• July 18th, 2024
  • Thursday, 05:41:27 PM

Inequitable Policies Are Destroying Our Public Education System


Manuel Solano


School “choice” and inequitable policies are resegregating our schools and destroying our public education system.


The creation of charter schools is, in effect, a modern-day separatist movement. With their own budgets, bureaucratic structures, and preferential enrollment practices, they drain taxpayer dollars from neighborhood public schools and perpetuate segregation. Last year Charter Schools got approximately two billion out, of an 8 billion dollar Colorado public school budget.


Add an accountability system based primarily on high stakes standardized tests, which unjustly labels communities, students and schools, and you have cooked up a recipe for the destruction of public education. This system sends a message that students and teachers are failing, when it is the system that is failing.


In order to understand the present, we must understand the past.  Segregationists have used the choice argument to separate children of different races, languages, and economic status. The 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education ruled that separate public schools for Black and White students is unconstitutional. Separate but equal is not equal. This applies to the Chicano, Latino and Hispanic communities.


How can our community be silent? Education is the most important benefit we can offer our children and grandchildren.


In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as part of a broader package of civil rights legislation. Both Brown and ESEA expanded the vision that it is the government’s responsibility to expand the commonwealth rather than ensure private privilege. The concept of public education was seen as indispensable to a democracy.


In 1969, Keyes v. Denver School District 1 was filed in federal court and reached its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973. The court found the entire school district to be discriminatory against Black, Hispanic and poor students and non-English speakers and ordered the entire Denver school district to desegregate. The Denver school board chose mandatory busing to comply with the order and achieve integration. White flight to the suburbs and deep discontent ensued.


As the case proceeded, there was an apparent conflict of interest with the Chicano community. Unlike the Black community’s desire for full integration, Chicanos were less concerned about integration and demanded adequate and additional funding for neighborhood schools to assist non-English speaking students. The Department of Justice and the Congress of Hispanic Educators intervened. The court ordered second language education be provided to non-English learners. This court order is still in effect. Busing continued from 1974-1993.


The Keyes case addressed how DPS district lines of school attendance were drawn. Unfortunately, under Democrat Governor Roy Romer and Republican Governor Bill Owens administrations, open enrollment and charter school laws were passed and signed into law. This allows parents to choose their child’s school, which left the drawing of district lines a less significant barrier to segregation.


The intent of Brown V. Board of Education and Keyes v. Denver District 1 has been eroding. The 1983 report “A Nation at Risk” sounded the alarm that America’s international economic competitiveness was at risk.  Although this was a manufactured crisis, policy makers began to reorganize the educational policies under a business derived system called “market-based reform.” The charter school movement was the mechanism to reform the public school system.


In 1993, Colorado passed the Charter School Act. The act was passed to provide special education services for “at-risk pupils”. An at-risk pupil was defined as a pupil who, because of physical, emotional, socioeconomic, or cultural factors, is less likely to succeed in a conventional educational environment”.


Dan Morris, president of the Colorado Education Association, opposed the bill on four counts fearing; 1) The act would syphon off public funds from public schools; 2) It would reduce standards by allowing non-licensed teachers to teach and non-educators to run the schools; 3) It would encourage an elite enclave of students and foster segregation; and 4) Allow private and parochial schools to receive public dollars. Dan Morris was right.


In 1994, one year later, the Open Enrollment Act was passed which gave parents the choice to enroll their children in schools outside their assigned district, weakening integration efforts in neighborhood schools.


In 1998, the Charter School Act was amended deleting the words “at-risk pupils”, opening up Charter Schools to all students.  The corporate model in Denver was now marching along with a false narrative of “creating better education options for all children”.


Charter school teachers are not required to have the Colorado teacher certification necessary to teach in real public schools. As a parent I would want my child to be taught by a teacher with the best training and a Colorado certification.


In 2008, the Colorado legislature passed The Innovation Schools Act which created another form of choice and at-will employment, weakening teacher voices and protections.  Today, there are over 50 innovation schools and 3 innovation zones in Denver alone.  Under current law, the zones are allowed to have their own unelected board of directors.


Today, these laws have actually made Denver public schools more segregated than ever. This year, a study done by The Bueno Center for Multicultural Education published a paper called “Resegregation in Denver Public Schools”. The key findings in the study are “that school segregation is pervasive; schools are segregated by race, class, and language; Latinos, English learners, white students and wealthy students are more likely to attend segregated schools than non-segregated schools; Segregated schools operate under disparate statutes, designations, and resource allocations, and all students in schools segregated by marginalized students had average lower achievement.”


Nothing has changed, these are basically the same issues, based on the same discriminatory factors that the Keyes case found.


As parents’ choice into more segregated schools, the memories of those who struggled for equality have faded. There are many who continue to push for more school choice, allowing “separate but equal” segregationist policies of the past to thrive again by championing all Black, White, Native American, Chicano, Latino and Hispanic, and single-gender public schools.


Our policymakers have failed our most vulnerable students and their communities by adopting a high-stakes standardized test-based accountability system. Using standardized tests is the most powerful segregationist tool in modern history.  A new caste system of separating the haves from the have-nots was sold to the public in the name of accountability. With two decades of data, results are clear and irrefutable … economic status and English proficiency predicts the outcomes on standardized tests.


Yet, the privatizers continue to embrace this assessment system to justify the need for charter and innovation schools “for the poor kids”.  The state of Colorado spends 30 million dollars per year to purchase these tests; that money should be going into the classroom.


Until the discriminatory policies of choice are exposed, their segregationist intent recognized, and rightly acted upon by our policymakers, inequities will persist.


Headed to the Colorado House Education Committee is a bill, HB24-1363, titled “Charter School Accountability”, sponsored by Representatives Lorena García and Tammy Story. The bill would require Charter schools to be more accountable and transparent to the taxpayers. If they are getting approximately 2 billion a year, we as tax payers, deserve to know where that tax money is going. It is good government. It’s been 30 years with no true oversight!


The Charter school industry is up in arms about having to open their books for all to see. If you look at the organizations that oppose the bill you will find the right-wing Koch network “Americans for Prosperity” have hired 11 lobbyists to kill it. They have openly stated that their mission is to “destabilize and abolish public education” by profiting off our public education dollars. The Chicano community must rise up to save the vehicle that lets us wish for the stars, public education. At present, there are 40 lobbyists hired to let the Charter schools continue operating without oversight. They must be held to the same standards as real public schools.


How can our community be silent? Education is the most important benefit we can offer our children and grandchildren. We all pay taxes and we must know how our taxes are being spent. The children deserve nothing less. What do the charter schools not want the taxpayers to see? Their books. The truth after 30 years. Accountability! Transparency! ¡La verdad!


Legislators, Republicans and Democrats, are making a huge mistake if they oppose a bill that addresses the need for transparency and accountability. They are telling you that they believe in destruction of public education and are aligned with the right-wing privatizers.


Go to https://leg.colorado.gov/legislators. Contact the legislators on the House Education Committee: Rep. Barbara McLachlan, Rep. Matthew Martínez, Rep. Jennifer Bacon, Rep. Meghan Lukens. Rep. Eliza Hamrick, Rep Mary Young, Rep Don Wilson, Rep. Rose Pugliese, Rep. Anthony Hartsook, Rep. Tammy Story, Rep. Mary Bradfield.


Ask them to support HB24-1363 Charter School Accountability.


Manuel Solano graduated from Adams 14 School District, University of Colorado, and CU Law School. He was the regional director of civil rights law firm called MALDEF, and a professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He now continues his work as an attorney advocating for public education justice as a board member of the organization, Advocates for Public Education Policy (A4PEP).