Thursday, March 10, 2016

Dividing Parents Over Charters and Traditional Government Schools

Newark, New Jersey—the state’s largest city—has a burgeoning charter school sector, and the schools generally do a better job than the traditional government schools. At least 25% of Newark students attend charter schools, five times 2008, and the number is likely headed to 40% within three years. “It seems inevitable,” observes Tom Moran for the New Jersey Star-Ledger, “that charters will eventually educate the majority of Newark kids.” As a result, many more charter applications ih the state are pending as demand continues to outstrip available charter openings.

But, despite parental demand and superior quality, charter schools continue to face opposition from the education establishment in Newark. Unfortunately, Mayor Ras Baraka is on the reactionary side.

In Baraka decries latest charter school spat as 'organized campaign' to divide parents, NJ Advance Media’s Dan Ivers reports for

Recent controversy over a letter to the state Department of Education has Mayor Ras Baraka decrying what he is calling an organized campaign to divide public and charter school parents in the city.

The Dec. 17 letter to Education Commissioner David Hespe urges the state to reject applications [to] expand enrollment by charter networks including KIPP (TEAM Academy), Uncommon Schools (North Star Academy) and the Robert Treat Academy. He argues that their growth would unfairly siphon state aid from traditional public schools already struggling with a significant lack of resources.

As you can see, the "division" Baraka sees (or imagines) is over the allocation of tax money. This kind of conflict is inherent is any scheme that throws everyone's money into one big pot: everone has no choice but to fight over his "fair share."

I left these comments:

Baraka’s “reasoning”—rationalization, actually—is a classic defense of the entrenched educational establishment against entrepreneurial progress.

In fact, we are, by our very nature, divided—into individuals, each with our own minds, values, opinions, and rights. Where we can unite is on ideas. One idea that we should agree on is the equal rights of parents to individually act on their own judgement in pursuit of a good education for their own children. That includes parental school choice.

Charter schools are funded by taxpayers. When a parent chooses a charter for her child, money earmarked for her traditional assigned government school follows her child to the charter school. Why shouldn’t it be that way? The entrenched establishment shouldn’t have a lock on taxpayer education funds any more than a business should have a lock on consumer dollars should a customer choose the spend her money elsewhere. Education tax dollars belong first and foremost to the people who earned the money in the first place; the taxpayers. It’s only fair that a taxpaying parent who pulls her child from the traditional government school in favor of a charter or other educational options should expect her child’s portion of the education tax dollars to follow. As long as we have tax-funded K-12 education, that’s exactly how tax dollars should be divided up—proportionally per child according to the value judgments of individual parents.

The reason why traditional public schools are “struggling with a significant lack of resources” is because parents are fleeing these failing schools in droves; failing, that is, in the judgment of the fleeing parents. The reason charter school operators continue to expand is because their schools are doing a good job in the judgement of more and more parents. For that reason, demand for charters continues to exceed supply in Newark.

Charters don’t give us anything close to a fully free education market, or even universal school choice. But to the extent charters give parents choices, they do offer some degree of market freedom. The growth of charters shouldn’t be “managed”—i.e., limited—by central planners. The growth of charters should be guided by the market; i.e., the cumulative voluntary choices of individual parents. The idea that charters impair “the ability of NPS to provide all students with a high quality, thorough and efficient education” is a hollow charge. The growth of charters proves that high quality education is exactly what NPS aren’t doing. In the name of collectivist utopianism—not “dividing” parents—Baraka proposes to stand in the NPS schoolhouse door, blocking children from escaping from schools their own parents judge to be failing their kids. The “organized campaign” by charter advocates looks to me as a defense of individual rights.

Related reading:

On Neo-George Wallaces Standing in the Schoolhouse Door, Keeping Children IN, rather than OUT

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