How Teacher Strikes Are Exposing the Corrupt Charter School Agenda

By Jeff Bryant, a writing fellow and chief correspondent for Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He is a communications consultant, freelance writer, advocacy journalist, and director of the Education Opportunity Network, a strategy and messaging center for progressive education policy. His award-winning commentary and reporting routinely appear in prominent online news outlets, and he speaks frequently at national events about public education policy. Follow him on Twitter @jeffbcdm. Produced by Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

teacher strikes versus charter schools

This week, Republican lawmakers held a press conference on Capitol Hill to kick off National School Choice Week, an annual event that began in 2011 under President Obama who proclaimed it as a time to “recognize the role public charter schools play in providing America’s daughters and sons with a chance to reach their fullest potential.” This year, Democratic lawmakers took a pass on the celebration. You can thank striking teachers for that.

In the latest teacher strike in Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest school system, some 30,000 teachers walked off the job saying unchecked growth of charter schools and charters’ lack of transparency and accountability have become an unsustainable drain on the public system’s financials. The teachers have included in their demands a cap on charter school growth, along with other demands, such as increased teacher pay, reduced class sizes, less testing, and more counselors, nurses, librarians, and psychologists.

The LA teachers’ opposition to charter schools is just the latest voice in a growing chorus of public school teachers calling on politicians to do more to support the public schools we have rather than piling more dollars and accolades onto a competitive charter school industry. And with the backing of nearly 80 percent of Los Angeles County residents, according to one survey, the teachers likely have the clout to change the politics of “school choice” in California, and perhaps the nation.

#RedForEd in a Blue State

Many of the grievances the LA teachers have are familiar to anyone who followed last year’s startling #RedForEd movement, which resulted in mass teacher walkouts primarily in red states, including West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona. In each of those uprisings, teachers protested inadequate pay and benefits, lack of funding for their schools, misplaced emphasis on testing and standards, and a general disregard for teachers’ voices. Teacher opposition to charter schools, vouchers, and other forms of choice had a presence in these walkouts, but LA teachers are making grievances against charter schools central to their protests.

Union president Alex Caputo-Pearl has declared the district’s pro-charter school policies are “a major theme” of the strike, and on the second day of the strike, teachers descended on the downtown offices of the California Charter Schools Association and surrounded the building.

“We need to throw privatization schemes … into the trash can,” Caputo-Pearl is quotedas saying in a pro-charter media outlet.

“The subtext of the conflict is the issue of charter schools,” writes Glenn Sacks, a Los Angeles teacher. “Charters create numerous problems for [the district],” he argues, citing recent research studies finding charter schools use various methods to “screen out the students who would be the neediest and most expensive to serve—who then turn to district schools.”

“I’m striking to stop charter schools from draining our schools,” writes LA school teacher Adriana Chavira. “[The union] is asking that LAUSD stop approving charter schools, which have seen a 287 percent increase in the district’s boundaries since 2008. The loss of enrollment across the district means a $600 million loss from our public schools every year.”

“For me, the problem is the privatization of charter schools,” a parent joining teachers at the picket line is quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times, “and the large class sizes.”

Teachers Redefine Charters

The emergence of charter schools as an important consideration in teacher collective bargaining agreements, and the recognition of charters as a form of privatization, are two major developments in the education policy and politics of choice.

In policy discussions, charter schools are considered primarily as separate entities from the public schools. The standard ideal often used to describe how urban school districts like Los Angeles should govern charters is to strive for a “system of great schools, rather than a great school system.” In other words, urban districts should aim toward having a loosely organized scheme of education providers of various kinds, including charters, with each operating mostly autonomously and competing against each other for students and resources. What’s generally considered out-of-style is for urban school governance to consider how entities in the system impact each other and, therefore, require some coordination and oversight so that the whole system works better.

Charter schools also have been defined as “public schools,” both in policy language and political rhetoric, despite the fact that most of the business of operating a charter occurs out of public view, immune to most controls placed on truly public institutions, and governed mostly by appointed boards rather than locally elected officials.

Should the Los Angeles teachers succeed in changing the governance of charters and in recognizing them as being private, or at least semi-private, entities, the impact on politics will be significant.

Once charters are widely understood as disruptive and harmful actors in a system already under great stress, they are more apt to be targeted for blame and criticism, much in the same way bad sports and rule breakers are blamed for undermining an athletic contest. And as charter schools become more widely understood as private agents, charter-supportive politicians and government officials will be pressed to explain why they are redirecting taxpayer funds meant for public schools into private pockets.

