Part I: Defeat of Initiative 42

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Recently the online journal “Uncut” featured an article by Tom Cahill on Nov. 5, 2015, about several billionaires’ interests in education, particularly charter schools. In delving into how some of them, ranging from the Walton family and Rupert Murdoch, to Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, have invested several hundred million dollars in charter school education, the author uncovers the main motivating factor for their interest and investments in the charter school movement: Profit. Currently, 15 major charter school companies operate over 6,000 schools nationally. And the trend is continuing, as the red states, with firmly entrenched red state legislatures, are very receptive to the lobbyists of charter schools, but not for the interests of our children. The push for more charter schools isn’t based on a desire to better educate kids, but for the more callous purpose of higher corporate profit. As the Washington Post pointed out in several recent studies, charter schools, on average, don’t do any better or worse when compared side-by-side with their public counterparts. Charter schools’ supposed higher test scores in math and reading compared to public schools,  leave out the fact that many charters refuse to help struggling children, and instead dump them into public schools, in order to boost their own statistics. Several recent studies by educational foundations suggest the evidence that many charters seek to accept only the least difficult (and therefore the least expensive) students. Even though charter schools are required by law to admit students through lotteries, in many cities, the charters under-enroll the most disadvantaged children. Their suspension and expulsion rates are also much higher than public schools.  Special Education services in several of them are sparse or non-existent.

Not coincidentally, last September, the state legislature approved an application for two new charter schools to open in Jackson. RePublic Schools Inc. will run both schools: Joel D. Smilow Collegiate and Joel D. Smilow Prep. RePublic Schools Inc., headquartered in Nashville, is the charter management organization that opened one of the first charter schools in Mississippi last year, Reimagine Prep. Smilow Collegiate will be serve grades K-8, and Smilow Prep will serve grades 5-8. The schools will grow by a grade level each year until they reach eighth.

As in Jackson and in other US cities, the charter school trend across the nation is targeting  the linchpins of the vulnerable, poor, minority community: public K-12 schools.  The effort to privatize public education is primarily taking place in minority communities because of the ease of which they can justify opening these schools.

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Diane Ravitch, the former federal education official and now a nationally known  critic of the corporatization of American public schools, pointed out the motive behind the push for charter schools: “Your taxpayer dollars have been used to open schools that drain resources from your public schools while selecting the students they want. If your state already has charters, you can expect that parents and their children with charter school employees will lobby the legislature for more charters. They will close their schools for a day, hire buses, and send students to the state capitol, all dressed in matching T-shirts, to demand more charters.”

One needs to realize that these children and their parents are not fighting to keep their own schools open. They are tools in a war by corporate interests against traditional public schools–in which the prize is the $700 billion a year spent annually on public education.  And that war that can be only be won by the charter school companies expanding their chains and driving out public education.

It is reprehensible to a put dollars and cents value on our children. All children, gifted, average, artistic, athletic, learning disabled, autistic, or hyperactive–all deserve the very best education we can give them.

And finally, if you are in doubt that the state legislature is purposely starving our public schools, keep in mind that our schools are currently funded on a “D’ level, (their idea of adequately funded), and not on a “C” level, which would actually be adequate funding.

By Deborah Craig.