East Austin protests charters

January 3, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas--More than 100 teachers, students and members of Occupy Austin stood outside a meeting of the Austin Independent School Board (AISD) in the late hours of December 19 and into the next day to voice their opposition to a plan for more charter schools.

Chanting "A-I-S-D, this is not democracy!" "Whose schools? Our schools!" and "Bad IDEA!" demonstrators came to speak out against the introduction of two IDEA charter schools into East Austin, where schools are struggling under the burdens of poverty and income inequality. The meeting was a carryover from one held the previous week, when the board's consideration of the proposal stalled because of confusion over the IDEA contract.

The proposal to implement the charter schools passed 6-3 as expected, in spite of the public outcry and opposition from major newspapers and two former mayors of Austin. The three holdouts, trustees Tamala Barksdale, Annette LoVoi and Robert Schneider, argued that the contract was vague on key issues, and that it violated seven of 19 principles of the school district.

In addition, the contract language stated that the IDEA school need only "meet" AISD standards. "Why would we want to introduce a system if it doesn't have to exceed our standards? We're already meeting our standards," said one protester.

Protesters inside the auditorium exited chanted, "Shame, shame!" Outside, demonstrators sounded the call: "One! We are the people! Two! We are united! Three! Austin students won't stop fighting!"

As of the December 19 meeting, the contract still didn't spell out the terms on key issues, including special education, the arts, extracurricular activities and bilingual education. The central problem with the decision, said the protesters, was that the proposal was developed behind closed doors, and the trustees sitting on the board didn't listen to members of the communities affected by the charter and their teachers and students.

IDEA, whose CEO makes more that $300,000, has a bad track record and uses misleading statistics to move into communities where public schools are struggling.

Professor Ed Fuller, commissioned by the Texas American Federation of Teachers to conduct a study of IDEA schools already in place in Texas, concluded that the statistics IDEA puts forward are misleading and that the charter school has grave flaws that put minority and poor schools and students at risk. Fuller's study suggests that:

claims of academic superiority and helping the "underserved" students in the Rio Grande Valley are simply false or misleading. More importantly, this study calls into serious question the claim that IDEA Charter schools have the background, experience and track record necessary to educate all types of students in East Austin. This study suggests that IDEA Charter schools rely in part on the "creaming/skimming" of students and the student disappearance of lower performing students to achieve their success.

All 30 community speakers before the board spoke eloquently against the proposal. Occupy Austin activist Lucian Villaseñor performed a "mic check" in which groups gathered repeat what the speaker says so everyone can hear. Both inside and outside, protesters repeated, "The community is being ignored. Stop thinking in cost and benefits, and start thinking with your heart. If you continue to side with capitalism, we will only get stronger!"

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