EDITORIAL: The Detroit News, July 20, 2004

Drop Union Opposition to Charter Schools in Detroit

Public school students would get a second chance for more choices; charters will be needed if reform vote fails

Detroit public school teachers should drop their opposition to giving the city’s parents more education choices. The teachers’ negative approach to reform has already cost the city $200 million in new schools and programs.

Educators should trust Detroit parents with making key decisions about their children’s education.

The latest protest comes through a union, the Detroit Federation of Teachers, which threatens a lawsuit if Central Michigan University and other schools create new charter schools already authorized by the Legislature.

The union is fishing around for some legal hook for a court challenge. The action promises to tie up both teachers, universities and lawmakers for months, if not years.

The losers will be Detroit students.

Charters schools are not the whole answer to Michigan’s education problems. But they are one alternative that gives hundreds of parents an option.

A charter is, in fact, a public school and in Michigan most open under the auspices of a university. That puts them outside the traditional school districts, which have specific geographic boundaries.

For unions, that’s the rub. Over the years, they have become used to the traditional way of doing business. Michigan teachers are the second highest paid in the country. Administrators make high salaries as well.
The only ones getting the short end are students.

Hundreds of public schools perform marginally or do not meet state standards, which are not all that tough to begin win. In Detroit, failed schools have contributed to an adult illiteracy rate pegged at 47 percent.
Not all parents care. But some do. And that’s where charter schools come in. They give concerned parents a choice.

“Charter schools are no longer an experiment; they have worthwhile contributions to school choice,” says U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige.

Last year, industrialist Robert Thompson offered $200 million to build 15 charter schools in Detroit. A matching $200 million was also available. But the teacher’s union pressured Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to scuttle the deal.

This fall, Detroit voters will be asked to either continue the school reform movement started five years ago when the state took control of the city’s schools, or return to the elected school board format that permitted such poor student performance and squandered taxpayer dollars.

If the vote is against reform, allowing parents to have the choice of charter schools will become even more essential.

The teachers union should get out of the way and allow every available option to be exploited to make sure more Detroit school children get a decent education.

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