My opposition to charter schools

I oppose charter schools.

I’ve been called a RINO because of it.  Conservatives might say I’m a moderate, or might even say I’m from the liberal wing of the Republican Party because of it.  I think they’re wrong.  I think I’m more conservative than the supporters of charter schools (despite what this graph says).  I think backers of charter schools are the ones who are in the middle of the road, trying to have their cake and eat it too.

I guess I’m not a compassionate conservative, you know, the kind that grows government spending on corporate welfare while hiding the corporate welfare part by thumping the Bible and using compassionate conservative code words such as “faith-based initiatives,” and “school choice.”

So I guess if I wish to describe myself as a conservative, I’ll have to delineate that I’m not a compassionate conservative.  I guess that makes me an insensitive, uncaring, arrogant, and heartless conservative.

But I’m not liberal.  I’ll explain.

I firmly believe that parents are the ones ultimately responsible for educating their children.  I believe that schools should be used as tools in the hands of the parents to help the parents fulfill their responsibility of educating their kids, and that, ultimately, if kids aren’t prepared for adulthood by the time they finish school, it’s not the schools that failed the kids, it’s the parents and the kids that failed the kids.  Doesn’t that sound conservative to you?

Along that vein, parents have three choices:  Home schooling, public schools, and private (including parochial) schools.  I leave it to the parents to decide which of these tools to use.  I’m OK with whatever they choose from that menu.

If I were a liberal, I would scrub home schooling from the list, because liberals don’t believe that parents are competent teachers unless they are actually licensed as such by the state, and even then, they’d only be competent to teach the grade levels and subject matter indicated on the license.  Liberals would also be concerned that home schooling isn’t sufficiently multicultural.  I leave it to the parents for them to decide whether they have the competence.  In areas where they feel less competent to teach, they can always supplement instruction with tools from other sources.  Parents can make home schooling as multicultural as they like.  There aren’t limits on how multicultural they can make the home schooling experience.  Again, I would empower parents with that kind of discretion.

Looking back over the centuries, home schooling took the form of apprenticing your children in your own trade.  Before the industrial revolution, nearly everyone worked their business out of their own homes.  Stay-at-home housewives?  Yeah, and stay-at-home househusbands, too.  What do you do to take care of the kids at the house while you do the work that sustains the family?  Have them learn the work with you, of course.  Some families might send some kids to be apprenticed elsewhere.  Some families might send some kids to the military, or to a convent, or to a monastery, or to a university.  In these cases, the parents worked out some form of monetary agreement to make those other opportunities possible.  The parents, in some form or another, footed the bill.

Public education is a fairly newfangled contraption.  Especially after the industrial revolution drastically altered family life, compulsory education in one form or another was deemed desirable by society, so we, the people, agreed to means by which the government became a provider of schooling.  It’s a shared cost arrangement.  Parents still foot the bill by way of taxes, but so do non-parents.  Anyone may send their child to a public school without having to pay extra tuition for it.  Children who go to public schools vastly outnumber the children who are home schooled and the children who go to private schools.

My parents sent me to public schools.  After all, they were already paying the taxes that are used to support the public schools.  They could have sent me to a private school, but that would have cost them a lot more.  They realized that they didn’t want to be saddled with the burden of private school tuition costs, especially since I was the oldest of 10 children.  If they had chosen private school for all of us, the cost would have been prohibitive.   They didn’t home school us.  My dad was a die maker at Ford Motor Company who often worked overtime to support our very large family.  Mom was often either pregnant or nursing.  Thus, home schooling would have been too time-intensive for my parents.  Still, my parents understood their responsibility to educate us.  They tell me I knew my alphabet when I was one year old.  I knew how to read before I was age three.  When I got to kindergarten, I was one of a small handful of kindergarteners who could already read who spent a segment of each school day in the first grade reading room with a first grade teacher (we readers had to miss milk and cookies, which is what the other kindergartners did in our absence).  I was adequately prepared for school as a preschooler by my parents.

