Money Giving Charters a Leg Up on Public Schools

Nkippbelieve_2014class1ew Orleans Ideologues with chips on their shoulders about the nation’s public school systems seem committed to doing everything possible to make sure there’s no level playing field to allow comparison of charter school performance as opposed to regular school district performances.

Reading the hometown paper in New Orleans, there was an item a week ago about $28 Million over the next 5 years going largely to the KIPP and First Line charter networks with $2.5 Million the first year.  This means something in New Orleans since the Katrina disaster allowed policy makers and public school system haters to use our city as ground zero in the remaking of a school system with charters.  KIPP is taking over Fredrick Douglass High School across the street from me, one grade at a time.  I watched some Saturday’s ago as they held a “fair” in the yard past the McCarty Square Arch to try to juice up recruitment with games, pizza, and whatnot.  You can really do some nice things, if you have the money and no limits on how to use it.  The folks giving the money to the charters claimed that they did so because the “test scores” seem to be improving more rapidly in the KIPP charters than in the Recovery School District.  The reports I have seen often contradicted this claim, but hey….

A national study by Western Michigan University researchers found that KIPP received significantly “more taxpayer dollars per student than regular public schools…” and “also noted that KIPP receives substantial amounts of private philanthropic money.”  I’ve met some of the founders of the KIPP network.  We invited one from Houston to come over and speak to the entire assembled family of ACORN organizers four or five years ago.  People were skeptical, pushed him hard on their anti-unionism, but no one questioned his passion or his sincerity.  I think he would be the first to admit that it’s a world easier to run 99 schools in 20 states from here and there than the tens of thousands of schools that make up the public charge of free education in America.

It also helps if you can spend more money.  The Western Michigan researchers found a 10% difference per pupil at the KIPP schools with a spread of $12,000 to $11,000 over public and a $3000 spread over other charters and when they estimated the private donor largesse then it bumped up another $5000 over that which meant that a KIPP school would have almost 50% more to spend per pupil that a regular public school.  Wow!   The KIPP people denied all of that, though reading the Times-Picayune, I had trouble believing them frankly, and furthermore, it’s not as if the KIPP network or any charter operation is as transparent as elected school board having to account for the millage are required to be.

Charters are getting a big bounce in resources and promo, but despite the unfair competition in resources and even performance, they still have a lot more to prove to establish that they are worth the money and are producing 50% better with their 50% advantage.  We need to be careful before buying this bridge across the Mississippi.

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