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Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

As a Mississippian who cares deeply about education, Trenton Winford’s Oct. 10 column supporting for-profit charter schools troubles me. His reduction of a complex policy matter into a superficial appeal for competition resembles the same unsubstantiated debates that I’ve witnessed on the Senate floor in Jackson.  
Mr. Winford began his column by reminding us that the primary goal of a business is to maximize profit. I’ll begin my critique by reminding Mr. Winford that the primary goal of a school is to deliver an excellent education to all of its students. These goals — one driven by efficiency and the other by equity — are unmistakably at odds.
To illustrate the at-oddness, consider some of the (I think, essential) functions of a school in Mississippi that are neither efficient nor profit driven: school bus service, after-school tutoring, high school football, the homecoming parade, field trips and the brick TVs on giant roller carts for when teachers are absent. Of course, many for-profit charters avoid all of those expenses because they exist solely on the Internet.
Cyber charter schools, which currently enroll around 200,000 students across the country, make an easy buck by spending thousands less per pupil than they’re allocated by the state. In Pennsylvania, for example, online charters receive an average of more than $10,000 (and hard-earned taxpayer dollars at that) per pupil, or double what it actually costs them to “educate” each pupil. One such school, Agora Cyber Charter School, expects $72 million in income this year despite leaving 60 percent of its students below proficiency in reading and 50 percent below proficiency in math last year. Only a third of online charters nationwide meet Adequate Yearly Progress (That’s bad, even by Mississippi standards).
Non-profit charter schools are a different story. While their overall success varies as much as district schools, proven charter networks like KIPP and Achievement First have delivered extraordinary results with student populations similar to those in failing Mississippi schools. I teach at one of four Success Academy charter schools in Harlem, which, out of 1,169 elementary and middle schools in New York City, notched the four highest scores in student performance on the most recent Progress Report. Those types of results would be impossible if we had any type of profit motive.
Mr. Winford, I presume, applied basic conservative ideology to this issue without realizing that the type of schools he’s encouraging actually wouldn’t be competing fairly because they wouldn’t be offering the same services as traditional schools. They’d simply be cutting corners to maximize profit from taxpayer money while not delivering quality education.

Taylor McGraw
Ole Miss Alum (‘12)