Using Crooked City Zoning to Punish Charter Schools Is a Truly Terrible Idea

Jul 6, 2018 by

Jim Schutze –

Dallas school trustee Joyce Foreman urged the Dallas City Council last week to begin using its power over real estate zoning as a sword to chop off new charter schools at the knees by denying zoning for new campuses. She accused the charters of bleeding the public school system of funds and students, especially black students, especially in her trustee district.

This is like asking the grounds committee to turn off the lights in the last three minutes of the last quarter of your high school’s big football grudge match before the final score can go up on the board. And you were about to win.

With what I take for totally unintended candor, Foreman said at the June 18 meeting of the City Council’s Human and Social Needs Committee that her biggest gripe with charter schools is the effects they are having on her school trustee district within the Dallas Independent School District.

Showing the committee a map with dots for all the charter schools within DISD’s territory, Foreman urged the members to look at a particular cluster of dots in one corner of the map:

“If you look in the lower left-hand corner,” she said, “that’s my concern. The overproliferation of charters in that area, guess whose district they’re in? It’s mine.”

So the City Council is supposed to jack up the zoning laws to inflict a penalty on charter schools in order to help Foreman defend her electoral turf. Wow.

In her plea to the council to jam up the charters by denying them zoning, Foreman was right on some specifics, just terribly wrong in where she wound up. There is no question charter schools suck students and money out of public school systems.

Charter schools are public schools funded by the taxpayers, operating under state law, independent of the big public school systems. Their main funding comes from state funds that “follow the student,” meaning the state sends a sum of money to whatever school system the student attends.

Every kid who opts out of DISD to go to a charter represents a sum of state money diverted from DISD to the charter. The amount is figured on a sliding scale based on school system size, but we’re talking about something in the range of $9,000 per year per kid.

What the detractors never mention is that charters don’t get any of the money collected by school districts as property tax. That money stays with the school district even after a student leaves for a charter. In DISD, where local revenue is more than $1.1 billion a year and the student body is just over 157,000, the local revenue per student comes out to just over $7,000 a year. The kid goes. The seven grand a year stays.

Charter enrollment in Dallas has increased from about 25,000 students five years ago to more like 35,000 today. So we can look at 35,000 students who have left for charters and figure that DISD loses about $315 million a year from the state to cover those departures.

But DISD hangs on to $250 million in local revenue for kids it doesn’t have to teach any more. I don’t think you’ve heard DISD telling you, “Here’s $250 million back for kids who aren’t here anymore.” No, that money goes into the SIP account (straight in the pocket).

But here is a much more important issue — one for which Foreman almost could get traction if she were able to frame the problem more acutely. Critics of charters complain that the charter schools “skim the students,” meaning they seduce away the smartest, most motivated kids.

Defenders of charters are hyperdefensive on that accusation and will absolutely bore your socks off with canned, mind-numbingly detailed speeches about how charter schools are forbidden by law to cherry-pick students for performance. But if you can get a charter school defender to calm down a little (wine helps), most will more or less agree with what a Dallas school board member told me in an off-the-record whisper last week: “The charters don’t skim students. They skim parents.”

The simple act of dis-enrollment — taking your kid out of the neighborhood public school, trotting him or her down to enroll in the nearest charter — is an exercise in intentional behavior. It means you woke up this morning and remembered you had a kid. It means you want your kid to have a better life than you did. And it means you believe that choice of school will have a lot to do with that.

Yes, the parents who make that kind of decision are the kind of people who fall under that new buzzword everyone seems to like so well now — agency. They have agency. They are doers. They take action. They disrupt their status quo at the expense of their comfort in order to make things happen for their kids.

And, look, in a free society where people have any kind of viable option, there is only one way to attract or hang on to that kind of parent. It’s called competition. Convince them you’ve got something better.

Source: Just When Dallas Public Schools Might Win the Right Way, Trustee Wants to Cheat. | Dallas Observer

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