On Thursday night, West Lafayette City Councilman David Sanders hosted a forum for the six candidates running for the West Lafayette School Board. It was not a lengthy affair. Opening, closing, and two questions that all of the candidates answered. One of the questions was fairly anodyne – what do you want to accomplish if you are elected? The second question, however, was a bit of a curve ball. He asked if the candidates supported charter schools. This really should have been a bunny of a question. If you’re running to be on the board of a traditional public school as strong as the West Lafayette Community School Corporation, there is no upside to embracing charters. You should be committed to keeping a good thing going.
The two incumbents, Witt and Springer, are categorically against charters. They’ve been in the trenches for many years and have seen how the Indiana General Assembly has used charters and private school vouchers to undermine the traditional public schools in Indiana. While it may work in other places, it’s a non-starter here. (As I’ve pointed out on this blog, Massachusetts has managed to make some productive use of charters, but it has a regulatory structure that the Indiana General Assembly will never, ever embrace.) A third candidate, George Lyle, seemed to recognize that as well, nodding toward the theory behind charters but not supporting the way they’re implemented here.
On the other side of the fence, we have an anti-incumbent group of three candidates. That this group is receptive to charter schools is a matter of concern. Wang and Mumford said clearly that they support charter schools. Janes who answered the question later in the line up and perhaps sensing the mood of the crowd, hedged quite a bit before ultimately landing on the the position that West Lafayette was not the place for them. [Update 9/26/2022: I’ve received feedback from people who disagree with my characterization of the Janes’ response. My recollection was an answer that spent most of the time allotted speaking to why parents would want charter schools before, as I said, ultimately landing on the position that West Lafayette was not the place for charter schools. I do not recall the opposition to charters being stated in the beginning of the answer or hearing anything that alluded to concerns about how the State has used charters to undermine public education in Indiana. I guess the quibble was with me calling this a “hedge.” Fair enough. If a video of the forum surfaces, I’ll take a look at it to see if my recollection is faulty. Memories being what they are, it’s possible I conflated some of her response with the Mumford answer since the two seem aligned on most issues.]
So, what’s wrong with charter schools? In a Facebook post, one of our teachers said she couldn’t support a candidate who supports charters. A person in the thread respectfully disagreed, arguing that competition is good. Well, what’s wrong with that? Isn’t competition good? Not the way things are set up in Indiana. In the Massachusetts example, the charters are tightly regulated with a lot of good oversight by its state board of education so that charters and traditional public schools complement each other. In Indiana, on the other hand, it’s the wild west for charters. They don’t “compete” by the same rules. They fracture the school system, divert money from traditional public schools, and there is no evidence that students perform better in those charters — the outcomes are either the same or worse.