In Silicon Valley, Bullis elementary school accepts one in six kindergarten applicants, offers Chinese and asks families to donate $5,000 per child each year. Parents include Ken Moore, son of Intel Corp.’s co-founder, and Steven Kirsch, inventor of the optical mouse.
Bullis isn’t a high-end private school. It’s a taxpayer- funded, privately run public school, part of the charter-school movement that educates 1.8 million U.S. children. While charters are heralded for offering underprivileged kids an alternative to failing U.S. districts, Bullis gives an admissions edge to residents of parts of Los Altos Hills, where the median home is worth $1 million and household income is $219,000, four times the state average.
Which pretty much sets the tone of the article: rich white people are actually using tax dollars to educate their children! The horrors!
Not all their tax dollars, mind you. They are paying disproportionately more in taxes, and taking less than their per-student share of education dollars, which they must supplement with their own money:
Bullis has achieved this success while receiving about 60 percent of the conventional system’s public funding.
Parents in Los Altos Hills created Bullis in 2003 because they were angry after the district closed their neighborhood school, said Mark Breier, a founder of the school and former chief executive of Beyond.com.
. . .
A foundation set up to help fund the school asks Bullis parents to donate at least $5,000 for each child they enroll. Those who can’t afford to pay should discuss the reason with a foundation member, “recognizing that other school families will need to make up the difference,” the foundation said on its website.
Donations are “purely voluntary,” Moore said. They are necessary because Bullis receives less public money than the district, which has a foundation that asks for $1,000 per child, Moore said. The Los Altos School District last year spent about $10,000 per student, according to state data. Bullis receives about $6,000 in public funding, primarily because it doesn’t qualify for money from a local tax that the school district receives. On average U.S. charter schools get 19 percent less local, state and federal money than traditional districts, according to a 2010 Ball State University study.
But none of this eases the recriminations:
“Bullis is a boutique charter school,” said Nancy Gill, a Los Altos education consultant who helps parents choose schools. “It could bring a whole new level of inequality to public education.”
The growing ranks of U.S. charter schools in affluent suburbs are pitting neighbor against neighbor and, critics say, undercutting the original goals of the charter movement. Families who benefit cherish extensive academic offerings and small classes. Those who don’t say their children are being shortchanged because the schools are siphoning off money and the strongest students, leaving school districts with higher expenses and fewer resources for poor, immigrant and special- needs kids.
. . .
A quarter of U.S. charter schools don’t participate in the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, compared with 2 percent at conventional public schools, according to a 2010 study by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles.
That means they aren’t serving a significant low-income population, Erica Frankenberg, co-author of the report and an assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University, said in an interview.
California’s 1992 charter law -- the second in the U.S., after Minnesota’s -- says schools should place “special emphasis” on “academically low-achieving” students and make an effort to reflect the “racial and ethnic balance” of the population in its district.
Last year, about 2 percent of Bullis students spoke English as a second language, compared with 11 percent in the district, county data show. Bullis had about half the percentage of Hispanic students or those with disabilities.
The charter school makes it tough for non English-speaking students to attend because it doesn’t have materials in Spanish, Doug Smith, a trustee on the Los Altos school board, said in an interview. Lower-income families aren’t even aware that the school is an alternative, he said.
. . .
“Bullis doesn’t fit with the spirit of the law,” said Gary Rummelhoff, a former president of the Santa Clara County Board of Education who sits on the board of a charter school in nearby San Jose. “It only existed to serve a very wealthy area.”
. . .
Along with leaving the district with the hardest-to-serve students, Bullis-related expenses have hurt the Los Altos school system in other ways, said Randy Kenyon, the assistant superintendent.
For each district student who attends Bullis, the system loses about $5,000 in per-pupil funding, Kenyon said. Los Altos pays about $300,000 a year for the school’s facilities, he said.
I will concede this much: federal law requires a specific level of service for “special needs” children (a category that has expanded beyond Down’s children to include much more marginal cases like ADHD) irrespective of any other consideration. Don’t misunderstand me; I don’t doubt the difficulties faced by handicapped children and their families, I would happily support any appropriation, consistent with a balanced budget, in their aid. But like all other unfunded mandates, this one is wrong, and ought to be abolished. Yet, for reasons I don’t understand (but for which I will take Education Realist at his word), the only way to escape these mandates is through a charter school.
But otherwise, the reasoning on display here is nothing less than public school clericalism: ALL YOUR TAX ARE BELONG TO US! And if you’re rich, then you deserve whatever we dish out to you, including closing your neighborhood school.
I dissent. No family has a presumptive right to dictate to another family what their educational options should be, and this doesn’t become less true for the White and affluent citizens of Los Altos.