Also, while teachers in red states walking off the job because of lack of support and funding have drawn praise from prominent Democrats, teachers protesting charter schools, something many Democrats support, will push the political debate over choice into new territory, especially in deep blue states.

That discomfort was evident in a recent op-ed by Arne Duncan, Obama’s secretary of education and an enthusiastic supporter of charters, who warned LA teachers against striking and encouraged them to cooperate with local Democratic officials.

The teachers are having none of it, and Sacks wrote a scathing rebuttal to Duncan, calling him “pro-charter/anti-union.”

Negative Impacts of Charters

Indeed, the situation in Los Angeles is no longer something teachers can bear. School conditions have become intolerable—with classrooms stripped of basic resources, and support from full-time nurses and other non-teaching staff, and class sizes exceeding 40 and sometime 50 students.

Charter schools in Los Angeles have become integral features of what’s wrong. There are 277 charter schools operating in L.A. Unified, the largest number of charter schools of any school district in the nation. Charters serve nearly 119,000 students, nearly one-fifth of the students in the district. About 50 charters are operated by the district, which gives them some degree of greater autonomy, but the rest are completely independent of district rules and regulations. And many of the independent charters are also co-located on existing public school campuses.

When charter schools pull funding from a public school, it damages the school’s abilityto educate the students who remain because a lot of the school’s costs are “fixed” and can’t be reduced on a per-pupil basis. Schools that find they have to cover the same costs, with reduced revenues due to student attrition to charters, frequently resort to cutting non-teacher personnel such as counselors and librarians—exactly the additional staff LA teachers are saying their schools lack.

In the situation where a charter co-locates on an existing public school campus, space on the campus is divided up between the two schools, which increases class sizes as student remaining in the public campus have to jam into smaller spaces and limit their access to common spaces—again, grievances the teachers are bringing to the table.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” writes Miriam Pawel in the New York Times. “The more overcrowded and burdened the regular schools, the easier for charters to recruit students. The more students the district loses, the less money, and the worse its finances. The more the district gives charters space in traditional schools, the more overcrowded the regular classrooms.”

Threats posed by charters aren’t limited to individual public schools. Indeed, the negative fiscal impacts of charters have the potential to drive whole districts into insolvency.

In states with large percentages of charter schools, like Michigan, some of the largest school districts lose so many students to surrounding charter schools that the financial viability of the districts is questionable. In California, a school district just to the north of Los Angeles recently declared to the state education board that increasingly higher payments to the district’s expanding charter school were driving the district to financial insolvency.

Limits to Charters Teachers Want

To mitigate these harmful effects of charters, Los Angeles teachers have put forth a number of proposals regarding charters, including:

  • An immediate cap on the number of charters allowed in the district
  • New language regarding charter co-locations on existing campuses
  • Union involvement in the co-location process, with the district having to provide a list of charter schools that have requested space on district school sites, the proposed locations, public notices if a charter school might be co-located on a campus, and union sign-off on any shared space agreements
  • An assessment of community and educational impact before approving or renewing a charter, including analysis to show if a charter school is needed and how district schools would be impacted by a new charter school
  • A requirement that every charter school publish demographic reports about its student population

But as of this writing, the district has not offered counter proposals on any of them.

Whose Side Are Democrats On?

As the war over charters becomes increasingly divisive in California, Democratic politicians elsewhere in the country seem to want to avoid it.

In an effort to get Democratic members of Congress on record about the LA teachers’ strike and the issues teachers have with charter schools, Rachel Cohen for the Intercept found few had anything to say.

Notable exceptions to the silence were senators and likely and declared presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Kamala Harris of California, all who tweeted their support for the teachers but would not comment specifically on charters.

Democratic candidates for federal office have become used to dodging the charter school issue by claiming education is primarily a responsibility of state government, and the federal government has limited power to intervene when charter school expansions threaten local school districts. But this argument completely ignores the fact that the biggest funder of charter schools is the federal government.

Another reason for Democrats to deflect the issue, Cohen suggests, is that, “Weighing in on the teachers’ opposition to charter schools comes with the possibility of upsetting powerful donors.”

Indeed, charter schools have become a much-favored project of the billionaire class, as wealthy individuals and their private foundations have poured billions into the schools and into the political campaigns of politicians who support them, especially in Californiawhere charter advocates have spent lavishly on statewide races and on electing their handpicked candidates to the Los Angeles school board.

