No siphon Texas spends $7,300

No siphon
Texas spends $7,300 to educate the average public school student. If the state spends $5,000 on students educated in public charter schools, is that siphoning money? Or a bargain for the taxpayers.

In the New York Times, Francis X. Clines takes a slap at the former governor of Texas and at the state’s charter schools. He seems unable to understand the concept of charter schools.

In the closing legislative hours, the latest sorry wrinkle in the charter agenda was struck down — a siphoning of public funds for computers to create “virtual” schools for students working in their homes. But the charter school movement lives on, six years old and costing taxpayers $5,000 per pupil, with limited state oversight on how the money is spent.

The whole point of charter schools is to oversee the results: Are students learning? Charters that fail to offer parents a better alternative will lose students and shut down. Mismanaged schools can be closed. Try closing a mismanaged, money-wasting, educationally bankrupt public school run by a school district. It can’t be done. But Clines complains that 25 of 200 charters have gone under or been closed. He doesn’t get it.

He finally hits the question of student learning in an ambiguous paragraph:

Early assessment tests are finding that public schools are outperforming charter schools by nearly a two to one margin.

Texas charters disproportionately educate low-income, minority students and students who come from low-performing schools. I don’t think Clines is comparing charter students’ scores to the kids left behind in the district-run schools. He also ignores the two-year rule: Charter school scores tend to rise after two years; the large number of brand-new charters pulls down the average.

Nevertheless, the charter movement continues to be a serious rival for ever-scarcer public funds. A charter school being planned here by the University of Texas promises to be a worthy state-of-the-art experiment, and taxpayers can be pretty well assured that in this case, nobody is likely to decamp with the desks in the dark of night.

But it will still divert $1.5 million a year here from more hard-pressed and effective public schools.

If local schools are so effective, why does UT want to start a charter? Why would parents pull their kids out of effective schools to go there? And why doesn’t Cline write that district-run public schools are diverting money from public charter students? Why should a kid in a district-run school get $7,300 in tax money, while the kid in charter school gets only $5,000? Both are public students; the charter student is a lot more likely to be disadvantaged.

Update: In National Review, Chester Finn dismembers Clines’ facts and analysis, but commends the New York Times for its new-found devotion to fiction writing.

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