Uplift Charter School Inches Closer to Building New Campus in East Dallas
Updated: Jan 4
THE BLIND SIDE
The first I had heard of Uplift Charter School wanting to build in east Dallas was in the latter part of 2020, a friend forwarded a Facebook post from Dallas City Councilmember Adam Bazaldua’s page regarding a zoom informational meeting.
What I didn’t know then was that CM Bazaldua had already decided to support the new build. And what I found out later at the August 11, 2021 Dallas City Council meeting, was he had been working with Uplift for two years on the deal according to Uplift CEO Yasmin Bhatia. (Aug. 11, Item Z24, Bhatia timestamp ~ 7:25)
I attended the Facebook Zoom meeting and Bazaldua’s assistant said he was present but without video or communication capabilities, thus we didn’t see him nor could he respond to questions the entire meeting. CEO Bhatia stated that Uplift was not intending to grow or add students, but simply transferring existing students to a new location.
Several people have questioned relocating a school a distance of over 9 miles from its current location, especially given Uplift does not provide transportation service.
I contacted DISD and the area Trustees, none of whom had previously been informed of this proposed new campus by Uplift or the Councilman.
DISD Superintendent Hinojosa did send an opposition letter to the Mayor and Councilmembers, which CM Arnold read aloud at the August 2021 Council meeting. CM Bazaldua responded, “I welcome our Superintendent to call, meet with me about this case....It's really important if we're going to get in each other's lanes that we're clear on what it is that we're doing.” Though it’s unclear how DISD would have known to contact him since neither Bazaldua or Uplift ever notified the public school system about opening the new charter campus.
While canvassing the two neighborhoods directly adjacent to the proposed new Luna location the weekend of August 7-8, 2021, I met many families with students who attend the DISD neighborhood schools. Out of 62 homes contacted, only two people knew about the proposed school and no one had received any prior information about a community meeting. On Sunday the 8th I noticed flyers on the doorsteps. Now Uplift and CM Bazaldua were inviting this community to a meeting about Uplift Luna, to be held the next day and less than 48 hours before the city council initial vote.
Uplift’s messaging throughout has been we just need a playground for the students which we don’t have downtown. It seems no one at the education organization thought of this a decade ago when opening the school in a downtown business and entertainment district.
THE BUSINESS PLAN
The goal at Uplift is to grow, to increase its market share of public education students. Their CEO is not an educator, she’s a business woman from McKinsey and Uplift’s own website promotes her expertise to grow the organization.
Since that initial public denial of growth, CEO Bhatia has stated Uplift Luna does plan to add two pre-K classes at the new Luna location. This is a good business plan. Uplift already has an east Dallas elementary campus named White Rock Hills and over half the waitlist there is in pre-K. By contrast only 10% of the waitlist at the downtown Luna site is for pre-K. While Bazaldua has only focused on total enrollment, Uplift seized on the fact that they do not have the same level of future opportunity in downtown Dallas as they do in east Dallas. Without a steady pool of applicants they're faced with either a decline in enrollment or having to retain the more costly to educate.
During this time the Deep Ellum Luna property value has skyrocketed so there's A LOT of money to be made by selling that real estate. Perhaps it’s not as much about playgrounds as it is about privatization.
THE MANY REASONS THIS IS NOT GOOD FOR EAST DALLAS
At the August 9th meeting CM Bazaldua stated, "It's almost not mathematically possible for this charter to have an impact on neighborhood campuses." This statement could not be farther from the truth. While he focused on total enrollment, he failed to consider all of the negative impacts on a community that result from allowing privatization of public education.
Here are a few:
- Charter schools undermine democracy in that there is no elected school board to oversee taxpayer funding.
- Charter schools practice discriminatory enrollment in that they do not accept all students and counsel out the more difficult to teach (which are also more costly to teach). Uplift enrolls fewer English language learners, disadvantaged and at risk students.
- Charter school practices yield concerns about educational inequity for students, such as larger class sizes, less teacher pay, higher teacher turnover, and spending more on administration and less in the classroom.
- The student outcomes at charters are not better than Dallas ISD and when comparing “apples to apples” are often worse.
- The money reduced from east Dallas ISD campuses results in reduced academic and extracurricular programs. Luna's attrition rate is 15% or 255 students based on current enrollment, add the number of students who cannot make the nine mile commute to the new site, conservatively let's say 5% or 85 students and Uplift will look to fill 340 seats. It is reasonable to assume many of those students will be recruited from neighborhood DISD campuses.
One main avenue to combat the destruction of public education is via local government. CM Bazaldua had a prime opportunity to stand up for public education for ALL and instead chose privatization or perhaps his own political career. He didn’t stand up for the most vulnerable or for the best interest of the community, and that’s what disappoints me the most.
The final city council vote is less than two weeks away - January 12, 2022.