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Charters Recant: Money Matters

Remember the confident claims of the charter champions? Money doesn’t matter, they insisted. What matters is good management and getting rid of unions. Free of unions and cumbersome rules, charter schools would do better, for less, they self-assuredly predicted.

Now they’re singing a different tune. The charter-touting Fordham Foundation, headed by Reagan administration assistant secretary of education Chester Finn, is whining that charter schools get less money than traditional public schools.

It’s not fair, pouts Checker. We want our fair share. Never mind that charter schools do not even pretend to educate students with special needs whose high costs inflate the average per-pupil expenditure in city schools. They still want what the public schools spend.

Then, according to today’s Times, Checker gets really mad. If New York City can sue, so can we, he proclaims, stamping his foot in frustrated envy. Never mind that the right has consistently scorned school finance equity suits. Conservative academics flocked to New York to argue at the CFE case that the city doesn’t need any more money. Just look at the parochial schools that cost half as much, they argued. (Not so hard when you pay your teachers pennies.) The problem, they concluded unanimously, is union salaries and union work rules.

So now the shoe is on the other foot, and the charter schools (almost all non-union) are crying poverty. Next we’ll hear them blame their less-than-stellar performance on under-financing. Welcome to the club, Checker.



  • 1 curious2
    · Aug 23, 2005 at 4:28 pm

    Yipes CitySue! You have a tendency to write in extremes. I don’t think most charter school supporters claim that money doesn’t matter. Rather, they generally don’t think that giving public schools more money makes sense as a solution to our problems.

    If you read the report, you will note that they try to address several issues including differences in student populations. Personally, I think they handled your particular concern (special ed) in an incomplete manner. However, it is difficult to believe that the differences in funding they point out can be entirely or even mostly justified based on special ed — they make this point briefly. Take a look at the report.

    Meanwhile, I think most charter school supporters believe that charters are generally providing a better education at a lower cost than public schools. (Of course, there are many great public schools and many poor charter schools.) However, they would like to close the funding gap so that they can increase their outperformance. In the very least, they want people to understand that they are outperforming with less money.

    In any case, right or wrong, I wish you adopted a less nasty and sarcastic tone. Your obvious passion might get better results in a forum like this without the anger.

  • 2 InstitutionalMemory
    · Aug 23, 2005 at 5:01 pm

    CitySue, you were right on! The “study” (more accurately, propaganda) was funded by Gates (Klein’s future employer?) and Walmart! Charter schools whole premise is that they can do more for less, and now they’re bitching that they get too little! Do these folks have any sense of irony? Checker, give it up!

  • 3 CitySue
    · Aug 23, 2005 at 5:04 pm

    Whatever you think of my tone (just having fun), you cannot deny that better results at lower costs (as a result of fewer rules and regulations), were a major selling point for charters. Now it seems they are backing away from that commitment. (And of course I agree that the funding disparity is more than special ed costs; it’s just that a valid comparison can’t be made on “average” per pupil expenditures when you have a different mix of students. Same goes in the other direction when you look at facilities costs.) And by the way, exactly what’s the difference between “money doesn’t matter” and “money won’t solve our problems.”? If you follow the statements and testimony of some conservative public-school critics, many do think and say that more or less money will not make a difference.

  • 4 curious2
    · Aug 23, 2005 at 6:18 pm

    Thanks for these thoughtful comments, CitySue. I think I understand what you are saying.

    I think some public-school critics think that adding more funding to such a badly managed system is highly wasteful. They think the current system does such a poor job with the current funds that they shouldn’t be trusted with more. Some of these same critics would trust charter schools with more funds and, moreover, would like to see them operate on a level playing-field with public schools to help better demonstrate their superiority. Other critics would be willing to spend more on the public schools in exchange for what they think are badly needed reforms.

