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Looney to Dems: Charter schools could lower property values

“I believe that charters and vouchers will have a negative impact on the students of Williamson County Schools, as well as the values of your homes and mine,” Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney told members of the Williamson County Democratic Party March 7. 
Looney said that Williamson County Schools is the highest-achieving district in the state, and that a direct correlation exists between the quality of education and the stability of home values. 
“When the quality of schools decline, property values decline,” he said. 
Charter schools are publicly funded institutions that generally operate with greater financial autonomy and less bureaucratic governance than their traditional counterparts. Their purpose is to provide students in low-performing schools the opportunity to receive a quality education. Voucher programs allow students to use public school funds to pay for private school tuition.
The discussion Thursday night stemmed from two bills being considered by the Tennessee State Legislature that would enact statewide voucher programs and statewide charter school authorizers. Voucher programs would force school districts to fund private school tuition, and charter school authorizers could possibly override district decisions on charter school approval.
Looney said charter schools fall short of their goal in increasing the academic performance of students in the vast majority of cases. A national study conducted by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes, an independent research organization at Stanford University, shows only 17 percent of charter schools nationwide produce higher achieving students than traditional schools within the same public system.
“That means that we could have an 83 percent chance of doing a worse job educating students through charter schools,” he said. 
Looney questioned some of the data cited by school groups advocating for “school choice” – a phrase that covers charter schools and vouchers alike – saying that the research funded by advocate sources is unreliable. 
When a student leaves a traditional public school for a charter school or through a voucher program, the per-student cost to educate the remaining students within the district’s traditional schools increases. For instance, Williamson County Schools currently spends around $8,100 per student. Should 100 students leave the system for a charter school, the district would pay $8,100 to the charter school, or a lesser percentage for a private school via a voucher program. In the former, WCS would lose approximately $810,000 of its operating capital. 
Such is the case with Tennessee Virtual Academy, a state-approved online public school established in 2011. About 100 students have left the WCS district to date to enroll in the school, costing the county’s public school system about $810,000. 
“The virtual school is the lowest-performing public school in the state,” Looney said. “We face the danger of public schools becoming revolving doors. When other schools don’t work, students reenter public schools, and it takes more dollars to remediate them when they return.”

Posted on: 3/8/2013


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