More Evidence That Charter Schools Are a Taxpayer Ripoff That Delivers Poor Results

By Steven Rosenfeld, who covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016). Originally published at Alternet

A blockbuster report detailing how California’s charter school industry has wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars by opening and building schools in communities that don’t need them and often end up doing worse than nearby public schools, is a nationwide warning about how education privateers hijack public funds and harm K-12 public schools.

“This report finds that this funding [building, buying, leasing] is almost completely disconnected from educational policy objectives, and the results are, in turn, scattershot and haphazard,” the report’s executive summary begins. “Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent each year without any meaningful strategy. Far too much of this public funding is spent on schools built in neighborhoods that have no need for additional classroom space, and which offer no improvement over the quality of education already available in nearby public schools. In the worst cases, public facilities funding has gone to schools that were found to have discriminatory enrollment policies and others that have engaged in unethical or corrupt practices.”

The report, “Spending Blind: The Failure of Policy Planning in California Charter School Funding,” was written by the University of Oregon’s Gordon Lafer for In The Public Interest, a research and policy center based in Oakland, California.

Its findings are significant on national and statewide levels, especially since California has more charter schools than any other state and the Trump administration has proposed spending $20 billion for a range of “school choice” initiatives, from charter public schools to tuition vouchers for religious schools or to subsidize home schooling. Charter schools are privately run K-12 schools and have become an industry dominated by corporate franchises seeking rapid growth.

The school reform template embraced by the Trump administration’s K-12 privatization agenda would use many of the same fiscal devices and tax-based incentives the new report has documented as wasting California taxpayer funds and harming nearby traditional schools.

Viewed from the level of state politics, where most of the nation’s K-12 education policies are sanctioned and administered, the report highlights a fundamental injustice. California’s charter industry accessed more than $2.5 billion in government-backed bonds, tax credits and grants to lease, build or buy schools in communities where school districts could not meet the legal criteria to build new schools because current or future enrollments would not justify that expansion.

“The most fundamental question to ask about any type of school construction is: how many schools are needed for the number of students we have?” the report asks. “Nearly 450 charter schools have opened [across California] in places that already had enough classroom space for all students—and this overproduction of schools was made possible by generous public support, including $111 million in rent, lease, or mortgage payments picked up by taxpayers, $135 million in general obligation bonds, and $425 million in private investments subsidized with tax credits or tax exemptions. Moreover, since this data was available for only a portion of the state’s charter schools, the real amounts of funding devoted to schools in communities that had no need for more classrooms is almost twice as great.”

The report goes further and notes that despite the charter industry’s assertions that exempting it from regulations would lead to education excellence and innovation, that absence of oversight has led to creating large numbers of shoddy schools in these unwarranted locations.

“The most commonsense question for policy makers to ask when considering funding a new charter school is: will this school provide a quality of education that is superior to that currently available in nearby public schools? Surprisingly, this question is never asked, nor has the data been assembled to easily answer it,” the report says. “This report answers that question for the first time, and for three-quarters of California charter schools, the answer is negative—that is, the quality of education they offer is worse than that of a nearby traditional public school.”

The report cites the statewide charter lobby’s research as the source for that conclusion.

“Indeed, the CCSA [California Charter School Association] has identified 161 schools that last year ranked among the worst of the worst—scoring in the bottom 10 percent of similar schools,” it says. “But this has not prevented these schools from collecting $44 million in lease payments, $57 million in general obligation bonds, $40 million in tax-credit investments, and $85 million in conduit bond financing.”

Stepping back from the worst-performing California charters, the report still paints a picture of large-scale failures by an industry whose core rationale was that the schools were wanted and needed in many communities that hungered for a reinvention of K-12 public education.

“The data suggest that at least 30 percent of charter schools fail both tests—they were opened in places that had no need for additional seats, and they failed to provide an education that was superior to that offered in nearby public schools,” it said. “Due to multiple limitations on available data, the actual share of such schools is almost certainly higher. But even by this limited measure, assuming such failures are evenly distributed across all schools, Californians provided these schools combined facilities funding of over $750 million, at a net cost to taxpayers of nearly $400 million.”

The report correctly points out that charters siphoned these multi-millions away from traditional public schools during a period of great fiscal scarcity in California. That, in turn, harmed many existing school districts that were forced to cut or curtail successful programs.

“Such indiscriminate funding comes at a time when schools across the state face urgent needs that are going unmet due to budgetary shortfalls,” the report notes. “Parents, teachers, superintendents, and school board members alike point to model programs in danger of closure; oversubscribed schools that can’t afford to expand; overcrowded classrooms that make personal attention impossible; and insufficient funding for school counselors, social workers, special education, and English language learners.”

The report concludes by restating what many critics of K-12 privatization have been saying for years—that the original vision for a charter school—a locally created and overseen experimental public school—has been usurped by educational entrepreneurs who see great profit-making potential in accessing billions in taxpayer funds. It points out, for example, that charters in the Los Angeles area have used these state fiscal devices to buy and transfer more than $200 million in real estate property to private ownership—all under the guise of improving public schools.

“When California legislators first created charter schools, their intent was clear,” the report notes, referring to the 1990s. “They sought to empower small groups of educators to launch a wide variety of innovative startups that, by experimenting with new approaches to education, would develop superior models fit to meet the needs of the diverse students that make up the state’s school population.

