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Future site of UT’s East Austin charter school P Jennifer Boomer Charter School, continued from page 5 case of the charter school, diversity is taking on a new meaning. “When I say diverse, I’m really meaning AfricanAmerican and Hispanic,” said Sandy Kress, architect of Bush’s education plan and consultant to the UT System for Every Child, Every Advantage. But even by that paradoxical definition \(in which a school can be both ethnically diverse and location for the charter school is a poor choice. “If you want to have a school with African-Americans, you’re not going to get them in that area,” Forgione says. “That area is now a Hispanic area. You [would] need to send a bus up to Berkman, or down to the Oak Springs area.” UT Vice Chancellor Ed Sharpe could only offer a vague promise that he would look into transportation for students outside the immediate area. Advocates of charter schools often point to the high enrollment of minority students, claiming that charters benefit those who are most often failed by public education. What they don’t emphasize is the corollary: when charter schools go wrong, it is often minority children who suffer the effects. To date, 24 charter schools have been forced to shut down in Texaseither due to financial mismanagement or abysmal performance. East Austin is no stranger to this here-today, gone-tomorrow pattern. Gabriel Estrada remembers when a group of students from Zavala left to attend the Academy of Austin Charter School in East Austin \(a few miles from Zavala mid-semester because the charter school had shut down, in the middle of the night. Parents described bringing their kids to school one morning in November only to find computers, desks and chalkboards removed. Neither they nor the teachers had been given any notice. A charter school backed by UT will never lack for funding. Still, UT is jumping into a controversial movement at a time when many are calling for a reconsideration of the experiment as a whole. Given these concerns and the chilly reception they have received in East Austin, why is UT proceeding as if it were a sunny day? “It boils down to politics,” Estrada saysin this case, the politics of the UT Board of Regents. In the search for the impetus for UT’s dive into the charter school movement, all roads lead back to the regents. Although ViceChancellor Ed Sharpe emphasizes the involvement of the College of Education in the planning of the charter school, Education Dean Manny Justiz is keeping a low profile in the matter. His secretary had orders to refer all media questions concerning the initiative to Ed Sharpe. In a humorous bit of UTstyle “pass-the-buck,” Sharpe lobbed unanswered matters back to Justiz, who was out of town for almost a week. When he finally returned, he was too busy to comment on the charter school even though, according to Ed Sharpe, “the College of Education ultimately is responsible for the operation of the school.” At UT, the regents do as they please and everyone else has to simply follow orders. All nine regents were appointed by either former Governor Bush or Governor Perry. Education credentials don’t count for much in these appointments; campaign contributions, political philosophy, and business connections, on the other hand, are paramount. The regents have made no secret of their enthusiasm for President Bush’s educa tion reforms. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, testing, “accountability,” charters, and market-driven reforms come as a package deal. \(If this sounds familiar, that’s because then-governor Bush pushed most of the same agenda sweeping reform utilizes the age-old carrot and stick approach to education light on the carrot and heavy on the stick. In return for a small increase in federal funding, schools are forced into a regime of standardized tests. If they fail to perform, their funding is cut. If they still can’t pass muster, the school can be restructured or even turned into a charter. The regents, and many UT officials, see themselves as educational reform experts charged with implementing the Bush Plan. Speaking of Every Child, Every Advantage at a Regents meeting in May, Charles Miller said: “The initiative tracks very closely a number of key provisions of the new federal education act, and it promises to keep the University of Texas at the forefront of national education reform and advancement.” It is a bold, 30-year plan to push forward the reforms Bush has in mind for the country. While the regents’ allegiance to the Republican education agenda isn’t in question, their commitment to public education is. The charter school movement is the pet project of the right, attracting everyone from Enron’s Ken Lay to Exxon. While it has grassroots 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 12/20/02