My parents are aware that sometimes values are taught in public school that run counter to their own values.  My parents are aware that some values are totally missing from the public schools.  Knowing such things, but also knowing that they bore the ultimate responsibility for our education, they supplemented my public school learning with other opportunities for learning.  Much of the learning took place in the home.  Some of the learning took place at church.  Some of the learning happened through friends and relatives of the family.  Some of the learning occurred through extra-curricular activities at school.  Some of the learning occurred in clubs and organizations that had nothing to do with school.  My parents truly sought to adequately prepare us for adulthood.  They made mistakes, of course, but one isn’t spared from mistakes no matter what form the schooling takes.  One other thing my parents did when the public schools were found lacking in one respect or another, was that they were advocates when they felt they needed to be.  They would make their voice heard at a parent-teacher conference.  They would have a discussion with a principal or a superintendent.  They would state their case at a meeting of the school board.  It is critical that public schools remain under local control and it is imperative that they are responsive and accountable to local parents and local taxpayers.

I guess compassionate conservatives, however, who don’t feel up to the rigors of providing home schooling would rather place the blame for failing kids upon the schools, as if the schools are ultimately responsible for the education of their kids.  What?  Pass the buck to big government?  That doesn’t sound conservative.  And if the public school isn’t satisfactory, do they take it upon themselves to supplement the child’s learning, as my parents did?  Apparently they’re too lazy for that.  OK, so send the kids to a private school.  Nope.  They don’t want to pay for that.  OK, so they’re too cheap to send their kids to private school and too lazy to supplement the public school instruction, so what do they do?  They come up with charter schools.

I believe that in being ultimately responsible for children’s education, the parents should foot the bill, unless others agree, by way of a vote of the people, to chip in, as well, and help foot the parents’ educational bills.

For home schooling, the onus is on the parents to make it all happen.  For private schooling, the parents have to foot the bill.  For public schools, the parents and the rest of the community pay taxes to foot the bill.  The taxpayers of Ohio have had many direct votes on the funding of public schools.

Charter schools, however, want to charge tuition AND squeeze the taxpayer, and maybe even make a profit.  The taxpayers of Ohio have never had a direct vote on whether they want to also fund charter schools. Oops, there I go, sounding like a conservative again–a heartless conservative.  Conservatives more compassionate than I orchestrated the charter school movement in the state legislature.  To me, it’s just more government spending on corporate welfare.  Essentially, the charter school organizers didn’t want to try to compete with private schools in the open marketplace.  They were too averse to taking such a financial risk.  Therefore, they found a way to open a school with a private agenda, like a private school does, but they found a way to pay for it from government coffers, like a public school does, and no one ever gets to vote on a tax levy of any sort to determine whether the public really supports the private agenda of the charter school.

Charter schools represent some kind of utopia for compassionate conservative parents who will only set aside a beer budget for their family’s education, but wish to quench their champagne taste, all with a minimum of effort.

They call it compassionate conservatism. To me, it’s just corporate welfare.  To me, it just sounds like socialism.  To me, it sounds like taxation without representation.  To me, I hear the grunting and squealing sound of pigs at the government trough.  To me, I see charter schools too incompetent to survive as private schools, so they become parasites to survive, feeding off the host government.

Education is something worth working for.  It’s something worth earning.  It’s something worth a lot of effort.  It’s not an entitlement.  It’s a responsibility.  It’s a prudent preparation for the future.

If I were Ohio governor or member of the General Assembly, I’d give all charter schools an expiration date, with enough time for parents to sort through the educational alternatives.  By the time the expiration date arrives, the charter schools would have to do one of the following:

  1. Become a self-sustaining private school.  Not a bad choice, considering that other private schools didn’t have the state government’s help with their startup costs like the charter schools had.
  2. Get the taxpayers of the community to vote for a tax to support the school independently from the public school.  I’d be so surprised if such an effort succeeded, but we do live in a democracy, and if the people voted to sustain the school and its mission with their tax dollars, so be it.
  3. Become an adjunct, alternative school within a school district.  Someone would have to come up with a brilliant sales pitch to persuade the community and the school board to allow the school to operate by different rules than the rest of the schools in the district in order for it to continue its mission.
  4. Have the school dissolved and all its resources absorbed into the public school district.  Investors in the charter school could get some reimbursement for the materials they provided that the school district absorbs, though the reimbursement would be tempered by the calculation that tax funds also helped pay for those resources.
  5. Shut its doors permanently.  Assets and resources could be sold however the charter school organization sees fit, but there might be some reimbursements due to the state according to how tax dollars were expended.

I’m such a moderate.  I’m so middle-of-the-road.  I’m such a RINO.  No.  I’m conservative.  An insensitive, uncaring, arrogant, heartless conservative, without an ounce of compassion.