Well over one hundred people attended an early September Symposium on School Finance and Reform, held in Columbus, Ohio, to hear experts from states on the leading edge of school reform. A common theme running through many of the day’s presentations was the failure of the current system of public education to serve the very people it was designed to serve: the children.
“School is all about power, money, and control,” declared Clark Durant, a member of the Michigan State Board of Education, who added that “the people who lose in all of this are the children.” Durant said that 120 of Michigan’s 500 public school districts are academically bankrupt. Some 78 charter schools are now established in the state.
Echoing Durant’s comment, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan said the current educational system doesn’t do what is best for the children and parents are seeking alternatives. Although its charter school program was launched just three years ago, Arizona leads the nation in the number of charter schools, with a total of 200, including some with multiple sites.
Keegan related how parents, well aware that one charter school in Arizona had financial problems, nevertheless did not complain because their children were getting the best education they had ever received. When the school later closed, 80 percent of the parents sent their children to another charter school rather than returning them to a traditional public school.
The Arizona program was launched amid fears that alternative schools and school choice would “cream” the best students from public schools, said Keegan. In fact, however, it has been the unhappy, dissatisfied students who leave the traditional schools.
From Kentucky, Dr. Eugenia F. Toma reported that home schooling has doubled since 1990 and enrollment in private schools is up, despite ongoing reforms to public education in the state. The Kentucky Reform Act was adopted in 1990 after the state’s funding system was ruled unconstitutional in 1989. The Reform Act, which offered rewards to schools based on test and portfolio performance, has caused increased cheating throughout the state’s school system. (See related story, “Teachers Cheat in Kentucky” ).
Toma is co-author of a 1996 state-funded study of the Michigan public school system that called for a new, market-driven design for schooling that would give education providers in the state “an incentive to discover the best method of teaching for the individual students they serve.” (See “Scrap Public Schools, Empower Michigan Parents, Study Says,” School Reform News, March 1997.)
Among the Ohio elected officials who attended the symposium were Secretary of State Bob Taft, who will be a candidate for governor in the next election, and State Treasurer Ken Blackwell. Both are supporters of education reform, including school choice.