Charter Schools Offer Solution

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In New York City, many school officials have accepted the challenge of charter schools to provide competition and innovation to energize the public school system. The State Senate in Albany restored $30 million in funding to New York charter schools. Mayor Bloomberg gave them a hearty endorsement

[Fleming’s Views]

Nothing has shaken up the national education pot as much as the hotly contested debate over the role of America’s charter schools.

This alternative form of education has pitted states against school districts and special interest groups in a scramble for advantage in getting control of the first $44 billion in education funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Concerned parents know that their children are not getting their education they deserve in this current academic environment and they are seeking other options to insure a good future for their young.

During his campaign for the White House last year, President Barack Obama made "quality education" one of his staples on his platform. That promise of achievement and excellence buoyed the electorate, which realized that George W. Bush’s education agenda of "No Child Left Behind" was a grand failure.

In his recently passed stimulus bill, the president earmarked financial incentives to improve education by teacher quality, student performance, college-readiness, and the number of effective charter schools.

In an article in a national publication last month, Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, wrote: "We need a culture of accountability in America’s educational system if we want to be the best in the world. No more false choices about money versus reform, or traditional public schools versus chapters. No more blaming parents or teachers. We need solid, unimpeachable information that identifies what’s working and what’s not working in our schools. Our children deserve no less."

Nobody will argue that the traditional public schools are failing to educate our children. Many educators and legislators are afraid to embrace the potential of charter schools or to put more funding into the deteriorating traditional public schools. It’s as if they have given up on the public school system and are afraid to look into other educational options.

What does all this have to do with Black children? Well, everything looks grim on the educational front for our youth. A 2007 study from the Brookings Institutions warned that the gap in higher education between the rich and poor, whites and minorities – is widening every year.

Also, the opportunities for the poor and people of color are closing the door to the benefits of the middle class and higher. Specifically, a majority of Black children born to middle class parents are growing up to have lower income and this negatively impacts on our communities, according to the study.

Charter schools, according to many educators and officials, are part of the answer. On every level, a recent Rand Corporation survey found that charters had increased high school graduations and higher college admission than traditional public schools.

In New York City, many school officials have accepted the challenge of charter schools to provide competition and innovation to energize the public school system. The State Senate in Albany restored $30 million in funding to New York charter schools. Mayor Bloomberg gave them a hearty endorsement: "People say it’s taking money from the public school system. That’s nonsense. These charters are public schools. They’re laboratories for success that others can emulate within a public school system."

The city’s number of charters rose from 17 schools in 2002 to 78 this year, with 24, 500 students. In 2009, that total is expected to rise to 99 schools this fall, with 32,500 enrolled. In Harlem, one out of eight students attend the 23 charters there. And by 2010, there will be 120 charters in operation in the metropolitan area, according to city data.

But across the country, that is not the case with several cash-strapped states. With 1.4 million students in 4,600 charter schools, those states feeling the sting of recession are coping with higher welfare rolls, an increase of fired workers collecting unemployment benefits, struggling businesses, and school systems.

Although city school students are fleeing the traditional zoned schools for charter schools, there is great resistance to funding this element of alternative education. Some states in the Midwest and east have cut public funds to the schools.

Some teachers unions, such as the Ohio Education Association, have testified against charters and supported legislation designed to limit charters. The charters are not unionized and the unions see that as a problem for teacher quality and control. In Ohio, state officials want to cut the funding for charters by 20% and their counterparts in North Carolina want to close some of their ineffective charter schools.

Ten states do not permit charter schools. Another 26 states, including the District of Columbia, limit their numbers, curtail their enrollment growth and have funding restrictions on their books. Still, students, hungry for knowledge and career opportunities, come to the nearest charter school, seeking entry. There are over 365,000 students on the waiting lists to the various charter schools.

Overall, standards of education vary regionally. So many high school graduates are getting their degrees unprepared for college or work or life. With that said, nothing good can come from the demise of charter schools.

It’s an idea whose time has come.

Black Star columnist Fleming writes on education, politics, business, foreign and national issues.

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