Privatization of Public Education

Don’t Trust Charter Charlatans

Dear Kentucky Senators,

Today at 1:00 PM, you will gavel in for day 57 of a 60 day session. Presumably, you will be asked to vote on HB9, the charter school funding mechanism bill, today or tomorrow, before the 10-day VETO period begins, allowing you enough time to override the Governor’s veto. I beg you to be fully aware of the following facts before casting an affirmative vote, should you intend to do so.

Using SEEK funding formulas to allow taxpayer dollars to “follow the child” to a non-public entity to manage, is not only unconstitutional, it’s misguided, for the simple fact that not all students cost the same dollar amount to educate. We have created a system that FICTITIOUSLY evaluates a school’s performance based on test scores. Therefore, that system perceives the best schools as those that produce the highest test scores for the least amount of money. It’s a system that creates “cost center managers” who are forced to try to weed out students with a “lower ROI.”  These students already wind up at a disadvantage within the public school system. Charter schools have no CHOICE but to operate from that same mentality, and charter school legislation gives them plenty more “outs” than their public school peers, which will mean more incentive to game the system to educate students as cheaply as possible, to do what? Benefit their bottom line! And if they fail? No worries. Predators in other states have modeled how easy it is to just close up shop, keep the assets, change names and do it all over again. We have CREATED that formula, and that’s a big part of what’s already failing our minority children in JCPS, not public schools that are forced to implement it. We know this, because many of our students and educators in Jefferson County live it every day. If you want to close achievement gaps, FOCUS ON FIXING THAT instead of legislating around it and further tying our hands! Help us bring transparency by prohibiting gag orders on lawsuit settlements, for example! Ask us what we need! Not union leaders. Parents! Teachers! Students!! Grassroots groups! Add a seat at the table, don’t take more voices and resources away!

Whether the dark-money-backed lawmakers and their slick ALEC talking points want to acknowledge it or not, charter schools, and even many public schools, DO cherry-pick their students. From simply having an application in the first place, to pushing out students for subjective reasons, to making a parent’s or student’s life so miserable they give up and quit, it can and does happen. It is hardly ever blatant discrimination. Although, there’s plenty of that too.

Take for example, the lead pastor of the “group of Black pastors who have been wanting to open a charter school in West Louisville for decades.” I first met Jerry Stephenson after he organized a press conference in front of Westport Middle school during an off-site JCPS school board meeting in October of 2015. Being boots on the ground when Bevin and Heiner started pushing for “charters in the West End” we started talking with teachers, administrators and parents about what our families in West Louisville REALLY needed, and discovered ALL THE REASONS WHY CHARTER SCHOOLS WOULD MAKE THINGS WORSE, NOT BETTER, FOR OUR FAMILIES.

My son was attending the Academy @ Shawnee’s aviation magnet at the same time the district was choking off resources, shutting down programs, not replacing leaders, presumably to prepare her to be handed off as a sacrificial lamb to the charter school wolves in waiting, but we didn’t recognize that at the time. We just knew that nothing that was happening made sense, including forcing the resignation of a dynamic principal over the summer, and denying a replacement, and instead coming up with a 4-pronged plan out of central office to completely overhaul Shawnee’s leadership structure, school operations plan and create considerable upheaval in students and families’ lives, without anyone actually setting foot in the building and asking stakeholders what was needed, what’s worked and hasn’t worked, etc. A handful of us had just formed a PTSA at Shawnee, so, with the school building being absent of leadership, we became the information clearinghouse and conflict-resolution “adults in the building.” A coalition of parent and teacher acquaintances had begun working on addressing racial injustices that we kept running up against in JCPS, and we requested a meeting with their group. Myself, a JCPS ESL teacher and another JCPS parent went to their church facility for a meeting. 

Seven or eight Black men, including Jerry Stephenson, were sitting around a conference table in an upstairs room in their old church building. They had just eaten and women were clearing their plates. A conversation about how JCPS was failing Black students began. Jerry did most of the talking. Very early on into the conversation, it became clear that his perceptions about JCPS were based on outdated stereotypes. We did not disagree about the problem, just the solution. We raised specific, current examples of students falling through the cracks, and patterns that we were working to address. We talked about how charter schools would impede that progress and create even more “pass the buck” opportunities while offering no real benefit in return. We shared with him research on ALEC and the historical evidence of the harm charters have caused in other states, and how we would be harmed if similar predatory, profit-driven legislation were allowed to pass in Kentucky. He countered with, “there was nothing wrong with making a little profit.” He stated that he also objected to the “liberal agenda” being taught in schools. He also spoke about his desire for schools to teach religious moral concepts. One of the ladies who was there with me kicked me under the table at one point, it had gotten so bad. I know I wasn’t quite sure what to make of our visit, but one thing I DID know was that tax dollars should not be used to fund it.

In December, 2015, right after Matt Bevin was elected Kentucky Governor, he announced, “we’re going to bring charters to Kentucky and we’re going to start in West Louisville.” It clicked with me that he meant Shawnee High School, and several of us tried to attend that announcement meeting, which was nothing more than a publicity stunt. Anyone who had been seen outside holding a sign was locked out when the meeting began. Others came and went, but whenever anyone from our group approached the door, a bouncer stood in front of it and waved us away. I posted about it. The press reported on it. I finally was allowed in after Bevin had left, and I had the opportunity, once again, to chat with Pastor Jerry (who hails from Indiana), as well as Milton Seymore, who had participated in the press event, about the fallacies of the arguments they were making and to once again ask the “what about the kids who remain in public schools,” and “how does a charter school fix that” types of questions, to which there were no answers. 

What they DID answer for me was one of their reasons for wanting to start a charter school was based in bigotry. Once again, the “liberal agenda” became the concern. When pressed for more specifics, he informed me he was opposed to programs that supported gay, lesbian, bi and trans students. At that moment, two other pastors used the intimidation of their physical presence to “correct” me when I dared to disagree with him. I blogged about that experience, too:

But that’s not all. In this video, I showcase some of the disinformation that is being used to resurrect this bill. It was a bad bill in 2017 and it is a bad bill now. HB9 is a bigoted, wasteful, unconstitutional, disingenuous affront to minority, LGBTQ+, disabled and poor students, of whom JCPS serves the majority of in this state. Yet, charter schools being forced upon a community that has OVERWHELMINGLY SAID WE DON’T WANT THEM, is an affront to all of the taxpayers of Jefferson County. If you pass this bill into law, you are FORCING us to FUND a failed experiment with our own tax dollars and using our own children as guinea pigs so outsiders who fund some of your colleagues’ campaigns can make a quick buck off our backs and the backs of our children. This bill, which was resurrected from the dead only a week ago, will pump blood into the heart of the beast that we already slayed, and that blood comes from our public school children and their families, who are already on life support. 

In summary, if this bill passes, you will be FORCING OUR HAND, the hand that provides a good chunk of those SEEK funds that school districts across Kentucky rely on. This short-sighted bill, and the unchecked bigotry behind it, is going to cause Jefferson County to implode. It will either force us into bankruptcy, or will force us to “sue you to stop you.” Either way, it will have created a no-win situation that will only waste more time, money and lives. Black lives. And they matter. At least to us in Jefferson County, they do. If they matter to you, too, you will vote no on HB9.

Thank you.