By Ingrid Ferlo
The appointment of Betsy DeVos to education secretary, an avid supporter of the school choice and charter schools, has caused concern across the United States when it comes to funding and the direction the federal government want to take public education.
Substantial fear has arisen as some speculate DeVos will divert public school funds to private and charter schools.
Rep. Carlos Mariani, (DFL 65B) executive director of the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership, Joe Nathan, director of the Center for Schools of Change and Kim Ellison, member at large on the Minneapolis Public Schools board, gathered on “Conversations with Al McFarlane” to discuss issues in education.
The three said they all fear cutbacks in public school funding. Nathan said school choice could create further inequality between white students and students of color.
“Is there a danger that choice could create more problems in the South? Absolutely,” said Nathan.
Ellison said inclusion is the hallmark of public education. She fears many will be left out if local public education gives way to supposed school choice.
“The beauty about public schools is that we are there for everybody. We will take you as you are and meet the needs that you have,” said Ellison.
While not dismissing the possibility that customized schooling could be an advantage of charter schools, Mariani is concerned about the price parents would have to pay for private and charter schools, which could lock out lower income students – many who are people of color. He said the danger of using government funds to invest in often segregated private schools will only further the ethnic divide in our nation.
“The federal governments provided the resources and funding for white folks to be only with white folks (pre Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka),” said Mariani. “Even with that legal framework removed we still have practices that segregate the students.”
Along with the fear of legitimizing racial segregation, there are other concerns with charter schools according to those on the show. Nathan said the autonomy given to charter schools has made it difficult maintain accountability standards. According to Nathan, more than 50 charter schools in Minnesota have been closed down upon inspection. Not 100 percent against charter schools, he said that if well-managed, charters can provide students with more choices and targeted learning.
When it comes to DeVos’ appointment, Mariani is cautiously optimistic. He believes it is too soon to tell what she can do for the Department of Education.
Ellison, fully invested in the public education system, believes that strengthening the public education system needs to be the focus of the department. According to her, public schools already provide the individualized care and learning that chartered schools seek to provide.
This episode of “Conversations with Al McFarlane” airs Tuesday (March 28) at 9 a.m. on KFAI Radio (90.3 FM and online at www.kfai.org) and on television on SPNN (Channel 19, St. Paul) at 9 p.m. on Tuesday and again on Thursday and MTN (Channel 16, Minneapolis) on Friday, also at 9 p.m.