“However, because legislators’ vision for charter schools has not been incorporated into funding formulas, the hundreds of millions of dollars spent annually on charter facilities have not created the hoped-for incubator of innovation and continual improvement,” it continues. “While some charter schools have proved exemplary, much of the industry has become dominated by the same types of organizations legislators had sought to reform: large chains of schools where materials, methods, and evaluation are centrally dictated and teachers lack the power to set the curriculum; Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) that replicate a single model over and over again with little variation; and schools whose quality of education is no better than that of nearby public schools, and who do not serve to spur improvements in the wider system.”

The report notes that California has raised $500 million from bond sales to fund an upcoming round of public school construction and very strongly suggests that the state develop new criteria to more wisely spend that money than has been the pattern up to now.

“It is not too late to shift course,” the report’s author writes. “With $500 million in newly appropriated general bond funding waiting to go out the door, now is the time for legislators to establish spending rules to guarantee that available funds serve to meet the most critical needs of California students. It is my hope that this report may help shed some light on this pressing issue.”

It’s not just a pressing issue for California’s public schools. As the Trump administration and Congress craft a fiscal year 2018 federal budget, one would hope that the lessons seen in the states on how privatization schemes waste public funds and harm institutions like public schools would be heeded. But just as the charter lobby has prospered in the biggest bluest state, California, there’s even less inclination for government oversight in the reddest federal government in recent memory.

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  1. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    It won’t surprise anyone (here) that the UK has the same idiocy. The schools are called academies, free schools, foundation schools and grant maintained schools here. They have been around for twenty five years, promoted by John Major and Tory Blair.

    They are / were marketed as a way for communities (geographic, religious, interest groups (business, music etc.)) to set up something suitable for them. Most schools are run by private firms. Some are run by Muslim and Jewish groups far removed from the mainstream. Sky TV, part-owned of the Murdoch group and now target for full control by Murdoch, has one school near Heathrow airport.

    One of the early promoters of these schools was a Tory donor called Robert Balchin, who later ran my university. He dressed his campaign in the guise of localism / local control and higher standards (including a return to school uniforms and, in one case, curtseying to teachers and visitors). What Balchin did not say was that his firm sold school uniforms, often the monopoly supplier in some areas, and was looking to profit from other aspects of the education system. Profiteering from the public sector by private sector parasites started under Maggie Milksnatcher in the 1980s, but accelerated under Major and Blair as the long tail of mediocrity that is British business decided that it was easier to rip off the state rather than make themselves useful or something useful to compete with foreigners.

    As these schools are not under any form of government control, apart from periodic inspections to maintain “standards” and ensure the welfare of students, they can employ who they want, including teachers who have no qualifications.

    One secondary school in my home town takes Chinese students for the summer term (in their penultimate year of schooling). The students board with well to do families selected by the school. The school makes money, the parents where the boys board not so much. Many host families have complained that the students don’t speak English to the level that they expected / were led to believe, so living together could be a strain.

    As the school makes so much money, it has decided to expand the programme to a full academic year. This is felt to be the thin end of a wedge. Places at this school, which selects pupils at 11 / 12, are limited. The town’s population has nearly trebled in forty years, overspill from London and immigration, but the infrastructure can’t cope. For example, many, if not most, classes have nearly forty children, double the private school class size average. The school is suspected of wanting to tap into the market for overseas students, a big source of income for the UK, and become a boarding school by stealth.

    The lunacy has moved from the secondary to the tertiary sector, allowing universities to prioritise foreign students as they pay more and may provide an endowment later. Half a dozen provincial universities have opened campuses in and around the City of London. Most of the students are Asian. Apparently, they are / can be fussy. The youngsters want to study in England, but only in London. One should see the big cars the students often drive. Parking is not cheap in London.

    1. visitor

      Sweden (yes, that supposedly happy, socialist country) launched a school reform comparable to the academies in the UK and the charter schools in the USA some 20 years ago. Vouchers given to families so that their children can attend private schools of their choice, all subsidized by the State.

      The results have been so catastrophic (including an enduring, long-term degradation of children school performance in international comparisons) that Sweden is now trying to back-track from its dismal experiment somewhat.

      I do not expect the experiences in Sweden, the UK or the USA to prevent further privatization schemes in education, as the great lesson of history is that nobody takes into account the lessons of history (especially when big bucks are at stake).

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Visitor.

        Sweden and Finland are often trotted out as examples for the UK to follow, rather than the US which may provoke suspicion.

        In the last couple of years, the French media have had features about the Swedish approach to public services and pension provision, which seemed a more politically correct / acceptable way of bringing the neo-liberal Trojan horse home.

        1. Colonel Smithers

          I forgot to add that when one sees neo-liberals, mainly Tory, praising Swedish reforms or citing them as examples to empower citizens etc., one has to be suspicious of the Swedish model.

      2. Colonel Smithers

        Many thanks, Visitor.

        The timeline cited by you, “some 20 years ago”, made me wonder if the Swedish banking crisis of the early 1990s was used to further neo-liberal interests / programmes. As Rahm Emmanuel said about not letting crises go to waste…

        1. visitor

          I had not thought about that aspect, but upon checking, I discovered that it would have more correct to state “some 25 years ago”:

          1) The school reform towards a voucher-based privatization of the education system was initiated in 1992.

          2) From 1991 to 1994, Sweden was governed by a right-wing/center-right coalition led by Carl Bildt — which replaced the preceding Social-Democratic government after it was defeated in general elections.

