What a wide-ranging discourse! I find myself with little to say that
hasn't already been said except to add to this:
The costs continue as a public expense. George Will's article was pure
voodoo economics. The costs to any school system do _not_ drop in any
significant way when a student transfers to private school. Most
significant costs are fixed. If it costs $10000 per student per year and
a student leaves, most of that $10000 cost remains. It's just that one
fewer student is covered by the same fixed costs. Reducing available
funds through vouchers simply means that the funds must be made up by
raising taxes. (Even the cost of administering the voucher system itself
Exactly right. I like Mr Will - he has a very clear writing style
that leaves me envious (in a good way). However, the idea that there
is a fixed pool of school expenses comprising vouchers and 'public'
funding is not borne out by facts. The school budget doesn't get
divided in this 'exclusive-or' way. Mr Will ought to visit beautiful
Schenectady NY to see how the city school budget went up AND the
charter school aggregate budgets went up at the same time.
Much of the public school budget is a shell game. Some comes from
local property taxes but a lot comes from State and Federal aid, aka
income, sales and use taxes. The Schenectady local tax rate stayed
level this year, but the budget went up. All of the increase was
funded by State and Federal monies... an increase of 12.5 million
dollars in aid! Here's testimony from the school superintendent back
in Nov 2006: http://www.schenectady.k12.ny.us/Superintendent/Testimony111606.pdf
Some salient points:
On 'competition with the public school system:'
'Many of you may be under the impression that the students at the
International Charter School were once students in the Schenectady
City Schools. You may be assuming that our school district has seen a
reduction of nearly 800 students mirroring the growth of the charter
school over that same period of time. Both assumptions are false. The
student enrollment in our school district has actually grown by over
700 students in that same time frame. During this same period, five
parochial elementary and middle schools
closed in Schenectady and thus I submit that many students currently
attending the International Charter School never attended the public
schools at all.'
On 'parent choice:'
'I have been told that charter schools serve as competition for poorly
performing public schools. But the reality in Schenectady is that the
charter school resulted in the endemic closure of parochial schools
and thus, eliminated options for children and parents in Schenectady.'
On cost effectiveness:
'Charter schools are funded by the taxpayers on the basis of tuition
which aggregates a kindergarten through twelfth grade average cost to
educate a child. You should know that it actually costs nearly three
times as much money to educate a secondary child as it
does to educate an elementary child. In the case of Schenectady this
means that we are forced to send over seven million dollars this year
to the International Charter School of Schenectady to operate a school
for students in Kindergarten through eighth grades. We have reviewed
our records and estimate that in our district we could run a school of
that size with that population for about half the cost.'
On who gets the profits in a for-profit system:
'So, what happens to the other half of that seven million dollars? I
would submit to you that the rest goes to the stockholders of SABIS,
the for-profit company headquartered in the Middle Eastern country of
Lebanon that manages the charter school.'
On quality of education:
'You may say by student test scores. However, in the case of
Schenectady, the new grade 3 through 8 testing results showed the
International Charter School students had better test scores at only
one grade level.'
The superintendent didn't mention the ongoing academic troubles at
ICCS. In 2004 the State Board of Regents recommended the
International Charter School of Schenectady's charter not be renewed.
was, under an emergency 'get well soon' plan. That plan sputtered
along for two years until parents got upset enough that they were
complaining in droves about the missing quality in their children's
The charter school's management partner was SABIS systems, and when
the charter school board recommended getting a new management partner,
SABIS quit. In the words of the State Board of Education report,
'On March 20, 2007, concerns about the academic program and the lack
of sufficient assessment data led SUNY to approve a short-term renewal
charter of the School for a term of one year through July 31, 2008,
rather than the CSI-staff recommendation of three years. In addition,
SUNY has requested a transition plan from the School's Board of
Trustees by May 15, 2007 to CSI. The plan is expected to include, but
is not limited to, specific descriptions of the Board of Trustees'
self-management structure and model; a recruitment plan for a new
school leader, teachers, and students; a redesigned curriculum to
replace the SABIS-owned curriculum; and a comprehensive professional
development plan to support instruction.
On March 22, 2007, we received the proposed second renewal charter
from SUNY to present to the Regents for consideration. The proposed
second renewal charter, however, identified SABIS as the School's
educational management company and reflected no substantive change in
the School's governance, educational program, or school policies
(i.e., student discipline) during the proposed one-year renewal period
even though SABIS is expected to stay only through June 30, 2007.
On March 23, 2007, SABIS and the SABIS-employed School Leader resigned
from the School taking the SABIS-owned curriculum, data management
systems, and learning software from computers in the student computer
lab with them. The School's charter expired on April 4, 2007. '
Yes, that's right, they took their ball and went home. Before the end
of the school year. Before the students took the all-important end of
year assessment tests. But read the whole thing, it's a doosy:
Enough about the charter school - it has clearly not lived up to its
potential although the story isn't finished yet. Let's talk about
SABIS. Of course, a small charter school can't design and implement
its own curriculum all by itself. It needs help from someone who has
experience teaching children and so charter schools in NY all have a
contract with an 'education company.'
The charter school here had a contract with SABIS Systems
I say 'had' because SABIS dumped the school
before their contract was up. Check out the old charter school
website (graciously provided by SABIS) http://www.icss-sabis.net/
(The school quickly set up their own web site, but there isn't much
) Compare the current
SABIN page to the archived one from Feb 2007 (when they were getting
ready to pull out)
The SABIS web page has a news section, it mentions Schenectady several
times although it fails to mention the er, termination of their
contract. No surprise there. Their mission statement sure is nice.
I wonder how they square those pretty smelling words with their
actions? And what about the Superintendent's allegation that SABIS is
a Middle Eastern company?
Not only are they based in Lebanon, the US funds them! Here's some of
the good stuff the US and IFC do together:
To back up my claim of 'we fund them' have a peek at their financial
The US donates a half a billion dollars a year, or 24% of their
We pay taxes, the Feds send some of that to the IFC, the IFC gives
SABIS a brandy-new $8 million headquarters in Lebanon (and God knows
what else), SABIS charges taxpayers some more money to educate kids in
Schenectady and then abandons them. How cool is that? Charter
schools just rock my world.
Of course, the answer to this litany of incredible missteps is: Well
it sucks to be you. This is most often rendered as 'that school
should have chosen better.' Or, sometimes 'that's one isolated
incident. Everybody else is doing ok.'
Forget the money; we can always raise more taxes to recoup that. What
happens to the 600 kids who have lost a year of education? Or have
they lost more than that one year? How good is the SABIS system
anyway? The answer is unknown here in Schenectady but we'll be
finding out next year when the charter school tries to gain the
headway lost over these past years.
I'm glad that 'school choice' is working for some people, I really am.
But if a public school were to fail this spectacularly, the state
would have stepped in and taken it over, replacing the people
responsible and starting over with appropriate application of the
uniform curriculum that the rest of the state enjoys. The charter
school stands or falls on its own, without the help of the state.
Until the school is finally closed and the city has to absorb these
students. We'll see how THAT influx skews the statistics.