Monday, August 22, 2011

Kiersten Marek: This I Believe — Public Education Needs to be Public

Kiersten Marek (for the sake of getting the word out I'm just going to quote the whole thing):

We are facing a bit of a “do or die” situation here in Cranston. On September 1, The Board of Regents will vote on a plan submitted by our Mayor to start a new district of schools that will be run by an out-of-state corporation called Achievement First.

Why am I concerned? Why have I partnered with other parents in Cranston to start a rally on Wednesday to oppose this plan? Well, lots of reasons. But the most important is because I believe that public education needs to be public, and this process of siphoning off funds to start large numbers of charter schools is going to hurt our public schools.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not wholesale opposed to charter schools. I considered sending our older daughter to one when we began the process of her public schooling, but chose to put my faith in the Cranston public school system instead. I am grateful for my soundness of mind when I made that decision with my husband seven years ago. Our older daughter has prospered and grown exceptionally well. The Cranston public schools had a lot to do with that.

But the situation with Achievement First is different. This is a proposal to start a whole new district of charter schools, and to eventually draw about 1800 children off of the Cranston and Providence schools. Here is what I see in the future for our local elementary school, which is a Title One school. These are the schools that the charters are likely to draw more children off of — the schools with high percentages of students living in low income households. So the first year, maybe 6 or 7 children go to the charter school from my local school. That means my principal is down about $100,000 when she goes to do her budget. The next year the total number drawn off our of elementary school is about 15. Now she is down over $200,000. As the grades increase in the charter school, more children go there. In year four, she is down about half a million. The school has had to lay off desperately needed staff and reduce programs even further. This is after we have already lost our gifted program, our music programs, and some of our athletic programs in the higher grades.

Some may call my predictions simplistic, but I call them realistic. This is what will most likely happen. Eventually, I fear that a school like the ours will be closed for lack of funding. Now we have a need for another new school because we have lost another neighborhood school. Now the charter district has a reason to expand.

This I believe is wrong. If people have issues with our schools’ unions and how much money our teachers make, let’s work on those issues. I would say we already are, as the teachers have signed a new contract in which they will get no raises. We can work on it more. If there are things that Achievement First and other charters are good at, we can integrate these things into our own schools. We do not need to waste money and time and energy setting up entirely new schools.

So if you have the time and the energy, I ask that you join me and lots of other concerned parents this coming Wednesday, August 24th, at Cranston East High School at 6 pm. We started a Facebook page to gather people together around this issue and to develop our own positive identity as a school district, and the group grew to about 175 members in 48 hours, and is continuing to grow. Please visit our Facebook page here. You can also RSVP to the event on Wednesday by visiting the event page here.

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