Category Archives: Charter Schools

Charter Schools Continue Seizing Enormous Sums of Public Funds During Pandemic

While private businesses like non-profit and for-profit charter schools have been seizing enormous sums of public money for decades,1 they continue to seize hundreds of millions of public dollars during the “COVID Pandemic”—a move that further undermines the nation’s public education system and economy.

The latest example of this massive transfer of public funds to segregated charter schools involves $200 million set aside a few weeks ago for large corporate charter school chains by billionaire Betsy DeVos, U.S. Secretary of Education. This pay-the-rich scheme is taking place in the context of more brutal cuts to public school budgets around the country.

On top of this, in the current crisis, which is worse than the 2008 economic collapse engineered by Wall Street, charter school advocates are also taking virtue-signaling to new heights, casually and repeatedly lauding themselves as saviors and as “tried-and-true online experts,” even though many have ironically(?) turned away from notoriously poor-performing cyber charter schools in this disruptive transition to inefficient digital “communication” at all levels of education. Most people have simply not turned to online charter schools during this crisis. They recognize that online charter schools are subpar and not the way forward. Even well-funded organizations that support charter schools, like the neoliberal Center for Research on Education and Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, bemoan the persistently abysmal performance of cyber charter schools.

The conceited charter school sector believes, however, that this virtue-signaling will suddenly cause people to forget that charter schools are notorious for all sorts of corruption, fraud, and scandal. While the “COVID Pandemic” has overwhelmed many, people have not spontaneously forgotten the poor track record of cyber charter schools or brick-and-mortar charter schools.

The necessity today is for governments at all levels to cease funneling much-needed public funds to private business like charter schools and to direct these funds to public schools that serve 90% of the nation’s students. Public funds belong to public schools and charter schools are not public schools. There is no such thing as a public charter school, especially given the fact that charter schools are now openly claiming to be small private businesses so as to obtain public Small Business Administration money (from the CARES Act) that regular public schools, precisely because they are actually public, do not have access to.

The public never decided that public funds should go to privatized and marketized education arrangements. People want their public schools fully funded and under their direct control. They do not want education treated as a commodity. Parents should not be reduced to consumers who “shop” for schools that may or may not accept their kids.

The privatization of education undermines the public purpose and operation of public schools. It also damages the general interests of society. Privatization cannot be prettified. Privatization negates the public interest while enriching owners of capital. And to keep dogmatically arguing that running schools on the basis of the “free-market” is a sound, stable, and human-centered approach to education means less with each passing day, especially as we see in the current crisis that the so-called “free-market” disappeared long ago. The U.S. Federal Reserve, for example, printed more than six trillion dollars a few weeks ago to prop up the big banks and big business that laid the ground work for the current economic crisis many predicted for years—an enormous intervention in the so-called “free market.”2 The so-called  “free market” does not work, especially in education and healthcare.

  1. This does not include the billions of dollars unaccountable charter schools have received from venture philanthropists over the course of nearly 30 years. Nor does it include the numerous public facilities, assets, and services worth billions of dollars that charter schools have seized during the same period.
  2. Over the course of the past 12 years or so the U.S. Federal Reserve, a private entity, has printed possibly quadrillions, not trillions, of dollars to artificially prop up the top one percent of the top one percent while the majority suffer more.

Florida Supreme Court Ruling Anti-Public Education And Pro-Charter Schools

Advocates of privately-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools have never stopped working to funnel as much public money as possible from public schools into their own private pockets, even if this means undermining the education and future of students attending those public schools. This massive transfer of public funds from public schools to charter schools also undermines teachers’ working conditions and has a negative impact on society, the economy, and the national interest.

Much of this unprincipled transfer of large sums of public wealth to the private sector has been facilitated and enforced by the courts.

And the courts, for their part, have grown increasingly neoliberal in their outlook and rulings over the past few decades, meaning that facts, justice, and core principles and standards really do not matter much anymore; only power, wealth, and privilege count. In education, healthcare, the environment, and other spheres, courts are increasingly handing down antisocial rulings—decisions that favor rich private interests.

In Florida, numerous public school districts have been fighting for years to stop privatizers and neoliberals from seizing public money that belongs to public school districts. Endless court battles have taken place, but well-funded charter school advocates have remained steadfast in their attempts to seize as much money as they can from public schools.

