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Bizarre World Indeed

August 6, 2012

When it comes to public school funding being diverted to charter schools, the two largest newspapers in the state have different views of reality. On one hand, the Oklahoman describes complaints from superintendents as a glimpse into the “bizarre world inhabited by some members of the education establishment.” On the other hand, the Tulsa World describes the SDE’s decision to reserve a higher percentage of funding from schools than is customary as “the latest blow to local districts that already were trying to contend with tens of millions of dollars in state funding cuts over the last few years.”

The substance of the argument is that charter schools are being funded at the level of their potential enrollment. Meanwhile, traditional public schools are being funded at a level less than their existing enrollment. It bears repeating that the SDE used discretion to withhold money from school districts. Required by statute to reserve 1.5 percent of funding in order to make midterm adjustments, the department held back 3.52 percent. This $64 million dollar cushion means that growing Oklahoma school districts, such as most of the big suburban ones, have significant growth in enrollment and significant cuts in funding.

This is not what the legislature had in mind.

The Oklahoman goes on to make the argument that public schools shouldn’t complain. Charter schools are public schools after all.

As an example, look at the state’s first charter school – Independence Middle School in Oklahoma City. It is instructive for both its longevity, and for one of the founders – Janet Barresi. In the ICMS application packet, for the 2012-13 school year, two warnings (both appearing on page 7) to parents discourage students who might not already be successful from applying:

  • Parents and guardians of applicants should be advised that the very minimum level of preparedness that a student should achieve in order to be successful in our school is mastery of all the PASS skills for their last completed grade and achievement of a fifth grade reading level.
  • While we provide special education services to any student accepted to our school with an IEP, we feel it is important that parents of these students are aware of two points. First, one full time and one half time teacher staff our learning lab. They serve the students of our school who qualify for lab services. The Special Education Guidelines dictate a limit to the number of students that each teacher may serve. This ensures that a standard of quality in instruction is maintained for each student receiving services. Please be advised that as new students are admitted to our school they will be admitted to our learning lab to be served on a first come, first serve basis. If it is determined that the minimum number of students are being served at this site, any other new students admitted to the school requiring special services will be served in a learning lab at an alternate school site based on availability at that site.

On the first point, apparently charter schools – which were created to save students from low performing schools – can choose to accept only students who are already performing well on state assessments. Or they can at least strongly discourage low-performing students from applying. On the second point, ICMS is telling parents that they may not have enough special education staff to serve their students and meet the provisions of an IEP.

I find both of these caveats in the memo to parents troubling for one simple reason:


We don’t tell parents that we don’t want them or that we may or may not have the capacity to serve their students. We happily take the brilliant, high-achieving students. And we happily take the students who struggle.

And that is the best glimpse into the “bizarre world … of the education establishment” that I can give you.

(Special thanks to Melissa Abdo for pointing me to the ICMS application packet) 

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