Maybe sooner than most expected, the taxpayers of the State of Rhode Island find themselves pondering how in the world this charter school program has grown into the burden we now all must bear. On the surface (and how the program was initially presented) it was an idea of a better school system without the restraints of unions, town councils, and taxpayer input. The idea was to model a public school after a private one but offer it in a public setting.
The system was approved, charters drawn up, property purchased, buildings constructed and or rented and soon it was underway. The Blackstone Valley Prep (BVP) system, with which I am most familiar because it resides in my hometown, initiated a lottery system. Students were selected at random for the first few classes from the neighboring communities. All was well. Students were happy in a new school environment. Scores are up. Buildings are up to code. However, as with many things, this has proven too good to be true.
The fatal flaw in this idea is that you cannot consider something “public” if all of the public cannot have access it or if taxpayer funds are used with no public vote. This is as basic as taxation without representation.
I can agree that the charter schools have made some positive contributions. The idea itself is a solid one, and it isn’t old. In my opinion, it is proof positive that regionalization is the way to go forward. Currently, we have 39 districts in this state. States five times the size have less than a quarter of that. This increases buying power, contract negotiations, opening the door for millions in savings, school choice options, and the ability to regain some power from the unions.
Charter schools have thrived on the existing systems. They feed off of three or four surrounding community budgets. Every year they grow, adding more students, more buildings, more cost to each of the communities they serve. They do this with no input from the taxpayer. They do this with little care for the infrastructure. They exist only to serve themselves and will continue to feed off of the preexisting school systems until they are no more.
Compare the budgets for BVP and the Cumberland School System. It is easy to see how one is dying and one is thriving. This is the very definition of a parasite. There are only two ways this goes: The parasite kills the host or the host eliminates the parasite.
If it is the plan to turn Cumberland into a charter school–based system, then so be it. As I said, there are many pros to the regionalized thinking. It may be a direction that we could go in and be successful. I only ask that we lay our cards on the table and discuss the direction of our towns’ future, rather than try to subsidize multiple school systems from a weakening and downright poor tax base.
An article in the local paper back in January 2012 had an interesting take. Charter schools were being discussed for expansion in Lincoln. Town folk liked the idea of adding a school and having options, and the potential for the charter schools grew. However, the idea was not approved for the following basic reasons: First, the lack of control and oversight of the existing school system would have on this new charter school. Second, the fact that Lincoln is “a small community with limited resources.”
Mary Anne Roll suggested this: “How many ways can you divide us up and still get good outcomes from everyone?” She continues “As a taxpayer, how many quality programs can you support? It spreads everyone thin.” (The Valley Breeze “Should Lincoln establish its own Charter Schools?” Jan 12-18 2012 edition)
I couldn’t agree more. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. This is a lesson most of us learn at a very early age. It’s time for our leadership to go on a diet before there isn’t any cake left. The idea of the charter school is solid, but it is a fairytale that we simply cannot afford. This idea was designed to enhance the existing system; instead, it is slowly killing it.