On April 7, 2020 the Florida Supreme Court, unanimously and with no explanation, rejected public school districts’ challenge to a 2017 charter school law (House Bill 7069) that violates the constitution and transfers public money from public schools to privately-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools. The court refused to take up the public school districts’ appeal of two lower courts’ rulings that the 2017 law was constitutional.

Like many other courts, the Florida Supreme Court essentially put narrow private interests before the public interest by eliminating “local control over local schools by local representatives answerable to local voters.”

This means many under-funded public school districts will lose even more money that belongs to them. They will have even less control of what rightfully belongs to them. More public money will go to more of Florida’s notoriously corrupt, low-performing, and segregated charter schools that open and close frequently, leaving many families abandoned and angry. Florida’s track record with charter schools is awful. The state has the nation’s second-highest charter school closure rate.1

Ignoring basic principles governing the public sphere and the public interest, the court affirmed that public schools no longer have a constitutional right to operate and fund their own schools and that they can be poached by privately-operated charter schools that over-pay administrators, regularly exclude many students, and have high teacher and student turnover rates, which is bad for teaching, learning, and community.

Public funds for privately-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools should be unconstitutional and prohibited. Charter schools are not public schools in any sense of the word, which means that they have no valid claim to public funds and public assets. Such claims are illegitimate.

Public funds and public assets belong only to public schools, not someone else. They cannot be arbitrarily and unilaterally transferred to private interests just because the rich and their political representatives have self-servingly decided that it is OK to do so.

An authority that self-servingly blurs the profound distinction between public and private is not an authority worthy of its name. Such an authority does not respect concrete conditions, requirements, and demands. It is unwilling and unable to uphold basic rights, including the right to education. Change that favors the people means depriving such an authority of its ability to deprive the public of its rights.

With the multifaceted toll that the “COVID Pandemic” is taking on public schools that have not even recovered from the 2008 economic collapse engineered by Wall Street, it is more critical than ever to make sure that private businesses like charter schools do not receive any pubic funds or assets. Privatization increases corruption, lowers quality, and always benefits the few at the expense of the many.

  1. Jennifer Titus & Lauren Powell. “Chartered: Florida is No. 2 in the country for charter school closures“, 10NEWS, February 2020.

Charter Schools Have No Legitimate Claim to Public Funds

Despite the sustained exposure of endless problems in the segregated charter school sector, charter school promoters are permanently stuck in “blindly repeat disinformation” mode and cannot seem to understand what is happening to them. Their social being and social consciousness objectively prevent them from grasping why the public increasingly opposes charter schools.

The most recent and significant epicenter of the charter school saga is Pennsylvania, where all kinds of changes or expected changes are coming to that state’s charter schools. And charter school promoters are not happy. They do not like accountability or the thought of losing billions of dollars in public funds that actually belong to public schools, not charter schools. In this vein, one of charter schools’ favorite victim cards is that they do not get as much money as public schools, that they are in a weak financial position all the time, and supposedly operate at a disadvantage compared to public schools. In other words, charter schools are “performing miracles” with less and should be allowed to continue to siphon public funds from the public purse.

But putting aside their poor record, do charter schools, which rest on the ideologies of individualism, consumerism, and the “free market,” have a valid claim to public funds and public property?

It cannot be stated enough that charter schools are not public schools in any sense of the word. As such, they have no legitimate claim to public funds or public property. Public funds and public property belong only to the public, not someone else. Charter schools do not possess the features of public schools which have been around since the mid-1800s. And the existence of charter schools does not make these core conclusions and principles magically disappear.

Unlike public schools, charter schools cannot levy taxes. None are run by publicly elected officials. Most are deunionized. All are deregulated. Segregation is widespread due to discriminatory student enrollment practices. Charter schools exclude many students—students that all public schools always accept. Homeless students, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities are consistently under-represented in non-profit and for-profit charter schools. Charter schools also operate on a different calendar than public schools, under-pay teachers, over-pay administrators, and have high student and teacher turnover rates, which is harmful to teaching and learning. It is also hard to form unity, solidarity, and a union when so many teachers come and go so frequently. It also goes without saying that accountability and transparency remain very low, while fraud, corruption, and waste remain at all-time highs in the charter school sector. The crisis-prone charter school sector has harmed education, society, the economy, and the national interest in many ways. Billions of public dollars and public facilities worth millions of dollars have been arbitrarily handed over to charter school owners-operators over the past generation. This public money could have greatly helped the nation’s public schools.

