(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams decided to override the State Board of Education to allow Great Hearts to open a school in Dallas, bringing to mind an old Arizona cowboy story. In 1911, the rough and tumble miner/cowboy frontier town of Prescott suffered a terrible fire. Patrons of the Palace, a favorite watering hole on Prescott’s Whiskey Row to this day, took note of the burning buildings outside and decided to take collective action. They gathered round the bar you see above, picked it up and moved it across the street to the grounds of what had been the territorial capitol (now the county courthouse). Having saved the bar and its contents, they sat at the relocated bar and drank their whiskey, watching Prescott burn to the ground. You can see what remained of the Palace in the below photograph taken after the fire.
This story came to mind when I read this story about the Texas State Board of Education’s attempts to protect the children of Dallas from the option of attending a Great Hearts charter school. Really it is not fair for me to think this though, because at least Prescott’s cowboys tried to do something in response to their emergency, and they didn’t spend their time trying to thwart the fire fighters.
The 2013 Trial District Urban Assessment revealed that 51% of Dallas Independent School District students scored “Below Basic” in Reading, while only 16% scored Proficient or better. Dallas parents need as many alternatives as they can get. The idea of the SBOE wringing its hands about the fact that charter schools in Arizona (or elsewhere) don’t provide transportation, charge fees for certain activities (district and charter schools both do this as permitted by state statute) and solicit donations from parents (district schools get more taxpayer money and still solicit from parents btw) staggers the imagination.
“I have no confidence, really, in the Great Hearts organization,” board member Mavis Knight said during the SBOE’s debate over initially denying the Dallas charter. Fair enough- a classics approach is not everyone’s cup of tea. I hope Ms. Knight will exercise her freedom of association rights guaranteed by the 1st Amendment of the Constitution and not send her children to the Dallas Great Hearts school if that is her preference. It won’t shock me however when hundreds of families decide that the school is a good fit for the needs of their child, and if the Arizona experience is any guide many hundreds more will sit unhappily on the wait list.
A great many Dallas parents have no confidence in DISD (Exhibit A: endless North Dallas suburbia). Those trying to make a go of it in the city deserve options and the right to make their own decision free of Ms. Knight’s guidance.