Do Charter Schools Advance or Impede Civil Rights?

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On January 27th, 2017, the Institute for Education Policy at John Hopkins School of Education convened a group of leaders to discuss charter schools and their relationship with civil rights.

Moderator Dmitri Mehlhorn noted that in light of the recent call for a moratorium on charter school expansion by the NAACP and introduction of bills like the Charter School Act of 2017 in Maryland where the discussion was held, the group would be discussing the impact of charter schools, especially with students of color.

The question under discussion is how much, and how fast they grow and whether charter schools themselves can violate civil rights of children, especially children of color through segregation, through discipline practices, through narrow learning, or whether the cap on charter schools is itself a violation of civil rights by preventing low income students of color from escaping schools systems that are not serving them well.

The group was composed of Hilary D. Shelton (Director to the NAACP’s Washington Bureau / Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy), Gerard Robinson (Resident fellow, Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute), Matthew Cregor, Esq. (Education Project Director at the Lawyers’ Committee), and Dr. Ashley Berner (Deputy Director of the Institute for Education Policy at John Hopkins School of Education).

Check out the full video of the discussion, titled “Do Charter Schools Advance or Impede Civil Rights?”

Local property tax policies affect education funding and equity in a major way

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A new report from EdBuild titled “Building Equity: Fairness in Property Tax Effort for Education” analyzes the way public schools are funded via property taxes and how this affects school funding equity.

“Close to half of public school dollars in the United States are raised locally, mostly from local property taxes. But not all property tax bills are created equal. In some states, tax rates are fairly similar across districts, while in other states, property owners in one district may be putting in twice the tax effort as those in another.”

Those disparities in “tax effort” for education funding are a key emphasis for the report, which aims to determine whether the burden put on poorer districts is more than their wealthier counterparts. The findings do show a “regressive” tax rate overall in education funding from property taxes, meaning a majority of the states studied had lower tax rates in wealthier neighborhoods, but that’s not the main takeaway.

The key problem highlighted in the report is the taxation of non-residential property, like businesses, factories, and farms. The state-by-state analysis shows that districts “often fail to effectively leverage the non-residential property tax base for school funding.”

Simplified, it often occurs that districts fail to have progressive tax rates on high value properties, meaning they need to make up the difference in education funding with higher taxes on areas that already have smaller tax bases.

So, while equitable education funding should look like this:

Instead, it ends up looking like this:

When this happens, the state’s education funding is inherently unfair. Higher value properties and parts of town aren’t contributing their fair share of school funding, either limiting overall funding or increasing the burden on needier areas.

This report shows that states have a real capability to increase equity in education funding (or do the opposite) based on a few key policies:

  1. Including non-residential property taxes in the conversation around funding.
  2. Guiding and limiting districts’ local tax rates to promote fairness in tax effort.
  3. Taking into consideration the income levels of local taxpayers and setting relative, progressive tax rates for education funds.
  4. The final point of policy revolves around how the state determines each district’s needed budget, and how much they pay toward that total. Essentially, this will determine the tax burden that is put on the local taxpayers.

The general concept of property tax driven education funding seems to be intrinsically inequitable. But, if it is to continue to serve as the model, states must take steps to craft policy that balance the dollars going to districts and the tax burden placed on all citizens.

“If public education is meant to provide every child, no matter his or her background, with the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive, then funding for public schools must be raised in a way that is aligned with this mission: fairly and equitably, in a manner that supports rather than harms needy communities.” – Building Equity: Fairness in Property Tax Effort for Education

How is it fair that poorer communities shoulder a greater tax burden than wealthier ones, while often still having their students receive fewer resources?

To see the full report and how states vary on their levels of fairness in educational funding: read more.

 

NAACP’s Charter School Task Force Meets Resistance in Los Angeles

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Hands off our charter schools!

That was the message delivered to the NAACP by charter parents, students and educators in an outdoor press conference ahead of the civil rights organization’s education hearing held at the Los Angeles Police Department Headquarters. The NAACP is currently engaged in a series of hearings around the country to hear from a variety of experts and community members about the organization’s call for a moratorium on charter schools.

That moratorium, passed by the historic civil rights group in October of 2016, has received heavy push-back from the African-American community as well as charter advocates who argue that it doesn’t align with the well-documented attitudes of parents who want more educational choices for their children.

The news conference, organized by the California Charter School Association, featured signs, t-shirts and pointed speeches condemning the NAACP policy. Students shared success stories of overcoming adversity at home and in their communities which they attributed to their charter schools. Educators spoke of the flexibility they have to customize their programs to the needs of their students.

“Black children have found solace in attending charter programs and many are finding greater acceptance and achieving greater victories” – Carmen Taylor Jones, National Council of Negro Women.

Educators and administrators from local charter schools also gave impassioned pleas to the NAACP to reconsider their call for a halt on expansion of the sector, noting charters are a viable option having positive results for many marginalized communities in California.

Following the press conference outside, the community members filled in the L.A. Police Department Auditorium, to take part in the hearing on charter schools and educational quality.