It should also be recalled that many charter schools perform poorly every year and thousands have closed in under 30 years, leaving tens of thousands of families out in the cold. Charter schools have failed an extremely large number of parents, students, teachers, and principals. The numbers are not small. And these numbers will only grow as more charter schools fail and close for poor performance, financial malfeasance, or both.

What is the justification for privatized education arrangements that undermine everything, including themselves? Is it useful to have arrangements that make everyone, except the rich, losers?

Charter schools are one of the many neoliberal phenomena that make the necessity for change that favors the people come to the fore more sharply every day. The necessity for democratic renewal which empowers people to act in their interest is immediate. So long as authority remains in the hands of the rich and their conscious and anticonscious cheerleaders, the public interest, public schools, the economy, and society will continue to suffer. The rich have to be deprived of their ability to deprive everyone of their ability to govern themselves and decide their own affairs. Public funds and public facilities must be restored to a public authority worthy of the name. Keep public assets and wealth out of the hands of privatizers and neoliberals.

Charter School Oversight Remains Weak

In 2016, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) called for a moratorium on new charter schools, citing many problems with these privatized schools, including poor performance, extensive waste, widespread segregation, and inadequate accountability.

Oversight, transparency, accountability, and good governance have never been the strong suits of charter schools or charter school authorizers. Both have been poor stewards of the public interest for more than a generation.

A new report confirms what many already know about chronically poor oversight in the segregated charter school sector.

The report, titled “Improving Oversight of Michigan Charter Schools and Their Authorizers,” was released February 2020 by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan (founded in 1961).  It reminds the public that charter school authorizers in Michigan are essentially useless, despite years of scandalous news about charter schools coming out of Michigan.

Quality charter schools are elusive in Michigan. Poor performance is widespread. And parents and government officials are constantly overwhelmed by the chaos and anarchy unleashed by the presence of hundreds of charter schools competing with each other and with public schools. Competition has brought out the worse in everyone and everything. It has lowered the level for everyone and left communities worse off.

Michigan, however, is not unique with its endless charter school problems: “market accountability” has undermined democratic accountability and quality education across the entire charter school sector. Thus, for example, waste, fraud, and corruption plague not only Michigan but the entire charter school sector.1 Every day, news reports expose racketeering, insider deals, scams, and shady activities in non-profit and for-profit charter schools across the country.

Currently, nearly 90% of charter schools in Michigan are authorized by universities and community colleges, but hardly anyone holds any oversight powers over these authorizers that operate arbitrarily. The accountability gap for charter school authorizers remains wide. It is not clear how these publicly-funded authorizers are actually operating. Relevant administrative rules, standards, and statutes governing performance, reporting, reliability, quality, and accountability are largely absent for these well-funded charter school authorizers, which is why a “Wild West” atmosphere prevails in that state.

Michigan passed its charter school law in 1993. Today, more than 140,000 students attend more than 300 charter schools in the Wolverine State. Most charter schools in Michigan openly operate as for-profit charter schools. Owners-operators of these for-profit schools believe profiting off kids is natural, normal, and healthy. They see education as a business.

Charter school promoters have never viewed education as a basic human right that must be provided with a guarantee in practice. They reject the modern consciousness that recognizes education is a social responsibility that cannot be reduced to individual choice, consumerism, and the law of the jungle. From the capital-centered perspective of charter school owners-operators, education in a 21st century society based on advanced technical expertise and mass industrial production is nothing more than parents fending for themselves like animals, shopping for schools that hopefully choose them and don’t fail or close due to financial malfeasance a few years later. Every year, however, hundreds of charter schools close, often abruptly, leaving thousands of families out in the cold, feeling abandoned and violated. So much for “choice,” “parent power,” “innovation,” and neoliberal schooling. Who is accountable to these families, in Michigan and elsewhere?

  1. See, for example, Bryant, J. Why the federal government’s billion-dollar charter school program is a complete disaster, Salon, December 12, 2019.  See also Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud, and Abuse.

Charter School Promoters Celebrate Charter School Failure

Even worse than the persistently high failure rate of brick-and-mortar charter schools is the extraordinary failure rate of cyber charter schools year after year. Even the nature and scope of corruption in these deregulated online schools is more troubling than the corruption that has long plagued brick-and-mortar charter schools nationwide.

