Instead of Attacking Charter Schools, How About Y'all Work to Improve Traditional Schools?

Aug 30, 2019 12:00:00 AM


It’s silent but deadly—and I’m not talking about heart disease.

I’m talking about this assault on charter schools that has flown under the radar, is spreading from state to state, and is killing school choice for students and families. 

My state has been making big moves in education lately. In early August, it mandated the teaching of LGBTQ history in Illinois public schools

People aren’t too supportive of it. But I am—if it’s done right.

But this past week, it’s the abolishing of the state’s Charter School Commission

And that I’m not happy about.

Of course the teachers unions are happy about the dissolution of the Illinois commission. Union president Randi Weingarten expressed pure elation.

But I have seen personally why a state commission is needed to make sure districts don’t play politics when it comes to providing better public schools for families. 

Four years ago I helped open a high-performing charter school in Waukegan, Illinois. I formed a team of six—four of them were Waukegan residents—and we gathered petition signatures from over 1,000 of the city’s residents who wanted the school to open. We hosted at least 10 roundtable discussions, dozens of parent trainings and open houses, collected hundreds of enrollment applications. I can’t even count how many one-on-one meetings I had.

After all of that outreach, community demand and two public hearings—and despite the fact that 86% of the district’s students were below standards—[pullquote]the district still denied the school’s application.[/pullquote]

But, the Illinois Charter School Commission reversed that decision in an appeal and those families got the school they advocated for. With this new law on the books, how many families in search of new schools will be left without that kind of backstop?

School choice takedowns aren’t just happening in Illinois.

There have been several bills in the California legislature this year that, if passed, would destroy school choice in that state. Pushback from parents and advocates has forced a compromise that lets schools maintain their autonomy but adhere to more accountability measures. And that’s good—the whole point is to hold public schools accountable. But the law is going to make life tougher for charter schools while doing nothing to hold the traditional schools accountable. And that’s got some parents pissed off, rightfully so.

And in Pennsylvania, the governor said he would use his executive power to ensure that charter schools are held to the same standards as traditional public schools.

Well, that could be a nice break for the charter schools. Does that mean that charter schools will no longer have to stand before their authorizers for contract renewal every few years to prove their worth or face closing? Does that mean that they’ll get the same funding as traditional public schools?

Treat all schools the same, right?

The hypocrisy drives me crazy. People talk about holding charter schools to certain standards but haven’t done the same for traditional public schools. Because—and I’ll say this until I’m blue in the face—if traditional public schools were held to high performance standards, charter schools wouldn’t exist.

Here’s what I predict. Anti-choice legislators and teachers unions will become more emboldened stepping up their attacks on school choice. We can expect even more efforts to push charter moratoriums, abolish charter school commissions and overall limit family autonomy over the schools their children attend.

But to move forward with these attacks and tell families they can’t have charter schools, especially when there are no adequate traditional options available in their neighborhood, is appalling. 

Be warned—mothers like ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson, fathers like Frank Saldaña, grandmothers like Christina Laster and the rest of us who are school choice advocates won’t let you take our right to access and options away. And actually, your time would be better spent working your fingers to the bone to improve traditional options for all students—because we’re only accepting the best from here on out.

Tanesha Peeples

Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work—“If not me, then who?” As the former Deputy Director of Activist Development for brightbeam, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for change in the public education system. Her passion for community and relentless mission for justice and liberation drive her in uplifting and amplifying the voices and advocacy of those that are often ignored. Tanesha wholeheartedly believes that education is the foundation for success. Her grand vision is one where everyone—regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender or ZIP code—can have access to a comfortable quality of life and enjoy the freedoms and liberties promised to all Americans. And that's what she works towards every day.

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