By Efrain Martinez
I often find myself in use of the phrase: In life, there are truths, lies and statistics. To that phrase, I now have to add “alternative facts.” Those of us who believe parents should have access to choice in public education now have to contend with a new wave of alternative facts about charter schools.
A good example is a recent Another Voice column by the president of the Erie County Council of Teacher Union Presidents, Joe Cantafio, who claims that charters are for-profit, corporate-supported schools.
Let me provide background and shed light on the truth.
During the 1990s, several corporations proposed to provide initial financing and run charter schools for a profit. At times, community groups applying for a charter found themselves with little choice other than to engage these educational management organizations in order to open. However, for-profit management organizations were banned in New York State in 2010.
Several for-profit charters already in existence have been grandfathered in, and now, only a handful of charters run by management organizations remain.
The overwhelming majority of charters in New York State are not-for-profit organizations. I predict that over time, the few schools hiring a for-profit manager will move away from their contracts. Cantafio must know this is true. Otherwise, we are to believe that he is not as knowledgeable of school law in New York as one would hope.
The second alternative fact that we hear repeated is that charter schools are backed by billionaires and other corporate backers like Bill Gates and Betsy DeVos. The truth is that a few networks of charters – for example, the KIPP Network – have received support from donors with the intent of replicating the model in many communities. However, the vast majority of charters have no such luck.
The fact is that in Western New York charters need to operate with the same two-thirds of the state funding sent to the district, except that it has been frozen to the 2010 levels for the last six school years!
Cantafio is right about a felicitous point. Under the current leadership and due to the hard work of many, the district schools are experiencing improvement in significant areas. Urban education is very, very difficult. Rather than using false information with the aim at undermining parents’ choice, how about we focus on redoubling efforts to eliminate the need for an alternative?
Nobody would be happier than I would if charters start closing because district schools become the best option for all families. Judging by the waiting lists, that moment has not arrived yet. Therefore, we will continue our work with the occasional distraction of having to correct intentional distortions of the facts, or alternative facts.
Efrain Martinez is superintendent of the Charter Schools for Applied Technologies in Buffalo.