Huffman on Charter Schools Used for ‘Ghettoizing’

Long before he became Tennessee’s education commissioner, Kevin Huffman penned an article on charter schools that a reader points out as interesting in light of his recent decision to withhold $3.4 million from Nashville’s schools because the local school board rejected a Great Hearts Academy application.
A key reason for the Metro Nashville board’s rejection of Great Hearts application was concern that it would be lacking in diversity. Huffman’s 1998 article for the October, 1998, New York University Law Review focuses on the possibility of litigation over school choice legislation.
In doing so, Huffman observes that a charter school can be designed to effectively exclude enrollment of poor students, either by location, which without provisions for transportation restricts availability to those in the neighborhood, or by limiting dissemination of information on the schools to the children of “quick-acting, better-informed parents… leaving children of poor and ill-informed parents behind, consigned to suffering the deterioration of neighborhood schools.”
“In such a scenario, the children of informed and quick-acting parents have a choice while those “out of the loop” have no choice at all,” he writes.
Here’s the article’s “conclusion” section:
Charter schools will play a prominent role in public education during the coming decade. They suit the political agendas of many and hold great promise for developing innovative approaches to public education.
Charter schools have the potential to reinvigorate the public schools in districts that desperately need a boost. However, as states quickly move forward with charter school legislation, they risk establishing a process that merely provides further opportunities for well-informed families while ghettoizing the poor and uninformed.
The movement toward deregulation allows schools to exclude the neediest students, either through explicit policies or simply through lack of adequate information. .Ultimately, plaintiffs will have a difficult time showing that charter schools or state enabling acts violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment….However, state constitutions and successful school finance litigation in state courts indicate that state challenges to charter school legislation have a higher chance of success.
Most significantly, several policy changes would allow states to mandate a strong, autonomous charter school movement without depriving access to the schools. Greater state oversight of admissions policies and dissemination of information would close potential avenues of litigation while maintaining the legitimacy of charter schools.
These changes would add some costs to charter school legislation, but they would ultimately allow charter schools to reach greater numbers of at-risk students.
It would be a terrible waste of resources if charter schools were consistently tied up in litigation. It would be an even greater waste, though, if the charter school movement failed to reach the neediest public school students.

Meanwhile, Joey Garrison has written a detailed analysis of people and politics involved in the Great Hearts flap.

Leave a Reply