The abysmal performance of cyber charter schools is so visible and chronic that many charter school advocates do not even bother trying to sugar coat their chronically substandard performance.

Thus it was laughable to hear that owners-operators of cyber charter schools in Nevada  celebrated “student achievement” and “public school options” during Public Schools Week in the U.S., which ran from February 24-28, 2020. Jay Schuler, Nevada director of Public School Options, went so far as to casually state that, “Student achievement through online schools is so much greater when you remove barriers for students who need a different learning environment.”1 Schuler made other irrational statements as well: “Students attending online school often excel through personalized learning plans feeling more successful and engaged in their education. Creating opportunities for learning empowers students’ success for a bright future.” More than 2,000 students attend online charter schools in Nevada.

For numerous damming and indicting reports on the persistently poor performance of online and brick-and-mortar charter schools in the Silver State one only needs to search for “Nevada” on the Diane Ravitch blog. Even the neoliberal Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University (https://credo.stanford.edu), which reveres charter schools, supplies reports and studies that show weak performance in Nevada’s charter schools.

Perhaps more bizarre than Schuler’s comments above is the cynical attempt by Nevada charter school operators to piggy-back on a national event that celebrates public schools. Charter schools are not public schools. There is no such thing as a public charter school. And simply repeating 50 times a day that something is public does not automatically make it public. Charter schools are privatized arrangements promoted by individuals and groups committed to the ideologies of consumerism, individualism, competition, and the “free market.” For these and other reasons, charter schools are run by unelected officials, operate non-transparently, intensify segregation, oppose teacher unions, and have very high student, teacher, and principal turnover rates.

Education, society, the economy, and the national interest would be far better off without cyber charter schools that funnel enormous sums of public funds to owners of capital.

  1. East, T. “Online Charter Schools Celebrate National Public School Week“, Nevada Business, February 26, 2020

Federal Charter Schools Program, a Lifeline for Owners of Capital, Under Threat

Neoliberals established the Federal Charter Schools Program in 1994, three years after the nation’s first charter school law was passed in Minnesota. Since then, billions of public dollars have been handed over to privately-owned-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools through the federal program. The money is usually used for charter school start-up costs.

Putting aside the persistently high failure rate among charter schools and the rampant corruption and waste in the segregated charter school sector, charter school advocates are now worried that President Trump’s latest budget (FY21), which is rarely approved as is by Congress, may disadvantage charter schools by potentially depriving them of public funds that belong to the public. President Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education, billionaire Betsy DeVos, want to lump more than two dozen education programs, including charter school funding, into one large grant ($19.4 billion) given to the states to do with as they wish, which would mean that public money for privately-owned-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools would not be so readily available. The stand-alone $440 million Federal Charter School Program would in effect disappear and it would become harder for privately-owned-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools to seize public funds under such an arrangement. This change is said to empower states and remove some of the “federal footprint” from education. But an alternative interpretation, one that only time will reveal to be true or false, is that such a governance shift will restrict access to the charter school sector by “smaller players” and privilege the main monopolies in this deregulated sector. The “big players” in the charter school sector are more capable of covering charter school start-up costs than “smaller players.”

But no matter what the education portion of the final federal budget ends up looking like, the fact remains that charter schools have been hijacking the public purse at all levels of government for decades.

Charter schools are permitted in 44 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam. These states and governments have handed over, and continue to hand over, billions in public funds and facilities to privately-owned-operated charter schools. Non-profit and for-profit charter schools also receive billions of dollars in funding from a range of billionaires and millionaires. And the mainstream media constantly goes out of its way to escalate charter school hype so as to fool the gullible.

Charter schools have no legitimate claim to public money because they are not public schools. Unlike public schools, non-profit and for-profit charter schools regularly exclude many students, are run by unelected officials, operate on a different calendar, oppose teacher unions, spend a ton on advertising and marketing, and operate in order to make a profit.

What is needed today is not only an end to the Federal Charter School Program but an end to the ability of all charter schools to lay claim to a single public penny. Not a single public dime should find its way into the hands of charter school owners-operators. If privately-owned-operated charter schools wish to exist, then, like private schools, they can raise their own funds. Public money belongs to public schools. Further, if charter schools really are superior to public schools, then let the “free market” that charter school advocates fetishize decide where the chips land.

In the meantime, government should focus on taking up its social responsibility to fully-fund a world-class system of public education available to all Americans in every zip code and neighborhood. Government should not be involved in enriching charter school “entrepreneurs.”