But in the upcoming 2020 elections, teachers are intent on pushing the issue of school choice into the debate and demanding that candidates, especially Democrats, make a tough choice themselves and answer, “Whose side are you on?”

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48 comments

  1. Geo

    Great post! Very informative and much appreciated.

    I currently have a neighbor in my apartment building who is a public school grade school teacher and one on the other side who is a grade school teacher for a charter school. I don’t know the details of their finances of course, but I do know the public school teacher often has her phone, cable, or gas shut off due to having no money. The charter school teacher seems much happier with her employer – but it’s not a very good sample for comparison due to the public school teacher also being a hardcore conservative who always talks about communists taking over the school system (she also thought Clinton was a commie). So, her complaints about the system’s problems are hard to figure out. On the plus side, I know a few parents who have joined in on the protests in solidarity with the teachers here in LA.

    So much of this seems to relate to the NC theme of “crapification”. My mother was a school teacher and father an optometrist. Both loved their work and both hated what it became over the years. My father can name the day: when the computers were installed that confirmed to new rules where he had to spend more time facing a monitor than his patients. For my mother, it was more gradual but the testing, bureaucracy, and constant “reforms” that seemed more interested in corporate-style accountability metrics than student benefit. In both cases an essential and personalized profession was turned into a technocratic and impersonal job.

    At least the administrators are making bank, right? They’ve made everything a perpetual crapification machine where the teachers, doctors and actual professionals are held accountable for the failures of a larger system that rewards is architects for their corrupt machinations.

    Reply
    1. JerryDenim

      “…it’s not a very good sample for comparison due to the public school teacher also being a hardcore conservative who always talks about communists taking over the school system ”

      Ha! The irony. As a member of a unionized workgroup in a highly unionized profession, I’m always amazed by by the ignorant opinions of my fellow coworkers who are hardcore Republicans and anti-union. It’s mind-boggling. Besides racism and highly effective right-wing, pro-business propaganda, I blame it mostly on neoliberal Democrats like Clinton and Obama. The Broads, The Gates, Pritzkers, Waltons, DeVos, whatever. When it comes to education and charters does it matter Dem or Repub? A billionaire privatizer is a billionaire privatizer. Let’s elect some socialists or old school, big-government FDR Democrats to rebuild our public institutions. Tax the bejeezers out of the billionaires so they will need to pinch hundred dollar bills to keep their private jets flying, that should keep them from buying elections and wrecking our public institutions with their free-market death cult. Maybe right-wing neoliberal ideology can be fully exposed as societal hemlock once it stops masquerading as a two party system.

      Reply
      1. RenoRich

        Indeed.

        Increase taxes on billionaires to reflect the increased (direct and indirect) benefits they already receive in our society. Then increase rentier and inheritance taxes on billionaires again to keep them from buying elections and wrecking our public institutions. The idea that they should have so much influence over our communities is indeed outrageous.

        Reply
      2. RenoRich

        Indeed.

        Increase taxes on billionaires to reflect the increased value they receive from society.

        Then increase rentier income taxes and inheritance taxes on billionaires to keep them from buying elections and wrecking our public institutions.

        It is absurd that they should have such outsize influence on our republic’s federal, state and local institutions.

        Reply
      3. watermelon

        I see the same in some people who seem to hold conflicting ideas in their heads at once.
        I agree with your ideas.
        When people have so much money that they are bored and looking for ways to single-handedly influence society as a whole with their own personal ideas, it’s too much money, clearly. It’s anti-social.
        Charity is a way of preserving power. But at least even in charity organizing there is at least a chance that somebody involved has a clue and might exert some limiting peer pressure on some individual’s worst impulses.
        These foundations with a king or queen at the top directing all, or just one billionaire buying entire political influence companies to do their bidding… it’s a recipe for not looking after what benefits society as a whole with no one to put the brakes on bad ideas.
        Taxes would put the brakes on I think.

        Reply
  2. Otis B Driftwood

    I can speak personally about the stress of working in public schools that are being starved of resources. As alluded to in the article above, the idea that anyone can send their child to a charter is a lie. Special education is the prime example. Charters don’t do it. It is a system that has been engineered to syphon away the desirable students and leave the children in most need of special attention to the very schools being deprived of funding.

    What does this do to the people working in the public schools? People like my wife, an administrator, who works 14 hour days, just about every day of the week, and weekends, and now, after just a few years in this job, has been so worn down that she is leaving at the end of this school year.

