The News-Enterprise reported (subscription) recently that the Elizabethtown Independent School Board had voted to oppose charter schools.
The main reasons cited included a mix of incorrect information about charter schools plus something probably more telling – an expressed fear that somehow charter schools would take money away from the public school system in Kentucky.
That last item, the money, may really be at the heart of the board’s vote.
But, is denying alternative public school choices – choices that work especially well for minority students – really in Kentucky’s best interests?
And, why does Elizabethtown’s board feel threatened by a plan that seems at present to be mostly targeted at improving the deplorable achievement gaps in Kentucky’s large school systems like Jefferson County and Fayette County?
To explore those questions, I compared the white minus black achievement gaps in math and reading from the 2015-16 KPREP testing between Elizabethtown and the statewide averages. The table below shows what I found.
As you can see, except for high school reading, which is actually based on the English II End-of-Course test performance, E’Town has some pretty notable white minus black achievement gap problems that are all much worse than the statewide gaps.
So, if a general charter school bill were to come along, there might be interest in starting one of these alternative public schools of choice in the E’Town area.
But, here’s a kicker. Despite the E’Town board’s fussing about money, the truth is that there has been a massive increase in real education spending across Kentucky since KERA was enacted in 1990. Part of the justification for that increased spending was a promise that the state’s public school system would deal with the chronic achievement gap problem.
Flash forward to the present – more than a quarter of a century later – and it is obvious that both statewide and in E’Town, too, the gap promise was never kept.
So, the idea that we should continue to just throw more money at the same old school system is becoming increasingly unattractive to the rapidly growing group of Kentuckians who want to put kids, not adults in the existing school system, first.
And, despite the considerable amount of incorrect information about charter schools that the E’Town board says it believes, the facts are that charter schools are increasingly demonstrating a superior record of helping minority students to close gaps. That is a trick E’Town’s traditional public school system has not been able to learn in more than a quarter of a century.
One thing the E’Town board’s action does show is that if Kentucky is going to have a viable charter school program, it will be important for more than local boards of education to be charter authorizers. Otherwise, minority kids in places like E’Town might not have much chance of getting a better education anytime soon.