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Web letter by Kathy Hollenbacher: Charter schools can’t cure numerous public education issues

Vouchers and choice are not the panacea that the governor and legislators believed they would become. Republican efforts to privatize Indiana schools are failing. At the end of 2012 Ball State de-authorized seven charter schools that had been allotted five years to make progress. In December one of the principals of those schools was on NPR complaining that many of her students were behind academically when they were admitted and it was going to take more than five years to bring the students into alignment with Indiana standards. Isn’t this the same argument that public schools have been making regarding graduation rates, ISTEP+ scores, etc.?

While not every charter school in the state is failing, there are substantial issues surrounding their existence. Fundamentally, charter schools take away money from public schools. As a result, school boards are hiring less-qualified teachers and staff, cutting back on extracurricular programs and limiting elective courses such as art and music.

Secondly, charter schools can and do target certain populations of students and may limit enrollment. Public schools must accept any child regardless of background, ISTEP+ scores or disciplinary history. The Indiana Department of Education declares that charter schools must accept any student since they are receiving voucher money from the state. The reality is that enrollments are strictly controlled by charter school administrators, and the state has no way of policing abuses. For the public, comparing statistics of public schools and charter schools is like comparing apples with oranges.

Thirdly, the real elephant in the room is children with learning disabilities, whose numbers are increasing annually. Currently 41 percent of all students in the U.S. have a learning disability and only 30 percent ever graduate from high school. Since the states supply most of the resources for education, many are being bankrupted by efforts to educate their populations with learning disabilities. Statistics indicate that it costs two to three times more to educate such a child. Some states are spending as much as $30,000 annually per child with a learning disabilities. Disabilities exist mainly through genetics. There is some recent research that theorizes some disabilities such as ADD or ADHD may have arisen due to chemicals in our food. Nevertheless, this problem will not vanish and the implications for our schools, the adult workforce and society as a whole are staggering. Indiana prisons are already overpopulated with inmates who have been diagnosed with learning disabilities.

Indiana, it is time to wake up to the realities. Charter schools and vouchers are not the answer.