Most open-enrollment charter schools claim to be public schools. While it is true that these charters are publicly funded, they are privately operated, and if you dig deep enough into their inner workings, you will find that most are run for somebody’s profit.
Unlike public schools, which are run by democratically elected school board members, charter schools are usually run by an appointed or self-appointed board that is accountable only to itself, or by a for-profit company. In fact, the charter school/education management organization (EMO)/charter management organization (CMO) sector is one of the fastest growing cash cows in the investment industry.
It is no accident that profit is at the center of the charter school industry. In an article tracing the roots of the school privatization movement, the Detroit Free Press explained, “The charter school lobby is driven, not by research or data, but by an ideology that says every government function would be improved by applying ‘free-market’ principles.” In 2015, the Walton Foundation sponsored a symposium on investing in charter schools where investors were told: “It [the charter school sector] is a very stable business, very recession resistant…the industry is growing about 12-14% a year.” The speaker emphasized that the investor cannot lose, because “…the state is the payer on this category,” with tax breaks up to 39% for an added incentive.
Here’s how it works:
· Charter schools run outright by for-profit company (EMO or CMO)
o The state pays on a per-pupil basis for the schooling. In some states, local public school districts are forced to pay as well. The EMO/CMO supplies the curriculum, administrative functions, textbooks, desks, computers, and buildings.
o With little regulation of charter schools, the EMO or CMO is free to charge whatever it wants in “administrative costs,” and many charter operators get rich on this alone. A national study found that charter schools spend on average $774 more per pupil per year on administration and $1,141 less on instruction than traditional public schools. One charter school owner in Washington, D.C., was paid $14 million over 10 years.
o One third of all charters close within 10 years. According to NCES data, 2,500 charter schools closed between 2000 and 2013. When the charter school shuts down, the materials, equipment, and buildings paid for with public money remain the property of the charter owner.
· Charter schools run by appointed or self-appointed nonprofit board
o The state pays on a per-pupil basis for the schooling. In some states, local public school districts are forced to pay as well. The state may make available extra funds for building facilities and the federal government may kick in some “planning grant” moneys. Then there are generous donations by school-choice “philanthropists” (i.e., school privatization activists) such as the Walton Family Foundation, the Eli Broad Foundation, the DeVos Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and others.
o These charters often contract with EMO’s or CMO’s for administrative services, curriculum, materials, and a variety of other services. They are free to pay administrators more and teachers less and are unhindered by fair employment practices. A quick internet search will reveal multiple instances of fraud and abuse such as kickbacks, overcharging the state for equipment and materials, claiming students who never enrolled or enrolled and never showed up, and writing fraudulent grant proposals, to name a few.
· Virtual, or on-line, charter schools
o The on-line charter school receives the same support per pupil from the state as the traditional brick-and-mortar public school but has none of the expense of building and maintaining facilities, providing transportation or extracurricular activities, or running high expense programs like special education.
o The Arkansas Virtual Academy, for example, in 2016-17 received $10.7 million in state funding and paid out $7.8 million to a national management company in Herndon, Virginia, called K-12. K-12 paid its top five executives more than $12 million in 2015 and spent more than $20 million in 2012 on ads to attract students and funding. Meanwhile, a Stanford University study found that on average virtual school students lose 42 days of reading instruction and 180 days of math instruction per year. Only profit could excuse this kind of ineffectiveness.
Charter schools may claim to be public schools, but the only thing public about them is the way they are funded. They are not publicly governed nor accountable to the public, their students and parents, or their employees. They do, however, turn over a lot of money that goes into someone’s pockets.
Information for this article was taken from Network for Public Education, Business Insider, Detroit Free Press, Huffington Post, Center for the Media and Democracy, and Arkansas Times.