Rosenthal: ‘School choice’ isn’t new concept

Published 8:11 am Friday, March 31, 2017

By Pat Rosenthal

Contributing columnist

The charter school bill passed last week and is now a law.

This means people or companies can apply to form a school and use public school funds for their school.

Advocates of charters say this gives students a choice of where to attend. The word “choice” is the new buzzword from the legislature, the governor and Congress not only in education but also health care.

“Choice” in education means a student can choose to attend somewhere other than their home school, but must apply and be accepted to attend there.

The funny thing is, when I was in school back in the 1960s, I went to Model Laboratory School at Eastern Kentucky University and we applied to attend.

So, really we had a “choice” back then.

“Choice” is not new to education.

There are many major differences between choice back then and now.

Although charters are advertised to help students with achievement gaps, there is nothing in the bill that requires the schools to take those who have difficulty learning and are in need of a different learning environment.

What has this done for at-risk students? The answer is still up for debate and being questioned.

Furthermore, when I went to Model, we paid a tuition fee, as did students at other private schools.

Sadly, the tuition fee will be taken from public school funds as each student enrolls in a charter school. This will have a direct impact on the number of teachers per school and the resources used with students.

More importantly, public schools that will be losing funding for teachers and resources must still abide by state and federal legislation, while charter schools will not be under the same laws.

According to the Lexington Herald March 23 editorial, charters will have to comply with health, safety, civil rights and disability requirements, but will not have to provide free- or reduced-lunch for students. This is a contradiction to the many speeches that spread the word that this would give low-income students more alternatives to find a better education.

Finally, the biggest factor is accountability. High stakes testing within our state has directed the curriculum, the teaching and the status of schools. Will charter schools be restricted to this accountability? If not, then how will parents know how their students are progressing? In fact, how will anyone know if the school is effective?

Politically, it is being heralded as a victory for our new governor. Sen. Mitch McConnell praised the flexibility in charter schools and their freedom to develop innovative practices.

OK, then why do public schools still have no options to change “the way they do things?” It is because the federal grants and state funding keep them under regulations and policies that come with receiving state or federal funding.

If the state really wants to help learning equity within all schools, there are two things that would eliminate some of the gaps without adding more schools. First, the state can start paying for full-day kindergarten for all public schools. The district only receives funding for half-day kindergarten. Secondly, the state could mandate and provide funding for preschool. At this point, there are restrictions so not all students go and are not required to do so.

Kentucky legislators made a “choice” to no longer support public schools by enacting a law that will weaken its infrastructure.

Pat Rosenthal is a former teacher and administrator for Clark County Public Schools.