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Charters plagued with low test scores, problems

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Support for vouchers, however, still strong
JOEY DAUBEN
The Ellis County Press

ELLIS COUNTY - Charter schools are still run by the government and encounter many of the problems plaguing regular public schools, such as low test scores and high dropout rates.

For example, charter schools operate in mostly urban, inner-city areas and serve a higher concentration of minority students. Students attending those schools are usually from low-income families, according to statistics from the Texas Education Agency, and usually score lower on tests than white students.

Life School, which plans to open a campus in Red Oak this fall, and Faith Family of Waxahachie both serve students who fall in the low-income category.

Faith Family, according to the latest TEA rating systems, is listed as 'Low Performing,' a designation given to schools who fail to reach a passing grade on the state's standardized tests. However, the scores from the last year have shown dramatic improvements.

And Life School, according to TEA test results, raked in 25 of 26 state-mandated requirements, a rarity in charter schools across the state.

But there are still problems facing charters.

'I don't think charter schools are a first step towards any other type of reform,' said Marie Gryphon, an education policy analyst for the Cato Institute. 'I don't think the existence of charters makes it more likely that a school district will eventually have vouchers or tax credits. I think they are a positive reform because they do offer a measure of deregulation and more choices for students.'

The increasing support for charter schools come mainly from the minority groups in inner cities. After witnessing the failures of the inner-city public school system, many parents have demanded a choice in their children's education.

And so far, it's working.

More research and polling organizations show an increased number of parents and taxpayers who support charter schools, or tax credits.

However, a school choice pilot program, which would have allowed parents to use their property tax dollars and send their children to a private, for-profit or religious school of their choice, failed in the state House of Representatives.

'How can an idea so publicly popular, offer such demonstrable benefits, have the endorsement of the Supreme Court, and yet still be categorically rejected by so many in the education and media establishment?' asked Chris Patterson, research director for the Texas Public Policy Foundation. 'When we look more closely, the numbers show support for school choice across every social, economic and political boundary.'

According to Ellis County school district officials, the voucher movement is opposed mainly because they claim money will be taken away from public schools.

And they're right.

In fact, one of the main sticking points of the pro-school choice movement is to allow parents to use their property tax money, which would originally go towards an independent school district's budget, and allow them to choose a school of their liking for their children.

And though Texas is virtually a non-union state, the effects of collective groups has shown.

'Even if a voucher system were administered on a state-wide basis, it would give the state legislature full control of the purse strings,' said county resident Barry Moore. 'Suffice it to say, the feds certainly have no Constitutional basis for control, the locals are feeding-trough frenzied over fed and state money, and finally, having no kiddos of my own, I shouldn't have to pay to educate your child, no matter how bright you make think he or she is.'

'What we see is that the people of Texas persist in demanding school choice,' said Texas Public Policy Foundation Director of Research Chris Patterson. 'They see public schools wasting their money and they want change.'

But it's the 'union-mindset' of the Texas Education Agency, Texas Association of School Boards, and local school districts keeping the competition backers at bay.

'School choice will reduce power, pure and simple. Public schooling eliminates competition, which would threaten the jobs of the teachers and administrators, 'said Marie Gryphon, Education Policy Analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Cato Institute. 'Teachers [organizations] and other public school unions have outsize bargaining power with state and local governments because of their political clout.'

Republicans in the state legislature fought to implement a pilot voucher program, mainly in urban areas such as Houston and Fort Worth, but a bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats shot the proposal down.

History of the school choice movement

The nationwide school choice/voucher movement started in 1955 with the publication of a book on capitalism by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. His deliberation and research into the government-run education system has become a major public policy issue.

'We suggested that a way to separate financing and administration is to give parents who choose to send their children to private schools a sum equal to the estimated cost of educating a child in a government school, provided that at least this sum was spent on education in an approved school,' Friedman said, who testified before the Texas legislature in supporting the proposed voucher system.

'The interjection of competition would do much to promote a healthy variety of schools. It would do much, also, to introduce flexibility into school systems. Not least of its benefits would be to make the salaries of school teachers responsive to market forces.'


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