Duncan’s Bribe Reveals Where Demand for Charters Originates

Covering recent charter school news, Jim Horn challenges the claim that charters are what the public is demanding. “Support for charter schools among Americans is waning, rather than waxing. In 2007 support for charters peeked at 60 percent favorable. In 2008, that dropped to 51 percent favorable,” he reports. Also noted are two recent instances of states being threatened by Duncan, in lieu of a lack of support for charters that meets Duncan’s approval.

Matthew Stone, writing in the Kennebec Journal quotes Duncan: “States such as Maine that don’t allow charter schools are putting themselves at a ‘competitive disadvantage’.” According to the article, 10 states do not allow charter schools, while 26 put caps on the number of charter schools. These states risk being denied Duncan’s so-called “Race to the Top” funds, widely recognized as bribes for complying with unpopular initiatives of the federal government.

Stone reports:

Critics of charter schools in the Legislature said a new set of schools would divert too many resources away from local districts at a time when they’re struggling to make ends meet.

Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said during debate that a vote against charter schools was a vote of confidence in Maine public schools.

“It’s time for us to put confidence back to the schools that we already have here,” he said Thursday.

As reported in The Tennessean, state lawmakers have also been put into motion by Duncan’s carrot.

Republicans “contend that Tennessee could lose out on $100 million as part of a $4.35 billion ‘Race to the Top’ federal grant program for states that commit to education reform — including increasing access to charter schools. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is scheduled to talk to reporters today about President Barack Obama’s administration’s emphasis on the importance of charter school access to receiving the funds.

Department of Education spokesman Justin Hamilton said, “States that don’t search for innovative solutions certainly don’t help their chances.”

In previous committee discussions, some Democrats accused charter school leaders of targeting urban areas to draw poor, black students and their state funding away from the public school system for monetary gain.

With budget cuts scheduled for physical health and safety programs, losing student funding could further hurt schools, said Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory.

“We’re cutting things from schools already, and now we’re talking about taking money out of schools? That’s a problem,” he said.


State law allows up to 50 charter schools, which typically can accept only low-performing students and students in low-performing schools. Tennessee now has 16 charter schools, including three in Nashville.


But the $100 million doesn’t depend solely on charter school eligibility, and Tennessee hasn’t lost out on any of the funds because they haven’t been distributed yet, said Earl Wiman, president of the Tennessee Education Association, which opposes the bill.

If legislators are going to expand eligibility of charter schools, they should tighten regulation and give the schools less time before being subject to state review, Wiman said.

“If they’re going to be getting that money and making that promise, they shouldn’t be afraid of increased accountability,” Wiman said.

Applications for the federal grant program will be accepted beginning in late fall 2009. First payouts are scheduled for spring 2010.

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