This morning I read with great disappointment an op-ed in the local daily co-authored by a legislator whom I usually respect. The piece essentially regurgitates the feckless howling of local school districts over students “lost” to the Cape’s two charter schools.
An Attractive Target
Rep. Cleon Turner and his co-author Phil Wick cite that $45 million in school district funds have been lost to the charter schools. While “shocking” on the surface, the logic here is a bit mystifying. Charters are an attractive target for school officials but are just part of the attrition we see in all Cape districts.
Every town is responsible for educating their own children. When a child wins the lottery to attend a charter school, his or her “per capita” money is transferred to the charter school. The hometown district is transferring funds to educate their own student.
The Cape has over 1,000 students participating in traditional school choice – where a kid from Chatham can choose to attend Nauset High School, Dennis-Yarmouth or any other public school district whose programs appeal to the student and her parents. The rate per student is less on traditional choice than it is on charter choice, but it’s still about $1.3 million a year – or $9.1 million over a seven year period.
Last year our two regional vocation technical schools enrolled 1,311 students between them. Indeed, Bourne recently lost 54% of its eighth graders to one form or another of school choice. 70% of Bourne’s departing eighth graders headed over to Upper Cape Tech. And, yes, we’ve heard plenty of howling about that over the past few months as Bourne re-evaluates its high school programs in consequence of this devastating loss.
And above it all looms a 25% drop in Cape-wide school enrollment.
No local publication has been more critical of charter schools than Cape Cod Today. We spent months eviscerating the academic programs at Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School a few years back and continue to hold their feet to the fire, academically. If a town is going to pay “big money” for its kids to attend a charter school, we want them to get their money’s worth.
Sturgis Charter Public School is consistently ranked as one of the best high schools in the nation. Their International Baccalaureate program attracts high achieving students from all over Southeastern Massachusetts. The charter haters – and yes we include Messrs. Turner and Wick – will twist this logic to say that Sturgis doesn’t include low-achieving students or low-income students. So what?
Sturgis offers a “product” that differentiates itself from other schools. So do the technical schools. Both provide educational opportunities that are not offered in the traditional home-town high school. Those opportunities attract students who want to pursue such opportunities.
Lottery Lore - Football ain't for everyone
Charter haters continue to imply that charter school lotteries are somehow rigged against the low achiever and low income student. I agree that there is little reason for a low achiever to enter the Sturgis lottery, just like not every kid at Nauset would try out for varsity football. Families seek enrollment in the school that offers the best opportunity for their own child’s needs.
As far as the “transportation expectations” assailed in the Turner/Wick op-ed, the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority has largely rendered that point moot with their incentives for students wishing to ride the RTA bus to their charter, school choice or private school destination. We applaud CCRTA for responding to this need.
Students who want to become a medical assistant or an electrician will seek enrollment at one of the technical schools. They will not enter the Sturgis lottery because that’s not the education she wants. Similarly, a student who wants the rigor of an IB program will enter the Sturgis lottery but has no reason to pursue opportunities at Cape Cod Regional Tech – or at any other high school on the Cape.
The Wampanoags are pursuing a language immersion charter school. Once again, I don’t see the culinary arts student choosing that school as an option but I see it as a wonderful opportunity for under-served Native American and minority students in the area.
For many years Chatham kept its school district alive by promoting a small-town, nearly private school environment for its school choice students. When the Monomoy district formed and that opportunity was lost, the school choice boomerang hit back with a vengeance as students fled to Nauset and other districts. We continue to worry whether Monomoy High School will ever be able to meet its 700 student mandated enrollment, either now or in ten years’ time. Sometimes “you build it” and nobody comes.
Speaking of Nauset, the Cape’s current school choice powerhouse, this district offers a large, diverse high school environment while maintaining high academic standards. For a student whose family values that type of education, Nauset is a far more attractive school choice perhaps than Sturgis or the student’s home-town high school.
“Market Economy” - You get what you pay for
The current Turner/Wick op-ed piece objects to the current proposal to add 50 more students to Sturgis. Mr. Turner and his henchman seek to deny 50 more students a choice as a defense of the mediocrity that infests many of our traditional town high schools.
Personally, I would like to see limits lifted on charter enrollment and let the market determine where students attend school.
Our legislators and town fathers should spend their time and effort promoting these education opportunities instead of trying to pound square pegs into round holes. Our hometown school districts must learn to promote their own education opportunities and recognize the reality of school competition.
Cape Cod has never enjoyed so many excellent educational choices for public school students. We celebrate all of them and encourage families to explore all alternatives.