          3) The Swedish real-estate bubble imploded in 1991 and 1992, and required a massive rescue of Swedish banks, but the economic crisis was already being felt in 1990.

          So as you surmised, everything seems to fit nicely: real-estate collapse => banking crisis => Social-Democrats lose elections => right-wing government => privatization of education.

          The last part has been unfolding for the past 15 years or so => inexorable deterioration of educational achievement of Swedish children.

      3. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        Speaking of international comparisons, I found this list from 2010, the Guardian:

        OECD average 493 496 501
        Shanghai-China 556 600 575
        Korea-South 539 546 538
        Finland 536 541 554
        Hong Kong-China 533 555 549
        Singapore 526 562 542
        Canada 524 527 529
        New Zealand 521 519 532
        Japan 520 529 539
        Australia 515 514 527
        Netherlands 508 526 522
        Belgium 506 515 507
        Norway 503 498 500
        Estonia 501 512 528
        Switzerland 501 534 517
        Poland 500 495 508
        Iceland 500 507 496
        United States 500 487 502
        Liechtenstein 499 536 520
        Sweden 497 494 495
        Germany 497 513 520
        Ireland 496 487 508
        France 496 497 498
        Chinese Taipei 495 543 520
        Denmark 495 503 499
        United Kingdom 494 492 514
        Hungary 494 490 503
        Portugal 489 487 493

        What is striking is that 4 of the top five countries are Confucian-tradition ones, and cram schools flourish.

        Most likely private cram schools.

        Maybe we don’t want international comparisons. Don’t know what they are comparing.

    2. Mark P.

      Col. Smithers wrote: ‘They have been around for twenty five years, promoted by John Major and Tory Blair.’

      I know what you mean, but in the larger sense such schools have been around a lot longer than that. What are Eton, Rugby, Harrow and the other centuries-old British ‘public schools’?

      For Americans, British public schools are called that because when they were founded in the 16th century and onwards, schooling was either church-controlled or private (i.e. you were a nobleman or rich merchant, and kept a tutor(s) on the payroll to teach your children) and the public schools were public in that context, intended to prepare the sons of the gentry for an increasingly-specialized, trade- reliant society.

  2. lyman alpha blob

    So the intent was for these charters to be “innovative startups” and “incubators of innovation”.

    Sounds to me like the bezzle was built in.

    1. Michael Fiorillo

      Not only is the looting built in, but in a typically cruel irony, the pedagogical “innovation” is another lie, since most of these schools are sweatshops for students and teachers alike: inexperienced teachers ( the employment model is to “churn and burn” out the teachers, mostly recent college grads duped by the bogus social justice rhetoric, so that it’s effectively a temporary job) endless test prep, students not allowed to talk in the hallway or at lunch, English language and disabled students not admitted, kids who test poorly or can’t adjust to the Skinner Box disciplinary codes “counseled out” and sent back to the public schools, ad nauseum…

      The interesting wrinkle in the issue now is, how are the so-called reformers aligned with the Obama/Clinton/Booker wing of the Democratic Party, with their insipid lies about charters representing “the civil rights movement of our time,” going to reconcile their branding with the Christian Dominionist/White Supremacist/voucher wing of so-called reform, as represented by De Vos and Trump?

      To borrow from author Mary McCarthy, everything these people say is a lie, including “and” & “the,” so I’ve no doubt the Booker-ites (including Booker shill Rachel Maddow) bemoan what De Vos does or says, while quietly cashing the checks.

      Still, there are contradictions and potential conflicts that defenders of public education can use to fight against these dupes, opportunists and monsters (the three character types found in so-called reform).

  3. Potato Guy

    As with any reporting there is always bias. There is no way to determine if the government school agenda was seeking the negative result for their report. Further, as with any new business, concept or change requiring a paradigm shift there tend to be potholes and bumps in the road. There is absolutely no trust for government schools in the heartland amoungst conservative types. Personally, I chose not to have children at all because I didn’t trust that the government wouldn’t take my children away if I chose to educate them as I saw fit. Illinois government schools are nothing more than indoctrination centers for the liberals and they are ruining our culture. Government schools are functionally obsolete and should be decommissioned. They should be run on a county by county basis determined by the values of the leadership in said counties. Education as with all government should come from the bottom up, not the top down. Who is the Pierson Group which is based in London and provides the curriculum for schools in 80 countries including the US and particularly in Illinois? As are all things government in Illinois, corruption is rampant. The schools are an example of the worst of the worst. Greed, corruption, power and abuse of our system has never been more apparent than the debacle of Chicago Public Schools. And don’t even get me started about Common Core. Thank goodness for Khan Academy. Some of the dumbest people I’ve met are educators. The more letters in their signature line the dumber they are. I call them Academia Nuts. And they are some of the highest paid public employees in the State. Vouchers, private schools, homeschooling or just a life of hard knocks would be better than sending the kids to be dumbed down for a life of slavery and tax servitude. This has been an enjoyable rant. Feel free to attack at will.

    1. flora

      So, spud, you hate public “government” schools but you want public tax dollars (speaking of “tax servitude”) diverted away from public schools to fund for-profit, private, charter schools. Sounds like you’re looking for a free lunch. If ya want private schools, fine with me. Pay for them with private dollars, not tax dollars.

