Jan Resseger is a longtime public school advocate. Before retiring she worked with the United Church of Christ to improve public schools by reducing standardized testing, calling attention to opportunity gaps that confront many children and advocating for schools that welcome all children. She chaired the National Council of Churches Committee on Public Education for 12 years.
Here is an insightful article she recently did about charter schools.
“If you value the role of public schools—locally governed, publicly owned and operated—whose mission is to serve the needs and protect the rights of every child, you can be more supportive if you know the facts about charter schools. The public schools across the United States enroll 50 million students, 90 percent. Charter schools suck money out of state budgets and public school districts while they enroll only 6 percent of American students. We all need to be actively refuting the myths and calling politicians on their errors when they betray their ignorance about the problems posed by the privatization of public education.
Here are eight facts to keep in mind:
While their promoters try to brand them as “public charter schools,” charter schools are a form of school privatization. Charter schools are private contractors whose expenses are paid with tax dollars. Their boards operate privately—very often without transparency.
For-profit charter schools are permitted in only two states—Arizona and Wisconsin. In the 43 other states whose laws permit charter schools, the schools must be nonprofits.
Nonprofit charter schools are increasingly operated—and often highly controlled—by for-profit Charter Management Organizations (CMOs). Sometimes, in something called a sweeps contract, a nonprofit turns over 90 percent or more of its operating dollars to the for-profit management company it has hired to run the school—meaning that the for-profit essentially runs the school. But that school is technically a nonprofit. Eighty percent of Michigan’s charter schools are operated by for-profit CMOs.
Charter schools are established in state law in 45 states and the District of Columbia. (West Virginia, the 45th state, just passed charter school enabling legislation in June, 2019.) There are no federal laws that set up or regulate charter schools.
Across the states, charter school fraud and corruption has run rampant due to weak regulation by state legislatures.
Charter schools and their supporters and lobbyists have used their power to promote charter schools across the state legislatures. Groups like the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), ExcelinEd (Jeb Bush’s group), and the American Federation for Children (Betsy DeVos’s group) have lobbied for charter school expansion, and deregulation. Many state legislatures have passed “model” bills which were written and distributed by ALEC’s Education Committee to members of state legislatures who are also members of ALEC.
No state has passed additional taxes to fund charter schools. When states create charter schools, children who leave public schools to enroll in charters carry away state dollars and essential funding from the public school districts where the children were previously enrolled. . Public school districts are unable to compensate fully for the loss the public dollars that used to pay for public school services but have now been redirected to a privatized sector.
Since it was begun in 1994, the federal Charter Schools Program has served as a sort of venture capital fund with grants to states to fuel the startup and expansion of the charter school sector. More than $1 billion has been wasted on charter schools which never opened or eventually shut down. Proponents of the program, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, have claimed this waste of tax dollars is acceptable because the money fueled educational innovation and entrepreneurship—even if there was a high rate of failure.”