Charter Schools Fail to Eradicate the Achievement Gap

Numerous inequalities characterize societies in which the majority produce the wealth but only a handful own it. The so-called “achievement gap” is mainly an expression of the harsh social class divide in society that keeps growing.

One of the conceited claims of charter school advocates is that privately-owned-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools will close the nagging “achievement gap” in America. Charter schools are supposedly a panacea because they will “out-perform” America’s “failing” public schools, rescue kids, empower parents, and provide a brighter future for all.

But nearly 30 years later, with hundreds of studies and endless real-life examples, privately-owned-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools have not eradicated or narrowed the “achievement gap.” On the contrary, thousands of online and brick-and-mortar charter schools perform poorly every year and at least 3,000 charter schools have closed since their inception in the early 1990s. More than 765 charter schools closed between 2014-15 and 2016-2017 alone,1 leaving thousands of families out in the cold. This figure represents more than one out of ten charter schools in the country by today’s numbers. The reality is that many non-profit and for-profit charter schools do not strengthen student proficiency in reading, math, and other subjects.

The track record of charter schools is even more unimpressive when considering the fraud and corruption plaguing this crisis-prone sector.

Decades later, charter school advocates are still struggling to produce a justification for the existence and proliferation of privately-owned-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools.

The public, on the other hand, is increasingly averse to worn-out disinformation from charter school advocates and is not buying the charter school hype and grandstanding. People do not think education should be for sale. They want an end to the neoliberal wrecking of public education.

As pay-the-rich schemes, charter schools have misled, failed, and abandoned thousands of poor and low-income minority families for years—all in the name of upholding “parental choice” and “parental power.”

Today’s beleaguered parents are now confronted with two sets of education arrangements in trouble: a public school system mandated to fail by the rich and their neoliberal state, and a poor-performing, corrupt, unaccountable, unstable, segregated charter school sector promoted by the rich and their neoliberal state for self-serving reasons.

The rich and their allies have no interest in closing the “achievement gap.” They reject a public authority taking problems seriously and acting in the people’s interest. The rich are obsessed mainly with maximizing profit with impunity, which makes things worse for everyone. Such an aim and motivation is socially irresponsible and does not solve any problems.

The working class and people have no choice but to change the direction of society and its institutions in a manner that favors them. They have real solutions to offer in all spheres of life and demand a government that takes up its social responsibility to provide the rights of all with a guarantee in practice.

A new economy with a new direction, motivation, and aim would help overcome the 150-year-old “achievement gap,” reverse privatization, and end many other tragedies caused by the financial oligarchy and their outdated system.

  1. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), “Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey,” 1995-96 through 2016-17. (This table was prepared April 2019.).

Waste and Failure in Cyber Charter Schools

While waste, corruption, and failure have plagued the segregated and nontransparent charter school sector for decades, privately-operated-owned cyber charter schools, even by the admission of the most dogmatic supporters of charter schools, are the worst of the worst.

The academic performance of cyber charter schools is consistently abysmal; they have a very high failure rate. Most students enrolled in online charter schools receive a low-quality education. For this reason, many online charter schools often close, leaving many families high and dry. Along with this, many in the charter school sector are angry because the consistently awful performance of cyber charter schools makes poor-performing brick-and-mortar charter schools look extra bad.

Theft and waste of public funds in privately-operated-owned cyber charter schools is also notoriously high and possibly even worse than in brick-and-mortar charter schools. Endless news reports of high-profile corruption cases have rocked the online charter school sector in recent years. With the intensification of top-down neoliberal strategies to attack the public sphere, this is unlikely to change in the years ahead. In many ways, cyber charter schools are more of a scam than privately-operated brick-and-mortar charter schools. For example, not only do privately-operated-owned online charter schools get as much, if not more, public funds than privately-operated-owned brick-and-mortar charter schools, they also have fewer costs and more ways to engage in and conceal financial malfeasance.

But asking a charter school (online or brick-and-mortar) to not be corrupt, wasteful, and scandalous is like asking a fish to ride a bicycle.