      1. Brian M

        I think what he really should have done is found some uninhabited island where he can bunker up to protect his genetic darlings from the ebbil gubmit?

    2. curlydan

      Glad it helped you to get that off your chest. Frankly, I think you should have kids. It might help your world view.

      My kids go to public school “in the heartland.” It’s a very good school. The kids are unfortunately tested ad nauseum, suffering not from the “liberals” but more from the Bush era No Child Left Behind mindset that if your child or his schoolmates can’t pass these tests, they are idiots who need to be punished along with their teachers.

      Punishment comes from belittling experienced teachers, funneling public money to private hands, and then sending the kids to an indoctrination school.

  4. Kris Alman

    Now throw Teach for America into the mix and you have the mess in Chicago.

    TFA’s brilliance is in recruiting college recruits from minority populations, who go on to run in leadership positions or run for school boards. Such is the case in Portland Oregon, where pointing out the charter school connection is racist.

  5. Diana

    Please e aware of the difference between charter and voucher – apples and oranges.

    Having clarified that, I started a charter school in my community because our one existing school was that bad! I substituted there for a few days until I could no longer stand it, and rather than complain, then devoted the next few years of my life to forming a charter school where children would be treated fairly, be inspired as well as educated, and families could be part of our school rather than treated as adversaries. It’s still growing strong and serving many families who otherwise would be home schooling or moving. So please, these statistics cannot tell the story of the charter movement. It’s a bit like using GNP as the measure the whole of a society! When someone uses test scores as the measure of a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ school, educate yourself about the harm ‘teaching to the test’ is doing.

    1. flora

      Charter schools are publicly funded (tax dollars). I keep thinking the whole drive toward charters (though individuals may have the best of intentions) is: 1. evade the Brown v. Board decision by other means, and 2. a number of private corporations have sprung up solely to profit from public tax dollars.

      1. flora

        note: the surface substance of Brown v. Board was racial discrimination. The more subtle substance was the requirement that all public school children be given equally strong educations. (And in some states the drive to de-fund public education and thus worsen public schools began shortly after the Brown case.) So charters taking tax dollars from general public schools (particularly in the case of private run charters) in order to offer claimed “better than” educations reinvents a two tier k-12 education model funded with public tax dollars.

        1. Wisdom Seeker

          Re “requirement that all public school children be given equally strong educations”

          There’s a flaw in that statement; education can be offered equally, but it is never simply “given”.

          The child’s participation, and the parents’ participation, is vital to actually obtaining an education.

          You can lead the young horses to the fountains of knowledge, but you can’t make them think.

          1. flora

            Indeed. Another flaw in my statement above is the word “strong”. The SC may have intended that all K-12 schools be brought up to at least the generally accepted state average standard. That’s not what happened in too many states. Many states decided to get around Brown by giving equal, but lower funded and worse support for general K-12, lowering the state’s average standard. That “equalized” the education while sending many better off parents who could afford private tuitions in search of alternative education (private) schools, recreating a 2 tier K-12 education system.

      2. Michael

        I too was part of a group of parents who started a charter middle school in N Cal in the late 90’s. We were fed up with the early signs of the coming disciplinary crisis on campuses and the lack of inspiring course material in favor of tried and true. Support from the school district was tepid although we were able to negotiate a reasonable portion of the ADA (attendance $$) to our budget. We were in a private building to start and later moved to a district campus. The school is a success and is still operating.

        Public tax money comes from taxpayers, some of whom are parents with students. People without children and seniors have always paid for education for others thru bonds or taxes. The grumbling has been going on since my father was in public ed in Illinois in the 60’s and no doubt earlier.

        In CA, public ed consumes a vast amount of resources and tax $$ while supporting tens of thousands of jobs. Satisfying the majority of parents and kids seems an impossible task for this monolithic empire. Charter schools can be an effective alternative to those who won’t put up with the status quo. Same with home schooling.

    2. Wisdom Seeker

      I’m really glad to hear there are successful charter schools. But it sounds like the profit motive is missing in your case, and that seems to be a big part of the problem with many of the charter-school disasters. Misaligned incentives.

      But then again, there are badly aligned incentives in many public schools as well.

      Whenever public funds are being spent, it’s very hard to ensure that those funds are spent well. But I think those who argue for the benefits of competition between educational institutions, should also advocate for competitive bidding for school management contracts. This happens to an extent with school boards, but not with each district’s entire administrative complex, much of which is not run for the benefit of the students.

    3. lyman alpha blob

      I’m not happy with the direction public schools in my district are going. And I complain. A lot. But I’ll be damned if I’m sending my kid to a charter or private school and make the problem even worse. To me, charters are one more symptom of the “I’ve got mine so screw you” neoliberal disease that is destroying this country.

      While some people’s intentions in starting charters may be noble, the end result will still be the same if the trend continues – no funding for public schools causing them to deteriorate even further.

      Charter schools are able to pick and choose their students, something public schools are not able to do. Does your school accept all comers – those with disabilities, underperforming students who’d rather be anywhere but school, kids with no parents at home, homeless kids, kids whose parents have drug problems, kids who have drug problems, etc, etc? If so that’s great but I don’t believe that’s the case with most charters.

      Charter schools are not the answer – putting in the effort to make public schools better is. Otherwise we’ll be left with a nation where only those with enough money to afford an education will get one. That is the aim of the majority of charter school supporters making a profit off the public dime while not providing much in the way of a better education. This report isn’t the only one that’s come to this conclusion.

