Dear Cheatham County School board member,
You don’t know me. I’m a fellow mom in TN who wishes someone had warned my school board before they made a devastating decision that hurt our school district. Some would say it was inevitable because of the tremendous amount of out-of-state money that flowed into our school board members’ campaigns to get them elected. Some say we didn’t have a chance. If we’d known then what we know now, I’d like to think we would have at least tried to stop it. Now, it is nearly impossible… like watching a building burn to the ground before your eyes.
You’re probably thinking “what is this crazy Mom talking about?”. I don’t blame you one bit for thinking it. I’m talking specifically about charter schools. I have a friend in your district who was really upset that a charter school may be approved in her county, Cheatham County. She begged me to help, as if a little old Mom near Memphis could do anything that could make a difference in your county.
Well, I can send facts. I can tell you how the public schools in our district have suffered since charter schools opened. The best students, their involved parents, and the tax dollars have been sucked away from what were formerly strong neighborhood community schools. Using the promises of “helping the poorest students succeed” and “giving parents choices” people naively fell into the charter school trap. Children are suffering the consequences of that now, and some people are getting very rich in the process. The fact is: There is no choice for the student with disabilities who costs more than the average student to educate. There is no choice for the student who gets “counseled out” of the charter school for not having the required uniform accessories (or was it because of his low test score?). There is no choice for the students who don’t speak English well. Their only “choice” is the public school that has been starved of funding by the charter school. It creates schools of “haves” and “have nots”. Is that what you really want for your community? Compare the test results of the charters and public schools in TN… you can’t ignore that public schools continue to outperform charter schools.
Competition may work in the business world for fast food chains and grocery stores, but it doesn’t work for public institutions like prisons, police, fire protection, or public schools. If you want something changed in your public schools, then do it democratically. Fix what you don’t like instead of abandoning what you have. Think long and hard before you give away your local control to people to make money off of with your tax dollars. Profit will always be the priority, not students. This has happened in my district where charter operators make $200,000 salaries regardless of the pitiful schools and poor results. There are zero charter schools in Memphis with strong sports teams, music programs, or art programs. They may claim to have these extra-curricular opportunities, but the public schools outperform every charter school over here.
Once you approve one charter school, it is difficult to say “no” to more charter schools. Take my word for it. Future charter school applications become a cut & paste of past approved charter schools, so you really can’t say no, even though you know it isn’t what is best for your community or you question the charter leadership (like former Mayor Willie Herenton in Memphis who was reluctantly approved to operate charter schools. Some of his schools didn’t have desks, chairs, or books until 2 months into the school year and one of his schools closed without notice in the fall due to low enrollment).
Another concern is that this proposed charter school will be operated by 2 Teach for America kids. I call them “kids” because they lack the maturity and wisdom to lead a school. They also lack the education degrees, teaching licenses, and experience. Do you really want them experimenting with your children’s education? Experience and knowledge count when you’re hiring a doctor, lawyer, tree cutter, pilot, or realtor so why is this any less important? Your children deserve better. If those Teach for America kids really want to make a difference, they should do it the right way. There are no shortcuts when it comes to something as important as the education of children.
Thanks for reading my email and considering all this before you make a decision that will impact your community for years to come.
Mom just a few hours away from you near Memphis, TN