In Pennsylvania alone, privately-operated-owned cyber charter schools siphon $500 million a year from the public purse, causing great harm to public schools and the public interest. And much of this money never finds its way into the classroom:

Money intended to be spent educating children is instead spent on billboards, TV commercials, internet ads, and expensive mailing pieces advertising cyber charter schools. Public relations firms, lobbyists, and the CEOS and shareholders of private management companies profit from property tax dollars they receive from cyber charter schools. And Nick Trombetta, founder and former CEO of PA Cyber, went to jail for fraud after spending more than $8 million in taxpayer money on a private airplane, vacation homes, and other luxuries.1

Reading about charter school scandals and crimes is more surreal than a Walt Disney fantasy. A toxic atmosphere prevails in the segregated charter school sector. A range of antisocial practices have become normalized and regularized across this unaccountable sector.

The fact that these arrangements are allowed to flourish and damage education, society, the economy, and the national interest shows that major owners of capital are able to impose their retrogressive dictate on all. But it is also true that the public will is asserting itself as well. People from all walks of life are actively defending public education and developing ways to resist charter schools and other neoliberal arrangements. The privatization agenda of corporate school reformers has never been smooth and peaceful.

People need to become more vigilant about the neoliberal wrecking owners of capital have in store for education and other public programs and enterprises. Owners of capital are becoming increasingly reckless and violent in their efforts to reverse the inescapable law of the falling rate of profit under capitalism. This is why they become extremely belligerent at the smallest attempt to curb their assault on the public. They reject a human-centered approach to education, society, the economy, and the national interest. They do not want a fully-funded, world-class, integrated, locally-controlled public school system serving all people. They prefer to privatize, marketize, corporatize, and outsource education and other social programs.

  1. Spicka, S. “Cyber charter schools are awash in money they waste“, PennLive, January 31, 2020.

Charter Schools Are Part of Private Law, Not Public Law

Public law and private law are separate spheres of law that operate according to different standards and relationships.1

Private law governs relations between private citizens, whereas public law governs relations between individuals and the state. This distinction is critical. Private law does not concern society as a whole; public law does.

Private law includes tort law, contract law, commercial law, and property law. Public law encompasses constitutional law, administrative law, criminal law, tax law, and municipal law.

Public schools fall under public law and are considered to be government enterprises, i.e., agencies of the state, also known as political subdivisions of the state. Public schools serve a public purpose, have elected school boards, accept all students, do not charge tuition, and have taxing powers. Charter schools, on the other hand, are contract schools that fall under private law. They are not public schools in the proper sense of the word; they are private non-profit or for-profit organizations that do not accept all students and cannot levy taxes. Charter schools are not governmental entities or political subdivisions of the state. To call them public schools is incorrect.

A contract is a legally binding voluntary agreement — not just a promise — between two or more parties to do or not do something during a specified period of time, with associated rewards and punishments. Contracts are formed through mutual consent and rest on the ideologies of individualism, consumerism, voluntarism, choice, and the free market. Contracts are central to markets and commerce. Indeed, contracts make markets (buying and selling) possible. A typical example of a contract is when one voluntarily enters into an agreement with a carpenter to renovate their kitchen. For example, if I hire a contractor to remodel my kitchen, the contractor and I voluntarily sign a contract (an agreement) stipulating all the things that will be done, when they will be done, how much money will be exchanged, when it will be exchanged, and what damages must be paid when one party or another breaches a provision of the contract.

A charter school contract is essentially a performance-based contract between those who create the school (private actors) and an entity empowered by a state legislature to review, approve, and revoke charter school contracts.2 Performance is usually based on punitive high-stakes standardized tests produced by major corporations fixated on maximizing profit as fast possible. The contract stipulates how the school will be funded, how “achievement” will be “measured,” how teachers will be recruited, which grades will be offered, how facilities will be secured, how many students will be enrolled, what happens if goals are not met, and many other things that go into creating and running a school. In most states, contracts for non-profit and for-profit charter schools are five years long. Charter school legislation exists in 44 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam.

The antisocial restructuring of public education is part of the neoliberal wrecking that has wreaked havoc at home and abroad since the late 1970s. The outsourcing of public services and functions performed by public actors to the private sector is a main form of privatization. Contract schools represent the outsourcing of education to the private sector, which is subject to the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the free market. Non-profit and for-profit charter schools are part of the ethos of the “survival of the fittest” and reinforce neoliberal ideas and practices. This is a main reason why charter schools open and close frequently, thereby increasing instability in education, society, and the economy. It is also a main reason why charter schools exclude many students, are run by unelected individuals, and are exempt from dozens, even hundreds, of laws, rules, and regulations that apply to public schools. Some courts have even ruled that charter schools are not public schools, while others have ruled that charter schools do not have to do certain things public schools must do. Charter schools are able to act the way they act because they are not subject to the standards and relations of public law. Charter schools operate outside the purview of public authority.

