At a recent social gathering, I found myself seated near a rather stern-looking woman. She was a friend, of a friend, of a friend, the far end of a social Markov Chain, meaning that she and I would have absolutely no reason to interact otherwise. I said, "Hello," in a way that made it clear that I hate being at things like this but I don't want to be the sourest one in the place. After a noticeable pause, she said "Are you the one who makes his living writing those terrible things about charter schools (in the Tucson Weekly)?"
Realizing that this had almost zero chance of going well, I gave it one last shot. "Well, I certainly don't earn my entire living writing (this column). I also write for other publications and I coach, I'm on the radio sometimes, and I do a bunch of other stuff. My wife says that I have 10 mini-jobs that add up to a half-a-career."
(That line usually gets a laugh, or at least a smile, but she just glared at me like that school administrator, Mrs. Hogarth, that John Candy went to see in "Uncle Buck.")
You know how, in the movies, couples who have been married for a while have this cutesy way of communicating non-verbally? Well, my wife, Ana, and I have been married 37 years and we still haven't mastered that. I kept trying to get Ana's attention, but she was always turned away in such a manner as to prevent eye contact. Now that I think about it, that probably is her way of communicating non-verbally.
If the woman had read my columns, she had to know where I stand. Personally, I don't think that the words "profit" and "education" should ever be used in the same sentence. If somebody's trying to make a profit, they'll do all they can to maximize that profit. And how exactly will they do that when it comes to charter schools? Either by shortchanging the students or by shortchanging the teachers, which ends up shortchanging the students.
Then, I think there should be a special broom closet in Hell for the fake-ass Washington liberals (the Michelle Rhees and Arne Duncans of the world) who have bought into this nonsense. They try to spin it as being progressive-ish, when it's as far from that as can be.
But mostly, I hate the Arizona legislators who have done all they can to ruin public education in Arizona simply because they hate teachers and they hate unions and they hate teachers' unions.
(Plus, charter schools often have really stupid, pretentious-sounding names like The Arizona Prep Academy for Intellectual Excellence and Other Good Stuff.)
She said, "Have you ever even been to BASIS?"
I replied, "No, because I already know how to take standardized tests."
She told me that her son, while only a sophomore, has already taken and passed three AP exams. I said, "That's like telling me that your homeschooled kid has perfect attendance. It's not that hard."
Believe it or not, it degenerated from there. I told her she certainly had the right to send her kid(s) wherever she wants and then I wished her well.
Not long ago, I did some research and found some interesting things. There's a carefully hidden website that discloses what schools and districts pay for things like Classroom Instruction, Administration, and Student Support Systems. (By law, these things have to be made public, but whoever designed this particular website probably got his/her start working on the sets of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil.")
Real public schools spend a lot of money on Support Services, prompting tax harpies to scream about not enough money getting into the classroom. But these services include everything from school buses to counseling to the (often very-expensive) apparatus for dealing with special-needs kids. It is certainly our public responsibility to offer an education to all students, regardless of the added cost involved.
By law, charter schools are also supposed to accept and educate special-needs kids, but they almost never do. Some charter schools claim that they do, but they're usually lying about it when they make that claim.
And who's going to rat them out? The Legislature that gave them the keys to the store and told them to steal whatever they want? Not likely. How about the self-proclaimed tax guardian angels at the Hypocrite Society (also known as the Goldwater Institute)? That's even less likely, seeing as how bigwigs at Goldwater cry crocodile tears about misspent taxpayer funds when it comes to policemen and firefighters, but then turn around and dip their canteens in the endless pool of charter-school money as "board members" at BASIS and other charters.
There are a lot of stunning revelations in the data provided on the website, so I'm going to have to save it for next week. I don't want it to be a boring, repetitive recitation of numbers, so maybe I'll put it in the form of a Broadway show tune.
I'll give you a little taste of what's coming (in quiz form). Of all the schools and school districts in Pima County, can you guess which one spends the most taxpayer money on "administration?" I'll give you a hint. That same school spends exactly zero dollars (and zero cents) on student support services.