      People have got to remember that we’re all in this together and there is such a thing as a public good.

  6. R R Hayes

    I attended public schools through grade 12. It was a good education, because there was this organization called The PTA: Parent/Teachers Association. This organization enlisted parents to partner with teacher in my education. I’m proud to say that my Mother was involved throughout my younger brother and sister’s education, as well as mine. This relationship provided support for learning that is frequently missing today. My Mom was a “stay at home” Mom, as were many in the 50’s and 60’s. UNFORTUNATELY, now many Mom’s must be either primary or secondary bread winners. This makes good teachers all the more important, regardless of whether they are in a charter or public school.

    However, their UNION allows ineffective teacher to keep feeding at the public feeder. I’m not sure if during my education there was a UNION, but if there was, it was not as effective in keeping poor teacher around.

    My main problem with public schools, today as a taxpayer and not a direct consumer of the services, is the bloated administration in most school systems. My public high school had a single Principal and a secretary. We could afford a full time nurse, as well. So the “office” was 3 people for a school of about 1000 students in 3 grades. A friend of ours just retired from a position in a 3 year high school of about 2000 students. It had a Principal, plus 2 Vice-Principals (one for Discipline!!!), 3 secretaries–one for each “administrator.” There was a single nurse for an approximately double the number of students–Cost cutting (LOL). And on this “campus” there were 2 other similarly sized and staffed high schools.

    And each school had full-time security officers! In my day, security was “administered” by the parents in concert with the football and basketball coaches–who were “on site.” The general deterioration of society has made a private security force in schools a necessity, because the parents will not condone a coaches/teacher administering “corporal punishment.” This may be because it can be done without due process.

    How do we make American Schools Great Again? We certainly cannot turn back the clock to the 50’s and sit Mom’s at home with their kids–unless they are Home Schooling. We certainly would have a great difficulty getting the society to move back to where people actually took personal responsibility for their actions and the actions of their children. Who would help the Teacher’s Union and the lawyers earn money from frivolous law suits?

    More problems than can be solved with Charter schools. But Taxpayers do have the ultimate power: The Power of the Purse and the Voting Box.


    Let’s drop this marketing propaganda term and call these schools what they really are: contractor schools. Any other area of government, contractor would be the term for the sort of function these schools fulfill. No cutesy pseudo-progressive sounding exceptions for these hucksters. So like any other government contractor, you should only use them if they A: fulfill a service or good that’s not economical for the government to fulfill itself, or B: are needed in the short-term, or C: provide something so specialized that the government cannot have ready access to it. B obviously doesn’t apply to schools, so these contractors need to prove A or C with regards to the kind of education they’d provide. Otherwise, kick their late-stage capitalist butts to the curb.

    1. Vatch

      contractor schools

      That phrase makes me think of the notorious mercenary government contractor Blackwater ( a few years ago the name was changed to “Xe” or something equally weird ). Coincidentally, or very likely, not, the founder of Blackwater is Erik Prince, the brother of the charter school shill Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

      1. PKMKII

        It’s the pipeline, make money off the kids giving their subpar education, then when they can’t get a job after graduating, make off them as soldier guards and assistants for your war profiteering in whichever country we’re invading this decade.

  8. yamahog

    Very interesting! This is the sort of content that keeps me coming to NC.

    The idea of charter schools makes sense relative to the failing of public schools but the reality is quite different. They take the ‘cream of the crop’ of public schools and do slightly better than public schools which are weighed down by the students that charter schools won’t take.

    My significant other is a teacher and it seems like schools are really hamstrung accommodating the worst students and they can’t really address the better students.

    I’m not convinced that charter schools are bad, but I think we’re using them incorrectly. A close friend of mine is involved in a school that’s exclusively for kids on the autism spectrum and that school does a very, very good job with its students. Much better than any public school in the area does with the same students because it has much more freedom to work with the students.

    It seems like charter schools should be for students who do poorly in public schools and public schools should use the resources that used to go to special needs students to do a better job of individualizing the curriculum for remaining students.

    1. visitor

      They take the ‘cream of the crop’ of public schools and do slightly better than public schools

      The report discussed in the article makes it clear that charter schools overall are worse than public schools:

      for three-quarters of California charter schools, the answer is negative—that is, the quality of education they offer is worse than that of a nearby traditional public school.

      75% are worse. Even when trying to filter the ‘cream of the crop’ of pupils.

      As for “I think we’re using them incorrectly”, the issue is the “we”. Charter school organizations use them to extract profits from the State and parents, and they are successful at that.

      1. Code Name D

        Chater schools are clasic neo-liberal thinking. It escribes that the unregulated market will reform the system through the profit motive. The inovative schools will come to dominate the market while the inefichent schools fold. So the notion that parents should have the “right” to chose the schools their children go to is a pide-pippers call. The equvilent of selling kids juck-food, cheep toys, and dirty play-zones in order to drive sales.

      2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        A blockbuster report detailing how California’s charter school industry has wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars by opening and building schools in communities that don’t need them

        1. Doing worse.

        2. redundant – i.e. there is existing competition.

        Why do parents keep sending their kids there?

        Fool me once…

        I mean, this can’t last long. No one would send their precious ones there…another public school already there.

