Raise revenue, not the cap

Raise revenue, not the cap

- in Fitzsimon File

It's been clear since the current state budget crisis began that folks on the Right welcome the unprecedented shortfall as a chance to finally shrink the government they despise, end safety net services to people they've never though deserved them, and dismantle the public schools they have consistently attacked.

A staffer at one think tank described the draconian budget cuts under consideration by the House a few weeks ago as ideas that the organization had been trying to get legislators to consider for a long time.

Public education accounts for almost 40 percent of the state's General Fund spending, so it's no surprise that deep budget cuts to schools are on the table.

Governor Beverly Perdue continues her efforts to rally the public to demand that lawmakers reject proposals to increase class size and fire all the teaching assistants in third grade classrooms.

The folks on the Right support those cuts and deeper ones, and they constantly claim that expanding charter schools is a way to save money and improve the state's public education system.

Charter school advocates released a poll earlier this year that showed the majority of people in the state want to lift the current cap of 100 on number of charter schools. The House has passed legislation to increase the cap to 106. The bill is now before the Senate.

Most Republicans and school privatization advocates want the cap eliminated entirely, seeing a dramatic expansion of charter schools as a vital step toward their ultimate aim, school vouchers or tax credits, destroying the current public education system as we know it.

The stars seemed to be lining up for them, and not only because of the budget crisis. The Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford launched a study of student performance in charter schools in 16 states with an in-depth look at North Carolina.

The Center works closely with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and other pro-charter groups and the study was paid for by the Walton Family Foundation and other pro-charter foundations.

The study's release surely was highly anticipated by the folks on the Right, hoping it would finally provide the empirical data to support their rhetorical case for vastly expanding charter schools. 

The study was released by the Center last Monday, June 15th.  Nationally, the Center found that "in the aggregate, students in charter schools not faring as well as students in traditional public schools."

Overall, 17 percent of charter schools reported academic progress significantly better than traditional public schools, 37 percent of charters performed significantly worse than their traditional counterparts, and 46 percent of charters performed roughly the same as traditional public schools. 

The results for North Carolina were not much different. Here is how the Center's press release describes the findings.

"New charter school students in North Carolina do about the same in reading and have an initial loss of learning in math compared to their counterparts in traditional public schools. In subsequent years, charter school students show no significantly different or better gains in reading and math from charter school attendance compared to their counterparts in traditional public schools."

Whoops. That's more than enough to cancel a pro-charter press conference, 83 percent of charter schools nationally performing worse or no better than traditional public schools and North Carolina charters not providing any gains either.

What about children of color, the kids that some charter school advocates say can gain the most from the schools?  The Center found a clear trend there too in the state's charter schools.

"African-American students performed significantly below their traditional public school counterparts in math, with no discernable difference in reading."

You probably haven't heard much about the study.  Virtually none of the state's media outlets mentioned the report and the think tanks on the Right in the state sure haven't talked much about it.

At least they didn't follow the lead of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, who issued a contortion of a press release with the headline, "Report find charter schools helping students in several areas."

The study found that kids in charter schools are not doing as well as kids in traditional public schools. And the study was conducted by a pro-charter school group and paid for by pro-charter school foundations.

Enough already with charter schools as the answer to all our education problems. Even the data from the Right is clear.

Let's get back to investing in the traditional public schools and helping the families of the poor kids struggling in them.

The first step is keeping teachers and teacher assistants in the classrooms and keeping enough people in the Department of Public Instruction to support them.

We don't need to raise the charter school cap to help education. We need to raise revenue to protect our traditional public schools.

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts “News and Views,” a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.