Wednesday, November 2, 2016

New Charter School Controversy Calls Into Question Democratic Accountability and What It Means to Be a Public School - Education Law Prof Blog

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New Charter School Controversy Calls Into Question Democratic Accountability and What It Means to Be a Public School

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One of Dallas’ oldest and biggest charter schools, A.W. Brown-Fellowship Leadership Academy, is in turmoil.  It started out with an enrollment of 200 students more than a decade ago and now has 2,400, with growth each year.  Some parents are rethinking the school and its governance.  New claims of abuse and/or mistreatment of students have been levied against the school.  Parents claim the school is being non-responsive to concerns.  The problem appears that even if the parents are correct there is nothing they can do about because of the differences between a charter school and a traditional public school.
Parents also complain of nepotism — namely, that board president Lorenzo Brown and his son serve together. But that’s legal for charter schools in Texas. After all, A.W. Brown school was started by a husband and wife. At one point, both Armond and Paula Brown served on the board and worked as employees, records show. Other family members also worked for the school.
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If the school were part of a traditional district, parents could elect their board members. But as a public charter school, A.W. Brown’s board appoints its members.
So some parents say they’re voting with their feet. LaTrondra King said her son is on the waiting list at another charter school. “I just want the best for him,” she said.
In Charter Schools, Vouchers, and the Public Good, I raised similar issues in the context of asking what makes a school "public."  Does a statute that calls a charter school a public school make it so or are there substantive qualities and characteristics that make a school public?  I won't recount that entire discussion here, but I argue that constitutional and democratic accountability, among other things, are a central aspect of what makes a school public. 
Public schools’ mission also extends to fostering [particular] values once students are enrolled, including democracy, equality, and tolerance. Public schools pursue these ends not only because they are public values but also because the Constitution mandates as much. This is no small distinction. As state actors, public schools are bound to treat students (and teachers) fairly, which entails, among other things, equality, Education Law Prof Blog:
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