DPS panel talks about charters, legislation and funding
The “battle” between public and public charter schools was defined by two Durham Public Schools Board of Education members who clarified the impact of charter schools on traditional public schools.
Minnie Forte-Brown, vice-chair of the board, and member Nancy Cox talked with a group of Duke University students on Tuesday evening as part of the Education and Human Development event series.
Along with Steve Schewel, Durham City Council member, Cox and Forte-Brown said that charter schools are not the enemy, but they do present a unique set of obstacles for traditional public schools.
“Charter schools are public schools,” Forte-Brown explained. “Every charter school in Durham gets money from us (DPS) because they’re public school students. I don’t want to bash charter schools. I want to level the playing field.”
Schewel said that DPS has seen a reduction of as much as $13 million in funding since 2008. He asked Duke students to consider how much they spend on textbooks and then told them that DPS, and other districts across the state, have been allotted $15 per student per year for textbooks.
“Teachers get very, very little money for supplies,” Schewel added. “Teachers are always coming out of their own pockets. The financial landscape is an issue that’s changed a lot in the last few years.”
North Carolina, a state once known for its emphasis on education, is now ranked 48th in teacher pay, Schewel said.
Forte-Brown and Cox pointed out that charter schools do not always provide busing of students or hot breakfasts or lunches. They are able to reject students, whereas public schools are obligated to serve all students.
The notion of charter schools contributing to the competitive marketplace is a myth, Cox said, that is being dismantled regularly as “that model continues to not be applicable in the business world and it’s not in education.”
Reaching All Minds Academy, another new charter school, was approved to open its doors for the 2014-15 school year. There are currently nine charter schools in Durham, with 12 applications awaiting approval, they explained.
Forte-Brown believes that the county has too many charter schools and that areas that don’t have as much of a need tend to have more charter schools because “you get more money per pupil. The money is not going to the rural areas where they can help, because there isn’t funding there.”
Cox and Forte-Brown agreed that charter schools are contributing to the re-segregation of public schools, partly because those who are in a position to send their children to these schools are oftentimes from a higher socioeconomic background.
“The charters are attracting a certain section of our student population disproportionate to our total student population,” explained Cox. “They don’t have to provide transportation. They don’t provide hot lunch or breakfast so that’ll determine who can go there.”
In lieu of recent legislation that will directly affect class sizes across the state, Cox added that charter schools don’t face the obstacles of overcrowding because they are able to limit the number of students they serve.
Schewel added that another concern with charter schools is that they don’t help those most in need.
“They’re not sharing the burden of poverty,” he said. “There is a burden of poverty in Durham and it’s created two tiers of education in Durham, public and charter.”
Central Park School and Maureen Joy Charter School were recognized as schools that are partnered with DPS to help serve students from more socioeconomically challenged areas.
Looking at the best attributes of DPS, Cox said that “diversity is what benefits our children. They can go to any college and deal with all people. That’s one of our strengths.”
Addressing the achievement gap, Forte-Brown explained that “we’re making progress. What we want to do is narrow that gap and we’re succeeding at that. We’ve got to do more and more and more for our children of color and in poverty.”
And while both Cox and Forte-Brown are in favor of teacher accountability, they agree that assessments should not be the only means of measuring teacher effectiveness.
“Teachers have to be accountable for student learning, but it’s about more than just a test,” Forte-Brown said.
“This one-day, single-shot test is a really challenging way” to determine teacher effectiveness, Cox said.