Dear Mecklenburg area legislators,
I’m a long-time resident and taxpayer in Mecklenburg County who values North Carolina’s history of strong public education. I’m in Tricia Cotham’s and Jeff Jackson’s districts, but I’m hoping all of you will give me a moment to share a thought on public education and charters.
I’m dismayed at the recent report that Rep. Rob Bryan is proposing a pilot plan to give charters control of low-performing elementary schools. The Charlotte Observer story is here.
I sent my daughter through Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools as I lived in East and Central Charlotte, from 1995 to 2012. Public magnets allowed her to get an excellent education, with major challenges for me in navigating the system. The diversity in the schools has helped make her an excellent, accomplished young woman, comfortable with all kinds of people and languages.
Now, I’m aware that schools near my center-city neighborhood face huge issues with large populations of poor students. But in extensive reading about charters in other more-challenged cities, I see no evidence that charters are necessary for allowing community support of schools. Businesses and city leadership should be welcome in our public schools and can make huge differences, as can developers and new housing patterns.
Stories about other cities and charters often are about remaking neighborhoods and remaking communities, not just about turning public schools over to charters. The initiatives are generally done together. In Charlotte, we’ve already demonstrated great success in rebuilding some poverty pockets, stalled a bit by the recession but coming back strong. People are showing they want to live in center-city neighborhoods. Our community needs to support that trend by fixing some center-city schools. But again, no evidence exists from other cities that schools must become charters in order to get developer and business support (dependent on state and federal funds as well as philanthropists). Evidence does exist in New Orleans that charters can exclude and alienate communities of color as well as complicate the burden on parents. Our market is rebuilding neighborhoods of young, diverse people in the center city, and they should have the option of staying in those neighborhoods as their families grow.
I’m not interested in having my public tax dollars diverted to private nonprofits running charter schools, and I urge you to vote against any proposal that would convert poor-performing schools to charters. It’s also incredibly poor branding for North Carolina, which is not Memphis, New Orleans, Houston, Washington or NYC. We do have pockets of despair that need help. We also have made progress, and we have a proud tradition of business, civic, religious and community support of public schools in North Carolina. We should build on that tradition.
Here’s a reading and listening list, for those who want to go deeper on the issue:
This American Life, about Missouri’s troubled public school issues near Ferguson
Houston Chronicle, on KIPP schools and an effort to rebuild communities, with Warren Buffett money
Next City, on Atlanta efforts with the East Lake Charter School and Tom Cousins money
Jennifer Berkshire on charters in New Orleans.
Thank you for your time,