Empire editorial: Funding for charter school begs diversity

Posted: Thursday, April 07, 2005

Tuesday's Juneau School Board debate and resolution in favor of a Montessori charter school resurrected a troubling word: pulltabs.

The dollar gambling cards on sale around Juneau and Alaska support all kinds of charities, including an existing Montessori elementary school in Douglas. Whether it is morally just to make money off the poor - with pulltabs in Alaska and lottery tickets in dozens of other states - to support schools is an eternal debate. In this case the rationale is especially suspect when one considers the larger equity debate that led up to this decision.

A key sticking point before the 4-3 vote to grant Montessori Borealis Charter School a two-year approval was the learn-at-your-pace program's lack of ethnic and economic diversity. Some argued that Montessori programs tend to attract the best students with the most involved parents, and thus are inherently skewed toward particular classes of students. Those defending the program said there is no such bias and they could support a bias in favor of minority and low-income students if it helped even the ratios. So far, though, the numbers tell the story: Juneau's Montessori programs are just 8 percent Native Alaskan, while the district's overall population is about 24 percent Native. Likewise, low-income students are underrepresented in Montessori.

At Tuesday's debate, one School Board member lamented the use of pulltab proceeds, but acknowledged that the gambling helps support numerous community programs.

The existing Juneau Montessori School and Southeast Alaska Friends of Montessori are part of one multi-benificiary permit to raise money through pulltab sales. The Juneau Montessori School gets up to $70,000 a year. Juneau Dance Unlimited also benefits from the pulltabs on that permit. Countless other worthy programs, including athletics, are helped by other pulltab permits.

In the case of the new charter school, though, the use of these funds only serves to heighten the call for diversity. The prospect of taking from the poor to give to schools is debatable. Taking from the poor to give to the rich is unconscionable.

Supporters of the new school must make good on their pledge to provide diversity, and the district must hold them to it.

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