    I tend to think that the system shouldn’t need more money; that teachers can and should make more money if they operated in a more conventional system that rewarded merit and penalized incompetence, sometimes through termination; that there is an enormous amount of bureaucratic waste that has nothing to do with teachers but, rather, is a function of an organizational structure that could be massively streamlined, e.g. by terminating unnecessary administrators; that teachers should be accountable to principals, principals to superindentents, etc. all the way up to the mayor, who should be fired through election if he doesn’t produce results; and that seniority, tenure rules and excessive licensure requirements lead to mediocrity or worse.

    I look forward to discussing these issues with you in the future.

  • 5 msd2005
    · Aug 24, 2005 at 10:47 am

    I agree that these broad generalizations about the charter movement do not serve the debate very well. Especially given that each state does charter schools very differently. Moreover lumping charter schools into a conservative/Republican versus liberal/Democrat paradigm is not very helpful. While cost-savings may be one argument in favor of charter schools, I think most charter advocates are more concerned with raising academic achievement. Most people would agree that public education could do better with more money, but many also feel that putting more money into the current system as it stands is throwing money down a hole. Charter schools are supposed to add a level of accountability that might just justify adequate funding (if the poor performing schools are shut down as they should be). The fact that so many successful charter schools scramble for grants and private funds (that are available to district schools as well) should help us demonstrate what adequate funding really means within the context of meaningful reform practices.

  • 6 kombiz
    · Aug 24, 2005 at 2:16 pm

    I’m not sure there’s a conservative/Republican versus liberal/Democrat paradigm as you describe in the comment. There have been opponents of public education for a long time, and they tend to be conservatives. They also tend to be heavily against teachers belonging in a union, a view they hold about other workers in the workforce. Pointing this out doesn’t call up the political divide as there are many Republicans and even some conservatives who don’t share the view of Finn.

  • 7 InstitutionalMemory
    · Aug 24, 2005 at 2:41 pm

    Conventional definitions are no longer applicable. Once upon a time, conservatives were strongly opposed to deficit spending, and liberals would have had major problems with the Supreme Court’s recent eminent domain decision.

  • 8 msd2005
    · Aug 24, 2005 at 11:17 pm

    Kombiz, are you saying that someone who supports charter schools is an opponent of public education. Many charter founders are quite liberal and support charter schools specifically because they are public schools (and not vouchers for private schools). One aspect of charter schools is their competitive nature which is supposed to improve all public schools, and you can make a good argument that using market forces is a conservative impulse. On the other hand, charter schools can also be considered complementary to existing public schools, creating much needed options for different kinds of learners. Unions are about what is best for teachers, and I think many charter schools relish a non-unionized environment where the focus is on the kids. I think the reason many teachers want to work in charter schools is the opportunity to have more flexibility and professional input in their school climate and practices, and to be held accountable for results.

  • 9 Mike in Texas
    · Aug 27, 2005 at 4:45 pm

    Here in Texas a report was released showing charters actually spend more money per student than public schools.

    Of course, our cheerleader commish of education is now claiming they were some “clerical errors” on the part of some of the charters and they actually spend less. No word on her about the other recent reports that charters in Texas are doing a worse job of educating students than the public schools.

  • 10 institutional memory
    · Aug 27, 2005 at 6:29 pm

    A whole BUNCHA clerical errors, no doubt. The spirit of Rod Paige is alive and well!

  • 11 Communicate or Die
    · Aug 28, 2005 at 6:20 pm

    UFT enters the “blogosphere”

    New York City’s teacher union, the United Federation of Teachers, took a dive into the 21st Century last week by launching a blog. Called Edwize, the blog is described as being “a place where members, public education advocates and others can expres…

  • 12 The Bellman
    · Aug 28, 2005 at 10:43 pm

    Labor blogging roundup

    First up, three new additions to our labor weblog aggregator.

    NET-workers is a labor centric group blog I hadn’t seen before. The authors describe themselves as “three young people who think workers’ rights are central to a progressive agenda and …