  9. flora

    “educational entrepreneurs who see great profit-making potential in accessing billions in taxpayer funds. It points out, for example, that charters in the Los Angeles area have used these state fiscal devices to buy and transfer more than $200 million in real estate property to private ownership—all under the guise of improving public schools.” (my emphasis)


  10. rto

    I am on the Board of DIrectors of my daughter’s K-8 charter school here in California. For us, at least, this report reads like an alternate universe.

    We operate on less than half the budget of the surrounding public schools, are towards the high end of academic performance and college prep and offer art, music, garden and physical education while other schools are focused on test preparation.

    We encourage parent involvement and work tirelessly seeking contributions to fund field trips and special programs. Our demographics closely match the community and we adhere to a strict enrollment policy that doesn’t discriminate against low performing students or those with special needs.

    Maybe we’re an aberration, but I’m fearful of being lumped in with the rest of the bunch.

    1. jo6pac

      I have a couple of quick questions.

      Are the teachers still union?
      If not are they accredited?
      Are teacher wages same as union wages?

      I thought CS received more dollars than public schools.
      There’s a rural charted school down the road from and some day I need go by there. I never heard were any teachers were laid off.

      Thanks in advance

      1. rto

        1. Teachers are not union.
        2. They are accredited.
        3. Not sure what union wages are but ours are competitive with the other local public schools (they have to be or we couldn’t attract talent). We offer healthcare and retirement benefits as well.

        We’ve had trouble with turnover in a few positions but they seem to be for personal reasons and not because of wages, benefits.

    2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef


      Thanks for the opposing viewpoint.

      From the article:

      “However, because legislators’ vision for charter schools has not been incorporated into funding formulas, the hundreds of millions of dollars spent annually on charter facilities have not created the hoped-for incubator of innovation and continual improvement,”

      I doubt the author is trying to flatter our legislators, but it sounds like saying, charter schools are not inherently bad, but we just need to improve on the execution…specifically, the funding formula…in order to fulfil their vision.

    3. flora

      ” while other schools are focused on test preparation.”

      Does your school “teach to the test” ? (a la no child left behind.) “Teach to the test” seems to demoralize both teachers and students. I’d be happy to see all K-12 abandon the erstwhile good idea of no child left behind which morphed into the bad idea of teach to the test.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        We can’t separate ‘teaching to the test,’ from government-subsidized, pre-employment training corporate welfare we give to corporations.

      2. rto

        We definitely don’t “teach to the test” although I believe some additional preparation is done a couple of weeks prior to testing. Of course parents are laser-focused on test scores, but our solution is to enhance the curriculum rather than rote memorization or drills.

        Most of the board members come from an educational background (teachers, administrators). I am from a business background which is partly why I was encouraged to volunteer — they were seeking some diversity.

        It’s difficult to see our charter ever changing to a for-profit model but I guarantee if that was ever suggested, I would chase the bums out with a pitchfork!

    1. flora

      It would be very interesting to know what differences there are between Boston’s charters and Boston’s public K-12. Do they teach to the test? Do they accept all comers? Do they comply with all public K-12 regulations? If not, which do they not comply with? Are their days/school year longer? etc.

      Also, and I don’t think this is trivial, the Boston metropolitan area hosts a large number of colleges and universities. One could say that higher ed is a Boston industry.

      The point being that in the greater Boston area formal education may have a stronger value among average citizens than in other areas of Massachusetts or the country.

      An aside: consider that when you read that such-and-such is considered “normal” in children, most likely the children tested for “normal” were the children of academics and their friends and available for college professors’ testings and trials. (I’m not speaking of physical health here.) The children of academics wind up being used as the test group to determine normative traits and behaviors. That in itself creates an innocent but built in bias.

      I am glad children in Boston are doing well. The questions: Are all the variables accounted for? Is it scalable? Should it be scalable, or should the applicable differences be incorporated into public K-12?

      1. flora

        adding: I’ve made far too many comments on this thread. You will have noticed, I hope, that I am actually passionate about public education, most particularly K-12 public education, though neither I nor any of my extended family or friends work in the public K-12 schools. So, no personal financial interest there. No. I am passionate about it because you never know where or when ‘lightening’ will strike in a young person’s mind. Those lightning strikes build our future; in the trades, the crafts, the arts, the humanities, and the sciences. If there are teaching approaches that successful charter schools have in common that can be applied in the larger K-12 schools then let us hear them and apply them where possible.
        But… I have no use for the apparently all-too-common self-enrichment snake oil parading as ‘concern for the children.’ And so I am very severe in vetting claimed success stories that divert funds from the larger K-12 schools.

        1. Diana

          There are hugely better methods – quite a few in fact, and suited to big districts. Check out, for one, the schools in Chugach, Alaska.

          The problem is most educators are not visionaries, so they draw their pay and go home. Retooling their tired and dysfunctional systems is not on their agenda. Also, parents seem to now be convinced the education of their kids is best left entirely to ‘professionals.’ Single working parents, or two parents now having to work isn’t helping either.

            1. flora

              I read it. It’s interesting. A lot of verbage and current buzz words. Performance based learning. In an earlier era of public schools this would not have been unusual. Here’s an 8th grade graduation exam from 1895. States used variations of same through at least 1912.


              and from 1920

              In the older models I see testing of English writing and exposition mastery, civics, history, and math. In your linked article about “performance based learning” I sense a much narrower, particular-task-job focused learning; athough it’s hard to say since the article was a bit vague about what the goal of the performance was or intended to accomplish. The best I could make out was that educators want students to know and master certain abilities before graduating no matter their age, though what those skills are and whether they are narrow or broad remains a mystery from reading the article.

