Charter School Re-Segregation and Audacity of Chris Latvala

Representative Kionne McGhee voted against HB5105, a $200 million Republican led “Schools of Hope” charter school plan which would allow for the rapid expansion of select charter school networks across Florida and mandate that persistently low performing public school close or become part of such networks. “This bill, in my humble opinion, creates a separate but unequal system” that “runs afoul” of the Florida and U.S. Constitutions, McGhee said during a committee meeting. The bill passed the House along party lines.

“Charter schools, on average, don’t have an academic advantage over traditional public schools, but they do have a significant risk of leading to more segregation.”- Education Week, 2014

The landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education (1954) ruled that “separate education facilities are inherently unequal.” McGhee is not the only one concerned that creating charter school networks will lead to unequal, re-segregated schools:

  • 2016 Brookings Institution Report, “Segregation, race and charter schools: What do we know“: Charter schools, which are open enrollment public schools managed outside the framework of the traditional school district, are generally more racially and economically segregated than traditional public schools. In particular, charter schools enroll more black and poor students than traditional public schools in the same areas, and are more likely to be at one extreme or the other of the racial and economic demographic spectrum than traditional public schools.
  • 2009 The Civil Rights Project, “Choice Without Equity:
 Charter School Segregation and the Need for Civil Rights Standards“: “The charter school movement has been a major political success, but it has been a civil rights failure. As the country continues moving steadily toward greater segregation and inequality of education for students of color in schools with lower achievement and graduation rates, the rapid growth of charter schools has been expanding a sector that is even more segregated than the public schools.” Details of Charter School Segregation in Florida can be found in this Fact Sheet.
  • In 2014, the ACLU charged that Delaware’s charter school system was resegregating the state’s public schools and called for a moratorium on authorizing and opening new charter schools until a new desegregation plan is in place.
  • In 2016, Leaders of the NAACP ratified a resolution calling for a moratorium on the expansion of charters and for stronger oversight of these schools until, among other things, “Charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.”

In 2014, Education Week published an article, “Charter Schools and the Risk of Increased Segregation“, concluding “Charter schools, on average, don’t have an academic advantage over traditional public schools, but they do have a significant risk of leading to more segregation.” The article explained how “a policy promoting the expansion of charter schools risks increasing segregation based on ethnicity and income”. It also demonstrated “the potential for increasing the segregation of special education and language-minority students and for contributing to religious and cultural stratification not typically found in U.S. public education.”

Implications from the Education Week included:

“Even apart from the negative effect of increased segregation, justifying federal advocacy of charter school expansion is difficult when there’s no evidence that charter schools, on average, are academically superior to traditional public schools or even that they can be more innovative given the Common Core State Standards and the testing associated with them.

The finding in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that “separate education facilities are inherently unequal” has been demonstrated repeatedly in the United States and throughout the world in the 60 years since that decision. It also has been demonstrated in the results of the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2010). It is ironic that the political rhetoric surrounding this assessment focuses almost exclusively on test-score differences among countries, which account for only about 11% of the variance, while little attention is paid to the far more important finding that the remaining variance is accounted for by differences within countries. On average, almost 60% of the differences in reading test scores within member countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are explained by the SES of students and schools. In the United States, the SES of students and schools explains almost 80% of the variance in performance. That finding is certainly not a strong recommendation for policies that further increase the segregation of schools.

It is also ironic that as other countries become increasingly concerned about the social implications of their school choice programs the United States is promoting the expansion of these programs. Until now, the link between charter schools and segregation has been partially masked by the fact that a large proportion of charter schools are in urban areas that are already highly segregated. However, as charter schools expand into areas with more diverse student bodies, their segregating effects will become even more extensive and visible. That expansion already is under way; although the largest increases in charter schools to date have occurred in cities, significant increases are also occurring in towns, suburbs, and rural areas that are more diverse (Landauer-Menchik, 2006; National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 2013b).

It is not that government has an agenda to increase segregation. Proponents of charter schools believe they’re giving low-income and minority students opportunities they otherwise would not have had. That belief is true in some cases; all charter schools do not result in segregation. But far too many do, and the trend is unfavorable. It takes a lot of care through targeted funding and oversight to mitigate the pressures that lead to yet more segregation. But whatever motivations drive the choices families and schools make, it is important that government does not exacerbate the problem of segregation by ignoring the unintended consequences of its policies. The risk is an increasingly divided public education system.”

The rapid expansion of charter “Schools of Hope” networks, especially when they are targeted primarily at low income schools with large minority student populations, risks “an increasingly divided public education system” in Florida.  To be clear, we are not accusing the bill’s sponsor of creating a system to achieve re-segregation. Frankly, we think the sponsor wants to privatize public education and truly believes this plan will give struggling students “hope”, but further segregation should be an expected outcome, as well.

“We need more Jack Mashburns”

During his closing statements on HB5105, “School of Hope” bill sponsor, Rep. Chris Latvia quoted Barack Obama, and then accused his “friends in the back of the chamber” of having “the audacity of fear.” He also suggested that there were democrats, who had spoken to him privately, that supported his bill but were afraid of pushback from their caucus and the teacher’s union, afraid they wouldn’t be re-elected, so could not vote for his bill. (watch at 3:33:00)
“Members, that’s sad because we are up here to do big things. We’re not here to worry about the next election. On the Speaker’s Designation Day, we learned about a man who served one term in the house. The room where my committee meets, that I’m honored to chair, the Education Innovation Committee, is named after this man. It was Jack Mashburn. He served in the 1950s for one term, he was 22 years old, he faced some difficult decisions, he stood up for what was right and he knew that his stand that he took was going to cost him the next election and you know what, he stood up for what he believed in and he was defeated the next election… We need more Jack Mashburns in the Florida Legislature today and we need more people to stand up for courage and not worry about what your caucus is going to think, not worry about what the teachers union is going to think.”
Who was Jack Washburn and what did he do? In the 1950s, Jack Mashburn helped desegregate Bay County beaches. He was a champion of Civil Rights. As reported, recently, in the News Herald: “Jack Mashburn’s actions were bold, but he was committed to follow his father’s words of wisdom: ‘Do what is right regardless of the consequences,’” said FSU Panama City Dean Randy Hanna. “He faced significant odds as a young legislator, and he was defeated after one term because of his dedication to doing what is right.”

When faced with the evidence that charter schools have no academic advantage over traditional public schools, but are contributing to the resegregation of our public schools, we agree that we need more Jack Mashburns! We need lawmakers who will stand up and fight against the segregation of public education like Mashburn fought for Bay County’s beaches. The truly courageous Republican would stand up with Rep. McGhee. Who will be that lawmaker?

Re-segregating our public schools and destroying public education IS “a big thing.” We did not send our lawmakers to Tallahassee to do that. Perhaps Chris Latvala should pay more attention to understanding the policies Mr Washburn ACTUALLY advocated for.  There is still much we can learn from Jack Mashburn.

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