AFP School Choice Panel

Americans for Prosperity and a few others hosted an interesting panel about school choice and some great public education advocates headed over to see what these folks had to say. Attendees had to RSVP to attend and write in who invited them to the event, which is strange in itself, but that may just be a way for them to gather email addresses to send out more misleading information.

Facilitator: Patti Kurgan, AFP

Ross Izard, Senior Education Policy Analyst, Independence Institute

Kim Gilmartin, Vice-Chairman, Board of Directors, Golden Classical Academy (also AFP volunteer)

 

Ross Izard introduced himself and talked about his job at the Independence Institute, which Jeffco voters will remember from the successful recall. He said there are two pieces to his job: Policy and Politics. His work in politics happens at the Capitol and with School Boards (be alert this November!) He advocates for choice, charters, and private school choice.  While he mentioned ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), that was in relation to accountability for taxpayers – in other words, money. His focus on schools is on teacher effectiveness and opposing labor unions. http://www.supportjeffcokids.org/can-jeffco-schools-be-purchased-again/

Kim Gilmartin introduced herself and told about the Golden View Classical Academy founding story. She mentioned being disillusioned with chaotic modern teaching methods of neighborhood school (pods, computers, student centered) that wasn’t a good match for her kids. She said that classical education is old school and her kids have responded with more engagement. She spoke of the recall nightmare and how one board member asked someone their personal views on homosexuality, which was an extreme twist from the conversation that actually happened at the board meeting. Her view is that school board elections are important because boards will determine which schools are approved. However, we at SJK have shown that this is just a very small portion of the actual role of a board member. The day after the 2013 election, the founder of Golden View Classical Academy was ecstatic on Facebook because he said his charter school would automatically be approved, he hadn’t even submitted but apparently already knew this. That’s obviously a problem, hence the need for the recall.

Issue discussed: What are the differences between 2014 and now?

Gilmartin noted: You need a founding board, must decide on school type, complete an application, secure funding, location, and letters of intent, and finally, parents to commit and support. She noted charters serving 13% of kids in Colorado. This number may be a bit high as approximately 100,000 students are in charters and Colorado has more than 900,000 students. According to the Colorado League of Charter Schools, just under 115,000 students are in charters and more then 900,000 students are in Colorado – that equates to 7.82% of students in charters just using the 900,000 students. Why the inflation of numbers? 

Issue discussed: Charters take away money from neighborhood schools.

Izard pointed out that “there are no for-profit charters in Colorado.” CMO’s are no more for-profit than all the other corporate interests (textbook manufacturers, computer makers, etc.) in public schools. (This may be why Gilmartin, Brad Miller, and Derec Shuler of Golden View are now involved creating a CMO? https://www.goldenviewclassical.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/2017.03.22-GVCA-Board-minutes.pdf)

http://saveridgeview.com/  – the parents of Ridgeview have some concerns.

Izard noted he rejects the “mind view that government has ownership of kids” and that it is stealing a kid by moving from a neighborhood to a charter school. Parents have the right and responsibility to make those decisions for their children.

SJK Note – we agree that the government does not have ownership of the kids and note that in our experience as parents of real children in public schools have never felt anyone thought they owned our children. Parents absolutely do have the right to make decisions for their children. The complications of children moving do impact funding though, especially with SBB. If 5 children move out of a classroom of 25, the cost of the education staff is not reduced and the cost of the classrooms remains the same as we need real people to educate children in schools. The impacts of multiple children moving from a school can be tremendous. Remember that Golden View also moved into an area less than 1/2 mile away from already existing Free Horizon Montessori.

Gilmartin noted that Golden View Classical brought in kids from 120 schools and a lot of homeschoolers. Then added that competition makes schools and teachers better.

SJK Note – Schools are note set up to be competitive businesses. They are set up to serve all students, or at least they should be. Schools in different areas serve students with different needs.

Issue discussed: Charters cherry pick their students.

Izard noted a 4% gap in special needs kids between charters and neighborhood schools. Some of that is explained in nuances in the application process and classification. (This number is wildly untrue and based only on the area of the schools being compared to each other.) Gilmartin noted that  Golden View Classical Academy knows nothing about a child until after the child is offered a seat, at which point the District can intervene. (This is also untrue, the district doesn’t intervene or even know who has applied.) Gilmartin noted that counseling out happens at all schools, including neighborhood schools with teachers telling parents that kid could benefit from a different environment. (This may be partially true for specific programs like the ASD centers where more services are available than other schools and in this case, transportation is provided to the special education student.)