    She is quietly cheering on the LA strikers. And I am relieved that she is leaving this job and the profession to which she has devoted 30 years of her life before it kills her.

    Reply
    1. flora

      Yes.

      It is a system that has been engineered to syphon away the desirable students and leave the children in most need of special attention to the very schools being deprived of funding.

      It makes the Charter schools’ financial and test results metrics better. Much like private health insurance is/was designed to sell policies to healthy people and get rid of sick people, imo.

      Reply
    2. jhallc

      My daughter just started teaching autistic children (4-6 years in age) in a racially diverse school in Boston. All she asked for for the holidays was gift cards to Staples so she could buy supplies. You are correct that Charter schools do not have the same level of special education requirements. My daughter has 9-10 students with two in class aides. She has two children at risk of seizures which requires a high of level of oversight by the aides leaving the others to her supervision. The stress level is incredible and frankly I can’t see her making it for 30 years.

      Reply
    3. Punxsutawney

      Yeah, I was a financial administrator at a district and 12 hour days and weekends were not enough to get anywhere near the amount of work done that needed doing. It was insane. Way more stress than my fortune 1000 job.

      Reply
    4. Summer

      The parents don’t care that charters might be a scam.

      They are now in the grasp of two things
      1) Keeping up with the Joneses
      2) Decades of media drilling that public schools aren’t “safe”.

      Most parents still don’t know one curriculum from another. They understand perception and status and schools with those others (poor and/or people of color) aren’t “safe.”
      That is what you are up against.

      Reply
      1. sierra7

        Not enough parents caring or getting involved with their childrens’ education is at the core of the whole problem. With the continuing attempt at the financialization of our whole lives we will continue to slip and slide towards societal oblivion. If American society doesn’t fight back to defeat the destructive forces attempting to totally overturn the idea of public education our children/grandchildren will be turned into consumer automatons, not citizens of a country. Both the Dems and Repubs are responsible for this deterioration. Either we throw the bastards out or we succumb. Easy choice….but difficult to execute.

        Reply
  3. rob

    But schools are good business models. All you have to do is keep the doors open, and the money will always roll in.There are always new children, and so in the effort for privatization to be in effect everywhere, those who are politically connected enough get the local state legislatures to allow openings to “entrepreneurs”, to come in and sell what the state already provides. And with a little marketing, the parents believe this will help…… or so the story goes.
    In north carolina. the republican legislature and former governor, have many friends and donors who are large charter school operators. Kinda like the local level version of betsy devoss being the education secretary and having a family business of charter schools.
    How is this not a conflict of interest worthy of being either sacked from one job or forced liquidation of the other?And after a decade of steady growth of charter schools, everywhere, their
    “product”, the test scores of the children they teach, are all over the spectrum. some are good, some are bad, but on average, they are average… so no real improvement of any kind in the levels of education
    Personally, I think the fact that children’s education is left to the vagaries of where your parents live is already a disgrace. Poor counties get overburdened and underfunded school systems , while affluent counties get opportunities up the yinyang. In north carolina the disparity has been shown to be nearly 3 times the spending per pupil, from the richest to the poorest counties. All connected to local property taxes, here.
    Maybe that is the point, the powers that be would have SO much more trouble coercing a well educated population.
    So let the charter school myth, privatize the golden goose that is education, into the hands of the few, at the expense of the many. And screw the educated electorate that jefferson was so keen on.
    In north carolina, charter schools eat up their chunk of the pie, leaving less for established schools. And some are in strip malls, some are just “business plans”, and some are actually trying to improve something. Some are montessori, and all the other “styles” of education. Which would be fine if they weren’t taking money from already impoverished school systems.
    Bottom line is, if there are good ideas out there to improve education standards and techniques, they need to be rolled into the public school system. And that system needs to be funded, well. And teachers need to be paid, and there needs to be basics , like every school having a nurse on duty, daily…. considering this is the future we are talking about. And if a separate private system wants to be set up(and not from vouchers from the public fund), let them be… if the rich think they can teach their children better , let them. But the poor and the rest need a good classical education.

    Reply
    1. lyman alpha blob

      … if there are good ideas out there to improve education standards and techniques, they need to be rolled into the public school system.

      And that is exactly what charter schools were originally intended to be – laboratories where teachers could make decisons, try out new ideas, and incorporate the best ones into all public schools.

