In a move one commissioner called “historic” and “unprecedented,” the Public Education Commission (PEC) voted 6-0 Tuesday (Feb. 26) to appeal a reversal of its decisions regarding two proposed charter schools.
The commission had denied applications for the proposed Taos International School and New Mexico Connections, but state Education Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandera ruled to overturn that decision.
Commissioner Jeff Carr said he is proud of the Public Education Commission’s decision to appeal that ruling to district court and ask for a stay to prevent the schools’ opening in the meantime.
“It is unprecedented; it’s the first time we’ve done it,” Carr said. “We’re not arbitrary or capricious in our decision-making.”
The commission voted 8-1 in September to deny Taos International School’s application. However, that decision was appealed, and Skandera reversed the decision earlier this month. The school seeks to offer a dual-language and International Baccalaureate education to as many as 360 students in grades K-8.
Taos Municipal School District Superintendent Rod Weston spoke in opposition to the charter school’s creation at a Public Education Commission hearing last year. He wrote a letter to the commission this week urging it to appeal Skandera’s reversal of its earlier decision, saying he believes she “erred in her decision.”
“The report cards for the three existing elementary charter schools reveal a disturbing demographic, belying a return to pre-1954 divisions across America,” Weston wrote. “The three existing charter schools are a reverse mirror image of the public non-charter elementary schools in regards to ethnicity, economic status, language and special education.”
Weston’s letter indicates that the charters are predominantly Caucasian, and the number of students eligible for the free-and-reduced lunch program “reveal a disparity, with charters serving children from more affluent homes.” Reports to the state also show the charters serve zero students categorized as “English Language Learners.” “The primary category of special education qualification within the charters is gifted and talented,” Weston wrote. “This is not the case with non-charters. It is clear that an unintended consequence of school choice has been the de facto re-segregation of public education in Taos.”
Weston argues that the addition of Taos International School would result in further segregation along socio-economic and other lines and that it would result in a “financial disaster” for the school system.
“The two largest traditional public schools with the most challenging socio-economic clientele have a ratio of one site administrator per approximately 500 student,” Weston wrote. “This inequity, grown out of allegations of a bloated educational bureaucracy, has a tangible daily impact on children. Leadership at the school level has been shown to be a critical factor in the success of schools. Spreading resources ever more thinly can only have a negative consequence for children.”
He asks that if the Public Education Commission decides to “go down this path of separate but equal” and not appeal Skandera’s decision that a lottery system that uses random sampling be implemented.
“Under this model, every incoming kindergarten student would be assigned a priority based on a random number chart and parents offered the randomized opportunity to enroll in a charter of their choice,” Weston wrote. “This would maintain choice without the inequities and divisiveness currently built into the system.”
He refers to Skandera’s decision as “misguided” and calls for the PEC to consider “the welfare of all students and the broader societal consequences.”
Taos International School applicant Nadine Vigil said she was surprised by the Public Education Commission’s decision Tuesday and is unsure what her role will be, if any, as the appeal goes through district court. She said she doesn’t understand the Public Education Commission’s vote.
“This is school choice,” she said. “People were really surprised.”