Pupils before profit: Amanda Curtis

MEA-MFT member Amanda Curtis wrote the following guest editorial, which has appeared in several major Montana newspapers. Amanda has been elected to represent  House District 76 in the Montana Legislature.. She teaches math at Butte High School.

 

Also read MEA-MFT member Jan LaBonty's editorial on charter schools.

When it comes to school choice, pupils before profit

Amanda Curtis, Guest Columnist 
 

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle  - Monday, November 12, 2012

Amanda Curtis

 
Back in September, we heard from Greg Gianforte regarding school choice. On behalf of the students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers across the state, I would like to interject some truth into this conversation.
 
When Gianforte says “school choice (meaning private charter schools) increases spending per child,” he is clearly misinformed on how school funding works. There is no way charter schools would increase per-pupil funding in Montana. Our state tax dollars fund about 65 percent of the actual cost of educating a child.

 

If profiteers can get their hands on those tax dollars, they’ll take your money and turn a profit. When charter school proponents say the word “scholarship,” they’re really talking about vouchers that take your money away from your public school system and put it in a corporate bank account.
 
When did our schools change from community centers to profit centers?
 
Who is naive enough to believe that corporations could improve education by taking the state and federal allotments per student and skimming a profit off of the top? 
 
No Montanan believes we should build a completely new, duplicate road system in order to fix our potholes. Why would anyone believe the same kind of bad plan for our schools? Montanans are smarter than that.
 
The National Education Policy Center studied the companies that operate charter schools and found that fiscal inefficiency is one of the main problems with a charter school system. Charter schools spend about 50 percent of their budgets on instruction compared to close to 60 percent in traditional public schools.
 
They get their profits by spending less in four areas: teacher compensation, special education, transportation, and concentrating on K-8 schools versus high schools, where sports, clubs, and electives drive up costs. From a taxpayer standpoint, would we rather see our tax dollars go to instruction or corporate profit?
 
I don’t know what’s worse: making a profit off of education or taking local control of schools away from communities. Charter schools cut the community out of our school system. Public schools are locally controlled by elected school board members who live and work and pay taxes in their school district. Charter schools are run by for-profit companies with little accountability to the tax payer for how their money is spent. Charter schools have boards appointed by the charter organizations, not elected by the public. That means parents and taxpayers rarely have a way to challenge the system when something goes awry.
 
Some claim that charter schools outperform public schools. But national studies show that’s not true. Furthermore, Montana schools are already doing very well. Our students consistently score in the top 10 states in reading, math, and science. Montana eighth graders far exceeded the national average on science tests, outscoring the nation by 12 points. Montana ranked high in the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, which measures science, reading and math skills for fourth and eighth graders. In all three subjects, our students scored above 42 or more states.
 
Nationwide, charter schools under-perform in math and reading. A large group of charters (37 percent) performed significantly worse than public schools in terms of reading and math. The remainder (46 percent) does no better or worse (Center for Research on Education Outcomes).
 
Public schools have traditionally been considered “the great equalizer” in America, but charter schools create an unequal playing field. Lack of transportation filters out many low-income families. Lack of special education services will discourage special-education enrollment.
 
Gianforte accuses our school system of lacking choice. Not true. Public schools in Montana already offer choice. You don’t have to travel any further than the Billings Career Center or the public Montessori programs in Helena elementary schools to see that. Students are filling their graduation requirements while exploring their career pathways. Parents are choosing which programs best suit their child’s needs.
 
Montanans are committed to working together to make our public schools the best they can be for all our children. Diverting scarce public dollars from public schools to for-profit charter schools won’t help. Smaller class sizes, more parental involvement, more opportunities for students, better teacher preparation, mentoring, and evaluation – all these things do help. Let’s focus on what we know works and not get distracted with a parallel universe of charter schools.
 
Amanda Curtis is the representative-elect for HD 76 in Butte. She teaches math at Butte High School.

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