Just a few short years ago, some people still believed charter school advocates when they repeated ad nauseum that non-profit and for-profit charter schools are public schools. Today, however, the privatized and marketized nature of non-profit and for-profit charter schools is clear to more people than ever before. Few people today blindly assume that charter schools are public schools. And given the explosion in the number of articles and books exposing the many problems caused by charter schools, we are now seeing more diverse forms of opposition to charter schools. Thus, for example, several dozen superintendents from school districts in the greater Philadelphia area recently joined forces to oppose charter schools and the damage they are causing to public schools and the public interest.3

Charter school disinformation is losing its grip on more people with each passing day. Blind acceptance of charter schools is a thing of the past. People do not want public schools privatized. They do not want schools to become pay-the-rich schemes.

  1. Public and private, it should be noted, are antonyms.
  2. Such entities are usually not public in any meaningful sense of the word.
  3. See: Ravina, R.  “LEARN coalition calls for charter school reform across region“, The Reporter, January 28, 2020.

Seventeen Charter Schools Siphon $155 Million from Buffalo Public School System

To the shock of many, the Buffalo News, Buffalo’s main newspaper, recently published an article exposing serious problems with charter schools. Like Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News usually goes out of its way to provide biased reporting on charter schools, almost always presenting them in the most favorable light possible, while consistently ignoring well-documented problems.

The Buffalo News published “Viewpoints: Charter schools are no educational panacea”1 by Buffalo School Board Member Larry Scott on January 18, 2020.

Several points are worth highlighting.

First, non-profit and for-profit charter schools have never been a panacea for education problems. Charter schools have solved no problems in education and society. On the contrary, they have harmed education, society, the economy, and the national interest for decades. Charter schools have multiplied problems for themselves and others. Far too many problems plague the segregated and deregulated charter school sector to claim that charter schools will solve the problems we were told for years they would solve. Thus, for example, poor academic performance, discriminatory enrollment practices, inflated administrator pay, high employee and student turnover rates, corruption, poor oversight, shady real estate deals, and closures have plagued the entire charter school sector for more than 25 years. Controversy and charter schools are fellow-travelers. Wherever charter schools pop up, scandal and questionable practices are not far behind.

Adding insult to injury, 17 charter schools in Buffalo annually siphon tens of millions of dollars from the under-funded, over-tested, and regularly-scapegoated Buffalo public school system. Larry Scott breaks down the astonishing numbers:

The second largest expenditure in the Buffalo Public School budget is tuition for 17 Buffalo charter schools, projected to be $133.9 million this school year. This expenditure has grown exponentially since 2001, when the cost totaled just $2.1 million. In addition, the District passes through to charters supplies and direct services, such as transportation, food service and special education, amounting to approximately $21 million annually, for a total District cost of $154.9 million. If four new charter applicants are authorized by the State Education Department, the District projects an additional $33.2 million annual expense for charters after five years. Meanwhile, the local Board also has no say over the spending of per-student charter tuition or charter school policies. (emphasis added)

The Buffalo Public School system serves about 34,000 students in 58 facilities. Black and Hispanic youth make up more than 22,000 students in the district. Importantly, and not surprisingly, the Buffalo Public School system, like most public school systems, enrolls far more English Language learners and students with disabilities than area charter schools, which clam to be open to all. Unlike charter schools run by unelected individuals, Buffalo Public Schools accept all students and educate “more than three times as many English Language Learners (18%) and almost two times as many students with disabilities (23%) than Buffalo charters.”

Charter schools in Buffalo are no different than charter schools elsewhere: they all siphon different forms of public wealth from public schools, leaving everyone worse off. The only forces that benefit from charter schools are owners of capital and their conscious and anti-conscious allies who own-operate charter schools. For them, charter schools are major source of profit.

Charter schools may keep expanding but they will keep failing and closing as well, leaving thousands of families out in the cold. Public schools, however, will always be there for all students and families, no matter how hard and how much neoliberals, privatizers, and corporate school reformers undermine them in various ways.

  1. Scott, L. “Viewpoints: Charter schools are no educational panacea“, Buffalo News, January 18, 2020.