Hearing raises charter school debate

April 22, 2010 2:34:28 PM PDT
State Senator Bill Perkins and other legislators placed charter schools under a microscope on Thursday.

"There's a lot of public dollars involved that we need to be sure that the public is aware of how those dollars are being spent," Perkins said.

The premise of today's state hearing was that charter schools are only accountable for their test scores, not for the way they manage the schools. But it highlighted the divide between charter school supporters and charter school skeptics.

Critics say charters should be held more accountable for their finances and management of schools.

Legislators heard reports of for-profit companies abusing funds and even charging families for school uniforms.

Witnesses included those who question efforts to raise the cap, which would expand the number of charter schools.

"We're not just going to sit here and allow the cap to be raised unless we change some of the reforms that are needed and we can see some of the practices out in the field right now," teachers' union president Michael Mulgrew said.

Some charter school parents criticized the hearing, and joined in recent newspaper editorial criticism of Senator Perkins.

"Senator Perkins had an excellent private school education and we want to have an on-par education for our children in the public school system that he supposedly represents," Sabrina Williams said.

But the hearing focused on charter school abuses of the kind discovered at the East New York Prep Charter School, which will be shut down after this year for mismanagement.

"By no means is the school closing for academics and our children should not have to suffer," parent Christina Serrano said.

Mona Davids leads the Charter School Parent Group, which called for the hearings.

"All children should have a great education, all schools should be great schools and we need charter reform now," Davids said.

The hearings are not expected to lead to direct action by legislators, but Senator Perkins hopes charter operators will be encouraged to open their bookkeeping to the public.