The Power of Parents

People sometimes ask me why the charter sector is so intent on building political power, including working with charter school parents to increase the effectiveness of their advocacy. The simple answer is that families wantóand deserve to getóthe best for their kids. Parents can exert enormous influence over public policy, even those policies that seemingly go against the “values” and voting records of our legislators.

There’s a great example of this in the Wall Street Journal today. Barbara Martinez reports on the beneficiaries of the City’s private placement system for special education students. This is basically a voucher system sanctioned by federal law. It gives parents the right to send their children to private schools on the taxpayers’ dime if parents can show the public schools can’t provide an adequate education. The program is hard to access for many families because it requires hiring expensive lawyers to sue the City for these placements. As a result, according to the WSJ, it disproportionately benefits families in more affluent neighborhoods. This year, there were 859 requests for private placements from District 2 (think Tribeca, the Village, and the Upper East Side) and fewer than 100 from District 9 (South Bronx).

The cost of these placements is enormousó$116 million a yearóand the private schools in which children are placed are allowed to be non-unionized and for-profit.

Bottom line? Here in NYC we’ve essentially got a voucher system tilted to serving students from wealthier families by sending them to non-union, for-profit private schools at a huge cost to taxpayers.

Yet despite this, the system persists without much protest. Certainly, we’ve never heard a peep from the self-styled defenders of public education–people like Assemblywoman Deborah Glick or Senators Bill Perkins and Velmanette Montgomery. Nor have we heard from the teachers unions.

And that might seem odd at first because these electeds are the same ones that take every opportunity to denounce charter schools as a drain on traditional schools, even though they are public and not for profit, serve largely low-income and non-white families, and use fewer public dollars to do it.

So, why the silence? Two words: Parent power. Legislators and teachers unions do not dare take on parents of special education students. Those parents have made an effective case for having options. They want the very best for their kids.

Charter school parents want options too; they just need that same power. After all, they have the same right to schools that will meet their children’s needs, and they’re demanding the same support from their elected officials. That’s why they’re getting organized, publicly and without apology. And if they can’t get support from present electeds, my guess is they’ll work to elect others who will.