Margaret Fortune, CEO of Fortune School of Education, a network of K-12 public charter schools focused on closing the African American achievement gap, gave perhaps the most passionate testimony to the task force. In a reoccurring theme for the charter advocates that spoke, she noted that she is a card-holding member of the organization, but could not wrap her head around the idea that they would call for a halt to a system that is showing results with so many Black children.

“The charters and public schools today have to work together. Charter schools exist because of dissatisfaction with public schools” – George McKenna, LAUSD District 1 Board Member. 

Fortune and several others who gave testimony lamented the division caused by the moratorium, noting that it was a “distraction” that was dividing, rather than empowering the community to work together to fight for quality education regardless of school type.

Similar to the most recent hearing in Orlando, Florida, the task force listened to testimony from a variety of speakers advocating both for and against the moratorium. Speakers at this event included charter school founders and advocates, teachers union representatives, school board members and unlike the previous hearing, a relatively large group of parents, teachers, and students.

The final segment of the hearing, a time designated for comments and questions from these stakeholders, showed more of the division between those in attendance, with speakers alternating between supporting and condemning the charter moratorium.

One thing was clear from the outset: these California charter families and advocates have and will continue to organize to stop the NAACP and any other body from limiting their educational options.

Takeaways From the NAACP Task Force’s ‘Quality Education’ Hearing in Orlando.

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On Friday, January 27th, the NAACP continued their series of education hearings, held by a special task force to “to gain further knowledge, engage in debate, and take action” as a response to the backlash to their ‘moratorium’ on charter schools. After hearings in New Haven, Connecticut and Memphis, Tennessee, the third of seven hearings took place last weekend in Orlando, during the Florida NAACP state conference.

Held at the Rosen Centre Hotel, the event was lightly attended (<100 in attendance) and saw a format of rotating presentations and testimony to the task force, who would follow up with a few questions. After the greetings, opening remarks and presentations, the panel took a (very) short series of questions and answers from those in attendance.

Here are a few notes from the event:

The most important voices – stakeholders – were largely absent. 

While the NAACP claimed the purpose of the task force was to have a national “stakeholder convening”, those voices were nearly completely absent at this hearing. The event began at 2:00 pm in the afternoon on a weekday, leading one to question how said stakeholders would able to attend in the first place.

The most relevant voices of parents, students, and educators who see the inside of these schools daily, were mostly missing. Late into the proceedings, one of the few youth voices to be heard, Brendien Mitchell, a member of the Youth and College Division of the Florida NAACP, noted it was worth discussion that the younger voices were not heard until the end of the hearing.

If the NAACP is genuine in their desire to convene stakeholders and engage in productive conversation, they ought to reconsider their methods. Unfortunately, the format at this hearing was not conducive to that goal. Perhaps they should consider making the next gathering more accessible and open to parents, students and educators.

The lack of youth in the audience was reflected by the actual task force. At one point, the head of the panel noted “you should know that we do have a young person on this task force.. but he could not be here today”.

The NAACP showed a disturbing deference to AFT president Randi Weingarten and felt the need for a police presence. 

For some reason, American Federation of Teachers President, Randi Weingarten was treated as some kind of rock star or guest of honor at the hearing. Prior to her presentation, the head of the task force told the audience to stand, and give Ms. Weingarten a rousing ovation. This moment was odd to say the least, and suffice it to say, calling for a standing ovation for the teachers’ union head did not reflect well on the supposed unbiased nature of the hearing.

Midway through her presentation, educational advocate and former head of Black Lives Matter – St. Paul, Rashad Turner spoke out. He interrupted Weingarten in an attempt to counter her misinformation around charters. He also questioned the unique level of admiration that was reserved for Weingarten, after other presenters like the state’s recent Superintendent of the Year, Robert Runcie of Broward County, didn’t receive the same.

Turner was quickly shouted down, with the task force shutting off the lights and having him removed from the hearing by police. This isn’t the first controversy around the NAACP being called out for their moratorium. As they were ratifying the resolution in Cincinatti, families rallying outside had the police called on them.

Misinformation and Confusion abound. 

The task force sent to Orlando and tasked with the duty of weighing presentations and testimony seemed woefully confused and misinformed on many points around how charter schools operate. Specifically, the false dichotomy of “private charters” vs “public schools” persisted throughout the majority of the hearing which did lead to at least a few of the presenters feeling the need to point out to the panel that charter schools are in fact public.

Beyond that, there seemed to be confusion around what lotteries for enrollment are and how they work, as well as misinformation around accountability standards for schools, specifically in Florida. In relation to the state of charters in Florida, the task force heard in plain terms that they are in fact held to high accountability standards and are performing at high levels.

It is cause for concern that this long after the moratorium was passed, NAACP representatives are still so ignorant about what charter schools are and how they work. And it has to be frustrating for school and district leaders to continually have to explain the same basic truths over and over to a bunch of folks who quite simply, refuse to do their homework.

For more information and several videos from the NAACP education hearing, check the #WakeUpNAACP hashtag on twitter, and follow us @CitizenEd.