Charter schools are not the solution

Dr. Sylvester Perez1
April 7, 2014

Dear SAISD Staff,

It has become increasingly popular to criticize our nation’s public schools, and that criticism has been used in Austin and Washington to fuel discussion of reform through means of vouchers, privatization, choice and the commercialization of public schools. All of those options stand to hurt, not help, traditional public schools.

I’m sure you’ve heard, maybe even received a solicitation in the mail, that corporate charter chains have come to our city, joining KIPP, which has had a presence in San Antonio for some time now. These for-profit charter schools are not the same as the in-district charters that we operate as a part of our school district. The charters are external schools that compete for our students. And though they are publicly funded, they are privately managed, often by out-of-state boards, and do not have to follow the same rules in their day-to-day operations that traditional public schools must.

Some point to charter schools as a necessary alternative to traditional public schools, the thought being that competition will prompt all involved to get more creative and innovative and, thus, improve education for public school students.

As a true public educator, I accept that traditional public education can, and must, continue to improve. I am not suggesting we have it all figured out. What I am suggesting, though, is that lawmakers institute meaningful reform that helps remove the educational barriers for the school systems that serve the vast majority of public schoolchildren. In Texas, over 95 percent of the state’s 5 million school-aged children are educated by traditional public schools.

I can tell you that in SAISD, we are fortunate to have and hope for the continued loyal support of our more than 80 community partners, including the City of San Antonio, Alamo Colleges, public and private universities, local philanthropists and business partners. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the significant support of our wonderful SAISD Foundation, which pumps resources back into our classroom through fundraising, with the recent Run 4 Education run/walk – the event drew nearly 2,000 participants last month! – being one example.

What I think the people who stand with us here in SAISD realize is that corporate charter schools hurt traditional public schools. What often is lost in the conversation about charters is that they don’t have to play by the more stringent rules we do. They are exempt from many of the requirements we must follow, which puts us on an uneven playing field.

We are required to educate all students, ranging from the most gifted and talented to the some of the most fragile. We do not select and sort students for admission, nor do we dismiss them if they are not measuring up. We embrace all of our children. Traditional public schools systems exemplify diversity in every aspect. It is this diversity that provides our students with rich experiences for real-life situations.

Charter schools have gained support from both political parties, and, to my surprise, from some people who purport to support traditional public education. We cannot be on both sides of the fence when it comes to equitable standards and offerings outside of the already robust choices we offer in SAISD. These orchestrated efforts toward privatization take away our focus from funding and supporting the more than 5 million Texas schoolchildren.

We are thankful to our local state lawmakers and the 83rd Legislature for providing some relief to public schools by significantly reducing the number of end-of-course exams students are required to pass to graduate and by increasing local control. Those changes will help us. Now, the hope is that Austin can turn its attention to providing relief for traditional public schools, which, again, serve the vast majority of Texas schoolchildren.

Locally, the dialogue should be the same: Let's support our traditional public schools and our neighborhood schools.

 

Sincerely,
Dr. Sylvester Perez
Superintendent

 

“The best way out is always through.” – Robert Frost



 

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