              1. flora

                And I notice that the plaudets for Alaska’s system stem from raising its ranking on state required assessment tests. So have they improved in essence or only in state test rankings? Test rankings themselves being an area of great contention over their fitness for judging the value and completeness of education. Is the final determinant for charter schools a higher state test ranking? The same state educational system derided as inept is accepted as the final determinant via its testing and ranking system? This seems an inconsistent viewpoint.

                Thanks for the link.

                1. Diana

                  You’d have read more than this one article. For example, check out their former drop-out rates compared to their current college enrollments.

                  What specifically do you suggest other than continuing to pour tax dollars into the dismal traditional public school system? Are there models you favor?

                  I also pay attention to 19th century educational practice and particularly noted how the head of what was then a Normal, but is now San Francisco State University, decried the switch to grade schools (same age pupils in the same room). I’ve lost the reference, but he understood the shift from the one room schoolhouse spelled social and academic disaster. He was eloquent – I’ll look for the article again.

  11. screen screamer

    This is a long winded missive, so please forgive me.
    In the late eighties, I was invited by my eldest son’s teacher to attend a parent teacher conference. The meeting was actually a tag team event that was hosted by an elder woman who held court over the others and began to tell me of my son’s short comings as a student. Clearly and factually she laid out the argument that my son was hyper and needed to be put on Ritalin.
    So we did and looking back on that meeting is to understand the beginnings of a journey that has not ended to this day. Being put on psychotropic medications meant for adults and given to children has been the death sentence for many a child of my son’s generation. Included in this fact this was a heavy sales pitch without a doctors input and to date we have spent a damned fortune in rehabs and medications that have never solved the simple problem that my son was a boy and was to be punished for this crime every day that he was in school.
    Fast forward years later as my next to youngest son was attending school and was recommended by the school staff to see our pediatrician and seek counseling. Which is exactly what we did. The psychologist invited me to leave the office as she sat with my son and wife and for the next several weeks had sessions with both. At the end of the paid sessions, the good doctor pulled out a pad and wrote a couple of prescriptions for our son’s behavior problems. My wife declined and the rest is history. He has graduated and holds down a job and is completely happily adjusted.
    While looking for a college for one of my daughters we had the good fortune to visit Haverford. It was a lovely tour and our guide was a nice young woman who was to graduate with a degree in education. She explained that she was working in a charter school in Philly. A pleasant young woman who had no idea to answer my question as to what the purpose of public schools were in our present society.
    Having been told on numerous occasions by many guides that colleges were invented as a means to supply learned people to feed the industrial machinery during the industrial revolution. Financially backed by industrialists around the country. The colleges we have been privy to tour include Carnegie Mellon, Haverford, Oberlin and more.
    We are post industrial and are now entering a phase of post tech. Our children will become obsolete and presently schools can only be assumed to be holding cells to imprint proper behaviors for a civil society.
    As to waste in a school system, in our county there was a decision made a few years back to build three brand new schools. An elementary, middle and a high school. The high school was to be built in an area of our county that had, post ’08 come to a grinding halt. The federal and state government decided to not give the county any money as the population did not warrant the justification of such a project.
    The county pursued that project and the local tax payer footed the entire bill for a total cost of $69-79 million, depending on which report one reads in regards this subject. Since then, the county has closed three schools, one of which is the brand new middle school with more on the way.
    Public school systems in many areas around the country account for the lions share of tax payer largesse and with children graduating without basic comprehension skills, and there are many. With roughly 50 percent of young men having been medicated to keep them complacent, I find that public schools have largely damaged our society and I would dare say that we would be better served to home school our children or go back to a small school house under direct control of individual communities who would know better each child in their jurisdiction.

      1. flora

        adding: teachers used to know that little boys and little girls are different, (duh!). Recess was part of letting the kids run off whatever pent up energy they had. Whatever happened to recess? Drugging little boys so they act more compliant and less energetic in grade school is awful. Jeebus crisp on a cracker!

  12. Ping

    Arizona is at the forefront of dismantling public education.

    Steller: Ducey’s voucher support a stinging betrayal to teachers
    • Tim Steller Arizona Daily Star

    • Apr 11, 2017 Updated 3 hrs ago
    • Howard Fischer / Capitol Media Services//
    Michelle Doherty, left, the 2017 teacher of the year, and Christine Marsh, the 2016 honoree, are asking Gov. Doug Ducey to give state public school teachers a 4 percent raise this school year instead of the 0.4 percent he has proposed.

