A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: Charter schools aren’t the answer to education issues facing Kentucky

By Stephanie Winkler
Special to KyForward

There are two lies that have been told so often that they now are taken as truth: 1) that Kentucky’s public schools (and indeed, all public schools) are “failing,” and; 2) that charter schools and “school choice” are the answer to that problem.

Neither is true.

It’s no secret to anyone who is paying attention that Kentucky’s public schools are badly underfunded, and have been for many years. Despite that significant deficit, our schools succeed, and do so at an ever-increasing rate.

According to data published by the Kentucky Department of Education in January 2016, Kentucky placed 16th in the nation for K-12 achievement overall; we improved our high school graduation rate by 12.2 percent over the past 10 years, putting Kentucky at sixth in the nation on that marker alone; in 2015, Kentucky’s fourth-grade students outperformed the national average NAEP scored in reading and math; that same year, our eighth-grade students outperformed the national average NAPE scores in reading.

As of January 2016, Kentucky had 3,273 active teachers who have achieved National Board certification, the ninth most in the nation. So, despite the continuing narrative of “failure,” the truth is, when measured by student achievement, Kentucky’s schools perform remarkably well under difficult circumstances.

That’s not to say that there aren’t problems; certainly, there are problems in all schools nationwide. In every state in the nation, persistent achievement gaps exist between low-income students and their wealthier counterparts; between English Language Learners (ELL) and students who have English as their first language; between students of color and white students; and between students with special needs and those students who do not need additional learning supports.

These problems are real and need real solutions.

But charter schools are not the answer. Research demonstrates time and again that students in charter schools do not outperform students in the public schools, and in fact, they often do worse.

Clearly, charter schools are not the answer to this problem. Although they currently exist in some form in 42 states in the nation, the problem of achievement gaps still persists nationwide. So why all the talk about charters?

That answer is simple: money.

The biggest lie about charter schools is that competition for public dollars will improve education for everyone. But increasing competition is a business principle, not an education policy.

What charter schools really do is divert taxpayer money – which is already insufficient – away from your community’s existing public schools and gives that money to private individuals to start their own businesses.

Supporters justify this scheme by calling charter schools “public charters,” as if simply claiming something is public actually makes it so. But that’s just not true. All charter school operators are privately-held corporations who will make money off this deal.

The push for charter schools isn’t about student success; it’s about making a profit. And it’s about opening the door for other, similar ways to divert public money to the private education sector: vouchers and “education savings accounts” won’t be far behind.

Public education serves the highest purpose in a democracy: to educate all citizens to become productive, informed participants in their own lives and in their government. KEA believes Kentucky should focus on funding all Kentucky public schools for all children.

Dividing existing public education dollars among more schools for the same number of children will not create better education and more choice; it will defund programs that are working and will reduce existing options in the public sector.

Don’t believe the lies.

Stephanie Winkler is president of the Kentucky Education Association, which represents more than 42,000 Kentucky public school employees, retirees and pre-service teachers. She is a fourth-grade science teacher on leave from the Madison County Public Schools. This article first appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader

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  1. RD Bran says:

    The REAL reason that students are not learning!!
    So often politicians pledge to improve education, yet continue to make the same proposals, push the same ideas that will never reap any positive changes because in order to find a solution, you must acknowledge the problem…from the inside. I have reached out to local newscasts, CNN, Dept. of Education, FOX NEWS, Trump, DeVos, and other powerful voices to give wings to the following reality. We need help.
    I have been an educator in the public school system for 22 years, teaching K-12 students in rural, urban and inner-city. I have worked with populations from affluent and privileged, to poor, needy and homeless. Therefore, I would like to offer some insight on the state of education in America’s school systems.
    With the government’s plans to build more charter schools and provide voucher options, it is depressingly apparent to teachers that the education department is out of touch and have no clue how to improve America’s education system. The decision makers MUST go into the schools and talk directly to teachers and staff, including custodians, food service, etc. (Without the administration present). This is imperative. You cannot rely on manipulated percentages put on paper, nor the touting of “remarkably fewer suspensions”.
    The truth?? We will not see any improvements in education until we get the students under control. “We can’t have good learning environments until we have good teaching environments.” Teachers need support in taking back control of the classroom. The problem is not that teachers cannot teach, nor is it that the students cannot learn…the students’ out of control behavior makes them UNTEACHABLE.
    Schools are not allowed to suspend students for cursing at, or threatening teachers. Students will talk, listen to music, walk around the classroom, and are constantly talking/texting on their cell phones while the teacher is attempting to teach. This behavior is going unpunished. If the teacher tries to redirect students, he/she is told to “Shut the fxxx up!” Nothing will happen to the student if they are given a discipline referral because the Obama Administration put a cap on the amount of suspensions that can be given to students (based on race) and if a school, or district, surpasses that amount, they will lose funding, etc. So, schools have implemented discipline plans requiring teachers to show documentation justifying a student has reached step 6 on the discipline step model before the student can be issued an office referral. (This is PER class) This means, one student could possibly have received over 25 warnings, or “opportunities to make better choices” before he/she can be given an office referral. They are allowed to remain in the class, keeping others from learning.
    If a substitute teacher comes once, and actually make it the entire day, they never come back. Some leave, just walk out, before 10am because of the students’ wild, disrespectful and violent behavior. Students refuse to work and ignore all directives. Because of this, teachers have to give up their planning time to cover another teacher’s classes when that teacher is absent because it is difficult to secure substitute teachers.
    So, enough with the Charter Schools and school vouchers as being an anecdote. Teachers want/need 1.)disruptive students removed from the classroom, 2.) cell phones banned from classrooms(students may keep them in lockers), and most importantly, 3.)surveillance cameras installed in every classroom. This will benefit all stakeholders. Teachers, students, administrators, and parents will be held accountable for the learning and teaching in America’s schools. Veteran school administrators have evidenced that before mandatory cameras were installed on all school buses, over 75% discipline referrals were bus-related. After having installed cameras, within two years, less than 10% of discipline referrals were bus-related. But lastly, parents have to be held more accountable for their child’s behavior.

    Unfortunately, teachers cannot voice frustrations for fear of retaliation from the administration.

  2. rita spencer says:

    Why are our schools “underfunded”? The amount if school tax on every person, utility company, every service imaginable, federal and state money….and the list goes on and on for education taxes. Waste and corruption, could that be the problem? Tenure teachers that cannot be fired or dismissed which need to be replaced or just gone? Why no funds??????

  3. Art Blake says:

    Rita — Every year, everything costs more and the state and federal governments do not appropriate enough money for the schools to keep pace.

    Class sizes grow, and supplies, books, food, utilities, building maintenance all cost more, but the schools get little or no additional money, so they fall behind.

    Charter schools will make the problem worse by forcing school districts to spread the same amount of money to more buildings, teachers, etc. — more to pay for, but no new money — bad idea!

  4. Laura Roberts says:

    We live in Jefferson County and 65+% of our property tax bill goes to JCPS. Property tax is one source of funding for the public system they collect other taxes as well. Don’t tell me public schools are underfunded

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