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  • THE PROBLEM WITH CHOICE

    Filed at 2:05 am under by dcobranchi

    The Minneapolis Star Tribune has an interesting piece on how the proliferation of charter schools is affecting the regular g-schools.

    [A]s students exercise their options, the traditional public schools they leave lose basic state student aid, compounding other financial pressures. In urban and small rural areas, schools are closing, and families who stay are seeing their options within the public system narrow. In some ways, choice is undermining the regular schools and communities.

    …In Minneapolis, which may have the most choice options in the state, nearly 21 percent of school-age students opted out of district schools last year, almost twice the rate as in 1994-95. And that’s had an effect on those who have decided to stay. For example, dozens of parents opposing a recent proposal to close as many as 10 Minneapolis schools noted that their choice — to send their kids to relatively small neighborhood schools — could be eliminated.

    …”It’s very much a downward spiral,” said Natalie Siderius, a member of the school board in Winona, which recently moved to close an elementary school in Dakota, on the far south end of the district, only to have parents organize to keep it open as a charter school, sponsored by the state Department of Education. “Parents want small classrooms and schools, and we’re looking at closing them. The kids that remain in the system have to bear a larger and larger percentage of the costs.”

    In Winona, a district with about 4,000 students and three charter schools already, the school board voted to close the 70-student Dakota Elementary to help deal with a $2.4 million budget imbalance. But when the school opens this fall as a charter school with state sponsorship, the district will be required to pay transportation costs and some costs for special education students. The turn of events has rankled district officials even more than having to provide a taxi to get some kids to a charter school, as they did recently. “It’s frustrating,” Siderius said. In her view, the state is “creating two public school systems.”

    …While charter schools get start-up money from the federal government and help paying rent from the state — in addition to standard per-pupil funding — they face less academic scrutiny than regular public schools, Jennings argues. Meanwhile, he points out, their governing boards are unelected, directors need not be licensed, and the schools don’t have to pay their nonunion teachers as much as public districts pay their well-organized ones.

    Of course, the school districts that learn to compete aren’t complaining.

    Adjacent to Minneapolis, the St. Anthony-New Brighton district was about to dry up and blow away not long ago. In 1988-89, it had fewer than 1,000 students in its three schools. This year, it has 1,675, the difference due entirely to students from other districts who have entered through open enrollment, many from Minneapolis. Among districts in which students have exercised all the major choice options, it’s the state’s top net gainer.

    Superintendent Bob Duncan said that despite its growth, it also has the advantage of its small size — one of two factors that, along with academic rigor, led Carpenter to choose St. Anthony for her daughter.

    Duncan said the district next year will reach its capacity, but that there are no plans for new buildings. “If we start becoming bigger, we might start losing some of the reasons for coming here,” he said.

    It does look like some kind of death-spiral for some of the g-schools. Darn! Social Darwinism at work, I guess.

    All in all, the system appears to be working. Parents (the paying customers) are pleased; (some) schools are learning to adapt; and, the teachers’ union is pissed. A three-fer!

    One Response to “THE PROBLEM WITH CHOICE”


    Comment by
    Lyndon Luddite
    April 12th, 2004
    at 11:07 pm

    To All:

    It is a known fact that the smaller the governmental agency, the more responsive it is to the needs of the governed.

    Indeed, we might hark back to the one room school. The charter school picks up when the conglomerate school district fails.

    The charter school that I am associated with pays the teachers and staff the same as the ISD. The teaching staff is in 7th heaven given the small classes and public support. It is sad that the local ISD and others keep ragging on the charter schools.

    The ISD because of size and bureaucracy is transfixed in time and can cannot change.