    The red mark left by this slap is not fading.
    It’s been five days since Gov. Doug Ducey signed the bill expanding private-school vouchers to thousands more Arizona students.
    Among public-school teachers and families, the pain remains. Frequent repetition of the mantra “school choice” is not soothing.
    The last six Arizona teachers of the year, all those chosen from 2012 through 2017, signed a letter to the governor Monday that says, among other things:

    “There is a teacher shortage of crisis proportions in this state. There were 2,000 unfilled positions, four weeks into this school year. Funneling public money into private hands with a total lack of oversight will only exacerbate that crisis; we have the third highest class sizes in the nation, and the voucher bill will also exacerbate that; we are funded at 49th in the nation, and the voucher bill will ensure that we remain near the bottom for the foreseeable future because more resources will be drained from public schools.”
    Then comes the kicker: “However, we already rank #1 in school choice. Is there a correlation between the above statistics and this one?”
    In other words, they argue, the pursuit of multiplying niche “choices” is degrading the overall school system. As Rep. Randy Friese, the Tucson Democrat, explained it, this program would take either $4,500 (if the student goes to a district school) or $6,300 (if the student goes to a charter school) per student from the student’s school and put it toward the family’s private-education expenses.
    What really hurts these teachers is that they supported Ducey’s Prop. 123 last year, the initiative that allowed the government to tap the state land trust to help settle the lawsuit over school funding. It won by 51 percent to 49 percent. Without the teachers’ support, Ducey would have suffered a humiliating defeat.
    And this is their reward?

    “It was a tough haul to get that across the finish line,” 2016 teacher of the year Christine Marsh told me Tuesday. “To turn around this year to propose and then sign voucher bills, it’s inappropriate. If we need money for schools, which we do as evidenced by Governor Ducey working hard for Prop. 123, then we shouldn’t be draining more money out for voucher bills.”
    Worse: We know this is just the next step of many, until Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, as these vouchers are known, become the monster that eats the state’s public-school budget.
    We could have known that from experience. The Legislature first approved vouchers for children with special needs in 2011. Then children of parents on active military duty, foster children, children in failing schools and children on Indian reservations were added. Finally, this year, Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, proposed vouchers for all.
    Putting caps on enrollment in the program was the only way to get it through the Legislature and past skeptical Democrats and Republicans. Unfortunately, a few of those Republicans were also gullible, as the Goldwater Institute quickly made clear upon the passage of the bill last week.
    Darcy Olsen, Goldwater’s CEO, shocked the handful of legislators who pretended this wasn’t the plan all along when she said in an email Thursday, “There is a cap at 5,000 new kids per year; we will get it lifted.”
    Of course this was the plan all along. The bill passed each house of the Legislature by just one vote, so any one legislator voting in favor could have recognized the fallacy of the caps and killed it. But they chose not to.

    There are also problems with the accountability of the measure. The Arizona Republic found the data on ESAs in a messy state when it made a records request to the Arizona Department of Education. This is how Rep. Regina Cobb, a Kingman Republican who switched to a yes vote on the measure at the last minute, responded to the state of the data in the Republic’s story.
    “We don’t know where it’s (the money) going to. We have nothing. How do we make decisions as lawmakers, as far as funding a program, when we don’t even know if it’s working?”

    She said that after casting a deciding vote in favor. That’s indefensible.
    (It should be noted that Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas disputed the Republic’s claims about the inadequacy of the data. In a poor imitation of a well-known American politician, she called it “fake news” from a “failing news organization.”)
    Cobb’s was one of several votes that flipped as a result of Ducey’s last-minute pressure to pass the bill. Why he suddenly made this vouchers bill a priority, after months of ignoring it, remains a mystery, although a spokesman for Ducey, Patrick Ptak, tells me the governor only made the push after last week’s amendment capping enrollment “added more transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility.”
    “He’s stated he will not entertain any changes to the program until we see how it works,” Ptak added.

    But perhaps Ducey’s action is also explained by the reaction he got. Not from Arizona, but from national politicos.
    Jeb Bush, Grover Norquist and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos were among the national political figures who tweeted their congratulations to Ducey. The Wall Street Journal editorial board published a piece praising the new law, which Ducey’s staff sent out.
    Undoubtedly, the big-money donors in the Koch and Mercer networks, who want to dismantle the public-education system, took notice and were pleased. That could pay dividends in Ducey’s future political endeavors.
    But back here at home, this swipe at the schools still stings. It hurts like only a betrayal can hurt.

    1. Ping

      Bad actors have stepped into the vacuum of Az public education disintegration. Please bear with me:

      The powerful Safari Club International (SCI), whose global headquarters are at their International Wildlife Museum in Tucson Arizona, are “Educating the Educators” with their corrupted version of conservation legitimizing trophy hunting. The courses provide introduction to shooting and archery, curriculum and educational materials for teachers to instruct in the classroom.

      Arizona is a proud austerity state and despite the lowest spending per student in US and limiting health care to children in poverty, Gov Ducey allocated over 1 million to SCI agenda …litigating Feds on species protection, especially wolves and increased hunting access. Our Arizona Game and Fish commissioners are entirely or mostly SCI members reflected in horrendous wildlife policies.

      Powerful SCI’s in house team of lawyers specialize in weakening or eliminating wildlife protections worldwide to fuel the macabre trophy contests of over 320 species including rare and endangered for top honors of elite recreation. They are behind the recent atrocious reversal of cruel leg hold trap bans and shooting bears and wolves from helicopters and hibernating in dens in public parks…….obviously something the public would overwhelmingly vote against doing.

      SCI is skilled at stealth and this story is under reported but there is ample documentation and glad to provide. Powerful SCI’s agenda is nothing less than to re-define conservation with an Orwellian motto “we have to kill them to save them”… utterly discredited maniacal concept serving only a perverse elite recreational thrill killing culture. It was an SCI member responsible for the tortured death of Cecil the Lion lured out of the protected park, business as usual in trophy madness.

      This is a prime example of perverse special interest stepping into the void of dismantled public education to shape young minds that is not for the common good.

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