Normally solid education reporter, Rob Tomsho, has fallen for the Arne Duncan mania by writing an article in today’s WSJ that attributes expansions of charter school laws to Duncan and the $5 billion “race to the top” stimulus money.
As a graph in the print version of the article shows, charters have been expanding steadily for the last several years — all of which was before Arne Duncan and the stimulus money. The question is whether charters are growing faster than they otherwise would have. I doubt it. The progress of charters doesn’t seem any faster to me now than it has been. After we get all of the numbers in a year or two we can check to confirm my hunch.
I’m afraid that this is just another example of post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this). Duncan made some speeches and conditioned some fraction of a modest sum on policy changes. There were some policy changes. So people are attributing the policy changes to his speeches and tiny financial leverage.
They grew faster in Tennessee. As the article notes our charter school bill was dead thanks to a call by the Democrat Caucus to stay the line and vote no. Then Duncan started calling Democrats and holding out $100 million and suddenly they and the teacher’s union were talking to the Republican sponsor of the bill. This during an exceptionally tight budget year. It made a difference. We’ll see if the money comes through but for now we’ve got an expansion of our charter school law.
With a statewide student population of 1,169,001 that $100 million translates into a bit less then $100/student. Granted Tennessee spend below the national average at $5,407 per student each year but against that $100 doesn’t seem like nearly enough to tip the balance against determined and effective resistance.
So the question is, how come Tennessee can be bought off so cheaply? What forces have put charter law on the books of forty-four, now forty-five, states?
I don’t mean the relatively vague desire to improve public education. What’s motivated this fairly serious break with the past? The school district was the one, true and only way to organize public education for a very long time and now, in a relative twinkling, there are all these educational loose cannons rolling around the countryside. That sort of change doesn’t occur without a reason and a constituency either my eyesight’s not all that good or this constituency’s well camouflaged.
In MA, charter applications have declined precipitously. In the year our school was approved, 1999, there were 5 approved of something like 35 apps.
Last year, 7 applied, 1 approved (6 to 5).
This week the Gov proposed lifting the cap on urban charters from 9% (of a district’s enrollment) to 18%. “Race” money is definitely one of the key drivers.