Just one more note, an actual email on a child counseled out of a charter:

It was noted that transportation is one area of self selection, so charters need more money for facilities and busing. However, SJK wants to remind everyone that all parents pay for transportation. A bus transportation pass for your child to go to your neighborhood school is $300 per semester. These fees were introduced due to funding cuts experienced since 2009. Therefore, charters don’t need more money for facilities and busing, parents need more money for additional choices and services.

Issue discussed: Teacher standards and pay

Izard noted that charters pay 30% less because money has to go to facilities, etc. Izard neglected to mention the additional facilities funding, at a per pupil dollar amount, that charters receive from the state that neighborhood schools and district run option schools do not receive.

A claim was made about performance: “charters out perform neighborhood schools in Colorado.” This is misleading not contextual, this is dependent upon the school and population served by each school. Charters and some neighborhood schools serve children with low to no socioeconomic disadvantages. Comparing data from disaggregated groups is the only way to do a proper comparison and the data differs from school to school. Extremely misleading.

Teacher Licensure topic: “Trust school leaders to choose effective personnel.” SJK Note – What happens in the event of a leader dismissing a group of teachers serving children like what happened at RMAE? There should be some oversight to ensure children are properly served. Without the support of HR and review of applications, perhaps a committee should be formed so the results of an entire year of education are not as impactful.

“Waivers allow more autonomy and help level the playing field.” SJK Note – if we were truly leveling a playing field, all schools would be able to apply for waivers and have complete autonomy. Winners and losers would be created based on the experiences at each individual school. The system of public education is not as able to allow such innovation without significant monetary investments, more can be done but choice costs money. 

Subject Matter experts vs. licensed teachers was brought up and noted that  in rural areas it’s really a problem because the licensure requirements push qualified people away and is not realistic. Licensure is a blanket solution, but one size does not fit all.  SJK Note – there is some discussion to be had here. Not everyone is  a good teacher despite being a subject matter expert. Authorities having a license to revoke in the event of a negative situation is also quite important and we must be very thoughtful surrounding this issue. Due to teacher shortage issues, we may very well be discussing this more in the future in all areas of Colorado. Or perhaps we could do more work to attract people to the profession and treat them better?

The “Number One Solution” offered was to trust School Leaders. This is true, you shouldn’t be at a school if you don’t trust the leader but, as a parent, you need to be able to question the school leader and have a forum to challenge when there are issues. There are many parents who have reported extreme issues when challenging school leaders and there are no pathways for resolution short of hiring an attorney.

Of course, the topics of desired promotion then came up – ESA (Education Savings Accounts), Private School Choice, Vouchers and Scholarship Tax Credits. These items have no place in public education and have been turned down by the voters twice in Colorado history. Vouchers by every name have been deemed unconstitutional. Send your children to private school or religious schools, but don’t expect the community to pay for this.

 

Equal Funding: They noted that HB 1375 effects charters, but not in Jeffco or Dougco because they already share funding. 

“If you want teachers/principals/etc. to have more power and autonomy then ask your SAC to ask for waivers. Golden View does paper and pencil PARCC and it only takes 2 days and don’t have to train kids how to use the computers.” SJK Note – is not training kids to use computers actually a good thing in 2017? Especially with computer literacy standards on the horizon for Colorado and most other states? While we can perhaps understand the reasoning for not wanting to do so with state required testing, we hope all children will receive computer instruction.

Someone asked why the charter boards get so tired trying to found a school: The answer – because they have to go through so many hoops and it’s exhausting, time consuming, volunteer work over a long time. SJK note – this volunteer work happens in all schools and the most successful schools have the most parental involvement.

A recently approved charter founder from Dougco with a teacher wife pointed out that it is appropriate to take time (he has spent 4 years) and there should be hoops. You’re educating children and spending taxpayer dollars.

 

Final notes – in looking at the crowd, about half were older (60+), without children in schools. Some very odd comments from Gilmartin about what happened during the recall. One comment that raised an eyebrow was that JCEA was putting pressure on other teachers to support the recall, this was not true.  Of course, she glowed about WNW, and completely took questions about sexual identity out of context from the heated debates about whether to approve GVCA’s charter. Note: GVCA received a waiver from Sex Ed (the replacement plan is “abstinence”).

Gilmartin also made a few misleading statements about boards having too much authority over charter approval. What she didn’t mention is that any charter that is turned down by a district board can appeal to the state board, who collectively (there are a few good State Board of Education officials) send charters back to districts with a collective rubber stamp, no matter the issues.