Will More School Choice Cripple Underenrolled Atlanta Public Schools District?

For Atlanta Public Schools and Superintendent Carstarphen, the 16-17 school year was one filled with challenging decisions.

At the peak of this mountainous struggle came the choice to close, consolidate, or turnaround multiple schools within APS — a decision bombarded with supporters and critics from across the district. Town hall meetings were filled with mixed emotions. Backers applauded what they believed were indications of the district making sound, long-term decisions, while opponents felt the pain of student displacement, dismissed legacies and potential abandoned buildings.

Superintendent Carstarphen reiterated throughout the year that as it stands, the district is operating inefficiently; the current infrastructure doesn’t match the district’s needs, which is currently equipped to accommodate over 100,000 students, while having an enrollment of less than 55,000. The Georgia School Report from The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement rated Atlanta Public Schools 1.5 stars out of 5 for “Financial Efficiency.” In Carstarphen’s post, “APS Advances School Changes for Improved Quality and Efficiency” from her blog atlsuper.com, she provides rationale and details about the research, testimonies, and deliberation she engaged in to make these decisions, and the impact these choices will have on the future of the district. A timeline of events, in addition to official executive summaries related to the closing and mergers can be found at www.atlantapublicschools.us/schoolchanges.

Carstarphen refers to the district’s trimming process as “right-sizing” and extended this term to describe position cuts within the district’s central office. The integral piece of Superintendent Carstarphen’s argument in closing schools is that there are currently too many schools in operation that are not at full enrollment (while also underperforming academically), and school merging must take place in order for the district to be fiscally efficient.

The efforts of her and the School Board appear to be in direct opposition with the philosophy of Trump and DeVos’, which is reflected in their federal education budget proposals.

The proposed budget places a huge focus on expanding school choice for families, to either charter or private schools. The federal charter school grant program, which currently is funded at $333 million, would be increased by nearly $170 million. Trump is also proposing a new $250 million private school choice initiative that could provide vouchers for use at private schools, even if they have religious affiliation. The aftereffect of the approval of a robust School Choice budget could be beneficial for parents and families trying to find better education options, but detrimental to school districts trying to rebuild and improve.

An excessive number of educational options outside of Atlanta Public Schools would be disastrous for the district.

A major crux of Carstarphen’s plan to transform APS depends on student enrollment. For this plan to work, students would need to stay within APS, preferably in their school cluster. Atlanta Public schools would be less impacted by students opting into other public schools that are still within the district (families already have a School Choice option that allows them to choose their APS school), but the district cannot afford to continue to lose students to charters outside of APS or private schools. Private school vouchers are a key piece to Trump’s budget proposal, and if approved, could have an huge impact on districts if per pupil funding follows the student to the private institutions.

Students, parents, and families need access to quality education, but what will be the impact on school districts that are depending on these students and families to help restore the quality of the district as a whole?



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