By RICHARD BALDWIN
A cross-country “whistle-stop” train tour aimed at promoting alternative choices for public education – mainly charter schools – will bring its message to Buffalo during a breakfast reception at 8 a.m. Friday in Statler City, 107 Delaware Ave.
Bishop Richard J. Malone of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo; State Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo; and Samuel L. Radford III, president of the Buffalo District Parent Coordinating Council, will be among the speakers “celebrating the progress that Buffalo has made on charter schooling and parent empowerment,” according to Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week.
Campanella, who also will speak at the public reception, said the goal of the train tour “is to demonstrate overwhelming support and demand for school choice … while shining a positive spotlight on the hundreds of organizations, thousands of schools and millions of Americans working every day to increase access to great schools in our country.”
The stop in Buffalo is one of 14 planned at cities across the country during National School Choice Week, through Saturday. Other stops are scheduled in Erie, Pa., Rochester, Albany and New York City.
Among supporters of the program are Buffalo ReformEd, the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, Education Choice Alliance of Western New York, the State Catholic Conference and the State Coalition of Independent and Religious Schools.
Campanella said the event is for people “who demand the right educational choices for each of Buffalo’s children.”
He said, “With one American child dropping out of school every 26 seconds, it’s up to us to let our friends and neighbors know that school choice can provide an essential and beneficial solution for families across the country.”
In addition to private schools and church-supported schools, about 18 charter schools cater to students’ special interests and needs in the Buffalo Niagara region, including one in Wheatfield, Niagara County.
The nonprofit Chameleon Community Schools Project withdrew its application last month to convert East High and Waterfront Elementary Schools in Buffalo from traditional public schools to charters because the state Education Department indicated that it would not be approved. However, the group said it would submit new applications this year. Other applications have been submitted in Niagara County, but one of them has been withdrawn, and another is awaiting action.
Contrary to some public perceptions, charter schools are not private schools. They are independently operated public schools chartered by the state Education Department, paid for by state aid as well as by private sources, and obligated to meet all of the state’s educational requirements.
Charter school supporters say they are not competing with other public schools; rather, they are trying to cooperate in providing greater educational opportunities and the best possible training for their students.
Charters are run by their own independent boards of trustees and not by the publicly elected school board, so they have more flexibility in lengthening each school day, adding more days of teaching each year, selecting and assigning teachers and staff, and tailoring their programs to student needs.
Elected school boards and administrators of traditional schools typically oppose the creation of charter schools because some of the state financial aid that would go to the school district is transferred to the charter school whenever a student leaves the traditional system and enrolls in a charter.
Niagara Falls School Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco, a strong supporter of the traditional system, has said an outflow of students and aid to charters would cripple the system and cause drastic cuts.