NAACP calls for end to for-profit charter schools

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

The NAACP is calling for tighter restrictions on charter schools and the elimination of for-profit charters as part of a broad array of actions leaders want to see taken on the local and national level to improve public education for children of color.

In a report released Wednesday, the organization did not rescind the controversial position it took last year when it passed a resolution saying there should be a moratorium on charter school expansion. After a backlash from African-American parents who believe that charter schools are a good option for their children, the NAACP board launched a task force and a seven city listening tour to hear about the types of schools parents want to see in their communities.The recommendations were presented at the 108th NAACP National Convention held at the Baltimore Convention Center.

“We want to say to America, we are education advocates and we want to continue to agitate and stir up people across the nation,” said Gloria Sweet-Love, a member of the task force and NAACP national board. The organization’s leaders will take the recommendations from the report to state and national legislators to advocate for changes to charter school laws and more resources for public schools, she said.

During the listening tour, NAACP task force members heard from those who said some charter schools were kicking out lower performing African American students, and sucking money away from traditional public schools. They also heard from those who see charters as a good alternative to low-performing public schools. The NAACP’s stance has received more attention since the appointment of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, a proponent of the expansion of charters and the use of vouchers to pay for private school, a move some public school supporters see as undermining public education.

Some task force members said Wednesday they believed less focus should be put on charters and more on the neighborhood public schools that educate 90 percent of students in the nation. The task force report, leaders said, provides more specificity about their position on charters.

We can’t condemn all charter schools. That genie is out of the bottle,” said Alice Huffman, chair of the task force on education. However, she said, charter schools “shouldn’t mind accountability and transparency” about their operations when they are funded by tax dollars.

Some charter school advocates said they had no input in the listening tour.

“It is surprising and disappointing that the NAACP has not listened to African American families who have seen the impact of charter schools on their communities,” said Vanessa Descalzi, a spokeswoman for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.

Charter schools are publicly funded, but independently operated schools. In Maryland, they are considered part of the public school system in which they are located.

In calling for more accountability, the NAACP wants local school districts to be the only body that can approve a new charter school. That restriction already exists in Maryland, which is one of the few states with laws that require all charter schools to be part of local school systems.Many states allow other entities, such as universities, to decide whether a school should be permitted to operate as a charter.

“We should only be renewing charters that are advancing student achievement,” Descalzi said adding, however that each state should be able to determine its own rules for authorizing and holding charter schools accountable.

Charter school advocates in Maryland have been trying to get legislation passed that would allow other groups or governing bodies to authorize charter schools to operate. They have not been successful because of opposition from school system leaders who view charters as competition for public schools. Charter school advocates argue that the current state law limits the growth of charter schools.

“One of the major components of high quality schools is multiple authorizers,” said Nicole Harris-Crest, executive director of the Maryland Alliance of Public Charter Schools. She noted that 78 percent of charters nationally are operating in states that allow more than one body to approve charters.

The NAACP report said the states with the fewest charter authorizers have some of the strongest schools. The report also argues for more stringent accountability systems for charter schools as well as monitoring to ensure that students with behavior or academic problems are not pushed out to help improve the schools’ performance data. It also calls for requiring charters to hire certified teachers, as they are in Maryland, and to provide equity in funding charter and public schools.

The Baltimore charter schools have sued the city school system, saying they are not getting their fair share of funds.

The report also calls for the elimination of for-profit charters, which Maryland already prohibits.

In addition to more restrictions, the NAACP wants more funding for public schools that predominately serve students of color. NAACP leaders are expected to address the details of the report early Wednesday afternoon when it is formally released.

Jonathan Pitts contributed to this article.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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