s substitute teachers’ fund.

To be clear, most public educators, whether they work in a charter or traditional public school, are honest folks.

However, education is a big bucks’ operation, which creates unfortunate temptations.

Whether we’re talking about traditional schools or charters, some folks wind up misbehaving.

But it’s unfair and downright wrong to imply that only charter schools have such problems.

In fact, the identification of such problems actually might be better for the charter sector.

Rye got away with his thefts for about 10 years, never being tripped up by the standard audits his school system received each year.

Only after someone blew a whistle in the Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts’ ear was justice finally served.

Blackford writes with unvarnished bias about charter school proponents being profit-seeking elites.

That would really surprise many thousands of poor inner-city parents whose children get a quality education that would only be an unfulfilled dream in a traditional public-school system which disproportionately underserves underprivileged minority students.

It’s ironic that only a few days before Blackford’s column was published, the New York Post reported about the phenomenal results on Algebra I testing at Success Academy Bronx 2, reporting: “An entire Bronx charter-school class in the nation’s poorest congressional district not only passed the Algebra I Regents exam — but aced it. In case you think the test just got easier, other Post articles report that overall test scores fell on this test.

Also, this isn’t a unique one-charter-school situation. Success Academy operates multiple middle schools throughout New York City.

The Post reports that “All 467 Success Academy eighth-grade students across their network took the test this academic year, and 99 percent passed with a minimum rank of 3, or a score of 65.”

It’s abundantly clear from the newspaper’s picture of the eighth-grade class at Success Academy Bronx 2 that virtually all the students are minorities.

Kentucky would be thrilled to see anything close to that performance in its schools.

In 2018 K-PREP math testing, the state’s white students only scored 50% proficient while blacks failed to reach 25% proficiency.

Considering K-PREP’s eighth-grade testing is at a level below Algebra I, shouldn’t Kentucky offer what New York’s poorest, most at-risk kids already have?

Richard G. Innes is the education analyst for the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at dinnes@freedomkentucky.com.

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