Af­ter the blue wave, a new push against school choice

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - DEB­O­RAH SIM­MONS Deb­o­rah Sim­mons can be con­tacted at dsim­[email protected]­ing­ton­times.com.

Chris Van Hollen, the junior sen­a­tor from Mary­land, ap­pears to have vol­un­teered him­self as the wa­ter bearer for ed­u­ca­tion re­form. The Demo­crat al­ready has syn­chro­nized strat­egy with the teach­ers’ unions and other pro­gres­sive groups that want to re­write the nar­ra­tive on school choice.

If they suc­ceed over the course of the next decade, a span cho­sen by Mr. Van Hollen, who knows whether the school choice move­ment will still be mak­ing for­ward progress?

But first, a short re­fresher course. In March 1988, Al­bert Shanker gave a speech at the Na­tional Press Club ex­plain­ing why, as pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers, he had be­come a backer of what he called “a dif­fer­ent type of school.” He re­ferred to them as schools-within-schools, where small groups of teach­ers could co­a­lesce to help raise the aca­demic stand­ings of stu­dents who don’t or­di­nar­ily rise on their own.

The Shanker pro­posal fol­lowed the mag­net plan, wherein some school dis­tricts, like D.C. Pub­lic Schools and Fair­fax County Pub­lic Schools, of­fered de­cen­tral­ized school­ing. The char­ter school move­ment fol­lowed the Shanker pro­posal and, in­ter­est­ingly, for the same rea­son the union leader had ad­vo­cated.

Shanker pointed out that the sta­tus quo was leav­ing be­hind 80 per­cent of the na­tion’s pub­lic school chil­dren, and that that could only be changed if ad­min­is­tra­tors and teach­ers led the way.

Times have changed, but the prob­lem has not. The 80 per­centers re­main 80 per­centers.

The teach­ers unions and their sup­port­ers ar­gue that chil­dren aren’t learn­ing be­cause school sys­tems are not get­ting the money they need from tax­pay­ers. So along comes Mr. Van Hollen, fresh off Demo­cratic gains in the House and sev­eral state­houses, in­tro­duced the “Keep Our Prom­ise to Amer­ica’s Chil­dren and Teach­ers Act,” or PACT.

PACT calls for manda­tory fund­ing of Ti­tle I, which pro­vides aid for poor stu­dents and at-risk stu­dents, and the In­di­vid­u­als with Dis­abil­i­ties Ed­u­ca­tion Act (IDEA), which tar­gets spe­cial-ed stu­dents. The pro­posal also opens the door to a 10-year-long manda­tory “fund­ing glide path.”

Early sup­port­ers are the AFT, the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion and as­sorted pro­gres­sive groups, in­clud­ing the $15-an-hour min­i­mum-wage crowd, and AFT Pres­i­dent Randi Wein­garten set out the pro­gres­sives’ talk­ing points on Wed­nes­day.

“Too many spe­cial-ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams are un­der­staffed, leav­ing too many stu­dents with spe­ciale­d­u­ca­tion needs strug­gling to achieve at grade level, too many stu­dents of color at­tend­ing schools with ag­ing text­books and crowded class­rooms, and too many stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties go­ing to school with­out the sup­ports they need,” she said. “The his­toric un­der­fund­ing of Ti­tle I and the In­di­vid­ual with Dis­abil­i­ties Act has re­in­forced a sep­a­rate and un­equal ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, leav­ing a $580 bil­lion hole that has short­changed the fu­tures of our na­tion’s most vul­ner­a­ble stu­dents.”

Now, one could suppose that Ms. Wein­garten and her anti-choice at­ti­tude would mean that even chil­dren in char­ter schools or re­ceiv­ing pub­lic vouch­ers would be in­cluded in that lot. But sup­po­si­tions are not al­lowed, be­cause Demo­cratic vic­tors in the midterms are brac­ing to lay hands on sup­port­ers of school choice — but not to help heal the all of the vul­ner­a­ble.

In­deed, the blue wa­vers are not all in. The in­com­ing Demo­cratic gover­nors in Cal­i­for­nia, Illi­nois and New Mex­ico want to halt char­ter growth, while their coun­ter­parts in Con­necti­cut, Kansas, Maine and Ne­vada aren’t as en­thu­si­as­tic for char­ter schools as their pre­de­ces­sors.

Con­sid­er­ing the fact that Cal­i­for­nia was a very early sup­porter of charters proves the land­scape is chang­ing, and for that the Democrats can thank the tit­u­lar leader of their party, Barack Obama, who tol­er­ated charters and never sup­ported vouch­ers.

I’ve said all that to close with this: Pro­gres­sives want to put charters on a taut leash, a leash on is­sues run­ning from A to Z. The A, of course, stands for “ac­count­abil­ity” — the very fac­tor that’s never fac­tored into the fail­ings of tra­di­tional school sys­tems.

Just like tra­di­tional schools, char­ter schools have their problems. Which means school-choice sup­port­ers have sev­eral ob­vi­ous op­tions at this early junc­ture: They can shore up char­ter schools to en­sure they have dot­ted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s, or they can merely rely on ed­u­ca­tional sav­ings ac­counts and call it a day.

The lat­ter means it’s likely those “stu­dents of color” Ms. Wein­garten re­ferred to would still be sit­u­ated on the low end of the aca­demic lad­der.

Why? In large ur­ban ar­eas, char­ter schools are those kids’ neigh­bor­hood schools.

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