Charter schools vs. traditional public schools

Published 3:01 pm Tuesday, February 15, 2022

A public assertion that every child deserves a great education, and now a great school is one of the arguments for charter schools.
However, the political courage and imagination to make that happen sounds great, but wholly avoids the deep practical difficulties of achieving that in most locales.
Much like the problem of dealing with the pandemic, only a national effort led by the federal government can address effectively what is at the heart of a national problem.
In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee is pushing for dozens of conservative-leaning charter schools in public partnership with conservative Hillsdale College. The GOP charter school bill in front of a House education subcommittee could set the stage to make the creation and expansion of charter schools in Tennessee easier. It’s part of Gov. Lee’s plan to reshape public education in the state, but it’s leaving some wondering what the motive is.
The bill is drawing disapproval among public schools, education advocates, pastors, and parents.
The controversial religious leaning charter school could be coming to Tennessee neighborhoods soon after a new school funding formula is passed into law. “Hillsdale’s charter schools in our state will be public secular classical education schools,” Governor Lee contends.
The Republican-led bill could cut out local school board decisions regarding whether a charter school could come to their school district. Also, changing the state’s school funding formula is gaining steam on Capitol Hill.
The agreement made by Lee and the president of Hillsdale to bring about 50 to 100 charter schools to the state is not sitting well with some parents, pastors, and advocates. Governor Lee is presenting millions of dollars in his budget for Hillsdale and other charter schools.
How can this be when Hillsdale College says it does not take money from the government. The college’s website states: Hillsdale College is a small, Christian, classical liberal arts college in southern Michigan that operates independently of government funding. If this is so, how can Hillsdale College take money from the Tennessee government for charter schools?
Lee is banking on charter schools to be a part of his plan to change public schools. Lawmakers are moving forward with potential changes to how charter schools are placed in districts.
It sounds good, but it seems that the governor wants to use public funds to fund a pet project of his. One of the problems is that over time as charter schools cause existing schools to become both under-enrolled and underfunded, districts are left with the difficult discussion of whether to close neighborhood schools to try to offset the cost of funding charter schools.
Tennessee is already ranked in the bottom five in public school funding. Schools are underfunded by the legislature, about $2 billion a year.
Some of Tennessee’s most influential education advocacy organizations are urging Gov. Bill Lee to make a substantial investment in K-12 education. The State Collaborative on Reforming Education called for Tennessee to add an additional $1 billion in recurring funding to the nearly $6 billion the state already spends each year on public schools.
The recommendation urges state officials to bring how much the state spends per student closer to the national average.
Lee has maintained the state has increased education funding every year he’s been in office and has said he will continue to do so. But he hasn’t yet committed to an amount.
Tennessee legislators need to be asking a lot of questions, so do public school superintendents and school boards or else Tennessee taxes may be supporting religious charter schools and leaving public education to figure out how to make it on less funds.

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