Friday, February 25, 2022

With Religious Charters, Privatizers Have Their Cake and Eat It Too

There's a lot of talk about whether charters are public or private schools. Most people I respect suggest they are the latter, in that they take public money but don't really have to follow public rules. 

For example, Eva Moskowitz can allow students to do test prep until they pee their pants, and there's no chancellor's regulation suggesting then need to do otherwise. Were I to make students pee their pants, at the very least, I'd be looking at a letter to file. Were I to do it repeatedly, I'd be looking at 3020a charges, and quite possibly the loss of my job. 

In public schools, school leaders can't hire their own children, college kids with no certification, as teachers, but Eva did it and that was just fine. When Bill de Blasio had requirements for a pre-K program, Eva canceled hers rather than comply. 

And when de Blasio came into office wanting to cut down on charters, the suitcases full of cash her BFFs directed to Andrew Cuomo somehow resulted in NYC having to pay rent for charters if it failed to provide space. This has cost the city hundreds of millions, so those campaign contributions have paid off spectacularly.

Now, there's a new thing with charters. Perhaps they can be religious, if Judge Biff and his BFFs on SCOTUS say so. Can this be done?

Garnett, the Notre Dame law professor, has one potential answer.

It’s well established that the government cannot run a religious school, but a private entity can, she said in a recent report for the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. Despite being defined as “public” in state laws, Garnett continues, charter schools are not run by the government; they are run by private, unelected boards, typically organized as nonprofits. 

So charters, if you believe this professor, are NOT public schools. Therefore it's okay that they be religious. This has, however, ruffled the feathers of some who have been maintaining that charters are public. 

Charter school groups have argued that the schools are indeed public for legal purposes and that the recent Supreme Court cases don’t apply to charter schools.

“All charter schools are public schools,” said Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “Charter schools have never been able to, and cannot now, endorse a specific religion.” 

For the record, I'm not a charter supporter.  Like Diane Ravitch, I believe we should devote our resources toward improving public schools. I'm a union supporter. I believe working people should have union, and I'm certain one reason charters exist is to avoid it. I don't apologize for any benefits, protections or privileges provided or negotiated by my union. I don't want to deprive others of such benefits either. I think we need to be a model, not a clique. 

The Chalkbeat writer makes a strong point here:

Religious charter schools would also open up other legal issues. Could such schools admit students based on religious affiliation? Could they bar students or teachers based on sexual orientation and gender identity?

I don't want my tax dollars devoted toward discrimination against students for any of the above. In an environment where discriminatory laws are all the rage, where book banning is the new black, and in which teachers may have to walk on eggshells rather than freely teach our nation's history, that would be even more outrageous than charters are already.

Public schools ought to be for everyone. Charter schools already fail to suit that definition, and again let's look at Moskowitz and her "got to go" lists. There are plenty of charters that manage to select their students one way or another. Just require a whole lot of parental hours, or set rules that make it impossible for undesirable students to stay. My friend Gary Rubinstein has a whole lot of stories about charters that shed the majority of students before claiming to be successful in sending impossibly high percentages to college.

Meanwhile, people like you and I teach the ones Eva can't be bothered with. If they don't do well, we're maligned in the papers for not doing our jobs. Education ought not to be privatized. It's a public good. I don't believe charters are public schools now, and it's the height of hypocrisy to agree with me simply to use public money to support parochial schools. 

This is a terrible idea, which makes it likely SCOTUS will adore it.

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