Equity of Funding
The fight against the expansion of charter schools in Baltimore had two iterations. First was the fight in the legislature in spring 2014. We were working alongside other groups, attending hearings and generally helping to get the word out in opposition to legislation that would have given charters more funding and the ability to take teachers out of the union. There were just a few of us doing this work at that time. The legislation was successfully defeated and all the fellows became much more attuned to the issue. Then in September 2015, the charter coalition filed a lawsuit against city schools, demanding more funding. This again led to some intensive organizing. In October 2015 TDP held a large public forum where we released our first professionally produced video in an effort to bring awareness to the disparity in funding between traditional and charter schools. This effort was partially responsible for the formation of an independent group called People for Public Schools, a group that has since carried the banner for equitable funding in Baltimore and with whom we still have strong ties. As we move into the new Trump era, in light of the current budget deficit in City Schools ($129,000,000), and following a recently published two-year study of the state’s school finances, it is clear that this issue will resurface and will require continued advocacy.
Charters were initially designed to be laboratories to bring innovation to public schools. The challenge is that instead of spreading the learning gained to all schools, they have become an institution that functions as an escape hatch for a small population of kids. TDP believes we instead need to fight for equity and adequacy of funding for every child.
Charters are not a silver bullet. They only work better if they have more money and serve an easier population—either by locating in a middle class neighborhood and attracting middle class families, or by pushing harder to teach children out of the school.
Charters are often justified on the basis that they find better ways to educate students. In fact good charters do the same things that good schools of any type do—they provide relative stability and predictability; they manage finances well over time; they make good teachers want to stay; they give teachers autonomy to manage their own curriculum and professional development; and they maintain excellent relationship with their parents and communities. This is not new or innovative. There is no evidence that existing neighborhood schools would be unable to achieve these same results with the same set of advantages that charters receive.
Though we do acknowledge the frustrations of large schools and the need to do something different in education, we have to take into account the impact that the charter schools are having on other schools near by. At a certain level of saturation, charters start to contribute to the closing of neighborhood schools that ought to be supported and shored up. For example the Henderson Hopkins opening coincides with the closing of Raynor Brown. Closing Langston Hughes coincides with the opening of Creative City and KIP. Though these charters promise to make better options available, at Henderson Hopkins the school is not open to all in the same way Raynor was and Langston is actually a stronger school than any other in the community.