      ALTHOUGH the leaders of teachers unions and charter schools are often in warring camps today, the original vision for charter schools came from Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

      In a 1988 address, Mr. Shanker outlined an idea for a new kind of public school where teachers could experiment with fresh and innovative ways of reaching students. Mr. Shanker estimated that only one-fifth of American students were well served by traditional classrooms. In charter schools, teachers would be given the opportunity to draw upon their expertise to create high-performing educational laboratories from which the traditional public schools could learn.

      The original idea was a good one, was conceived by the head of a teachers union and was supposed to be developed by teachers. Somewhere along the way it got coopted by neoliberal rent seekers and completely bastardized.

      Reply
      1. Michael Fiorillo

        Charter supporters love to trot out Albert Shankar’s initial support for charter schools; they are far less quick to acknowledge that he almost immediately changed his view, when he saw how quickly (in fact, instantaneously) the idea was hijacked by neoliberal privateers.

        Reply
    2. nihil obstet

      I absolutely oppose charter schools, but your statements about North Carolina school funding lack accuracy. The schools are primarily state funded. Counties (virtually all the public school districts are counties) have to come up with the facilities and some additional funding. The difference in local funding between poor rural counties and the metropolitan counties may be 3X, but total per capita funding for the schools is nowhere near that disparity. The N.C. state constitution guarantees “a sound basic education” to every child, and the school system is under judicial oversight to improve outcomes for poor performing schools (see the Leandro decision).

      Up through the 90s, the school systems made real efforts to eliminate the disparities in different schools within their system, using busing, magnet schools, and the like. The reasonably well-off people as well as the legislature worked to change that. Things really snowballed after the housing bubble broke in 2008. If where you live doesn’t matter all that much to where your children go to school, you don’t get that lovely house price support from living in an expensive neighborhood. And so there was an absolute onslaught of parents begging for “neighborhood schools” and “school choice”. I am convinced that this was significantly driven by a desire to goose property values. And yes, it’s despicable. What we’re getting now is somewhat disguised resegregation academies.

      Reply
      1. rob

        I can’t say I an expert in any way on the finance scheme of every school, and what you say sounds right, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.
        the counties may be largely funded thru the state, but the funding hasn’t really been regular. The republican legislature for the past 10 years has been giving with one hand and taking with the other. The leandro case, is a thing, but it is also a source of lawsuits that are still going on in that people don’t feel as if it is being implemented.
        And the disparity in the schools themselves is what I was getting at. I know people who are in the wake and the mecklenberg (good schools) and people in other systems like durham, and alamance, where despite being close to wake, have much different experiences in daily life.. Even within counties, the schools have very different “feels”.
        And just because the constitution says something, that doesn’t mean it is actually happening. look at the unc system tuition. that was supposed to be as low cost as possible,but the reality is the tuition is jumping there in the last twenty years, and it isn’t just “not possible”, it is the semantics of a legislative body and another board who makes decisions in their interests and not in the interest of the students. And the public schools suffer the same semantic constraints of a republican legislature, who would rather give millions in incentives to corporations than millions of extra funding to be divided up by the school districts.
        And all the teachers I know, subsidize their students education, regardless of whether their pay has increased.
        But I guess, we are on the same page, neither of us seem to be in favor of the current model of charter school diminution of our public school dollar.

        Reply
  4. EoH

    If for profit charter schools are such a great idea, let them stand on their own resources and without public subsidy. Or isn’t that the foundational tenet of capitalism? (I know, the foundational tenet is to obtain government subsidies and immunities for me and none for thee.)

    The charter school scheme has similarities with John D. Rockefeller’s rebate scheme. He used his monopoly power to force the railroads, which delivered his oil in pre-pipeline days, to grant him rebates not just on oil he shipped, but additionally on oil shipped by his competitors. His few competitors thus paid twice to deliver their oil – once to the RRs, and again to Rockefeller.

    For profit charter schools market themselves as a “choice” made desirable by the low standards and performance of public schools. They are routinely subsidized through money that would otherwise have gone to public schools, increasing the spin rate of their downward spiral. Their use of choice is code for background and sometimes overt racism, and certainly for cherry picking better students. And they operate without the full oversight and accountability of public schools.

    Public school boards should see for profit charters as direct competitors for the work they are charged with doing. So should the legislators who craft these schemes and seem determined to do away with the real choice offered by public schools.

    Any subsidy to charters is an attack on public schools, a shared cultural marker that binds together so many Americans. Public school boards should not be staffed by owners or advocates of charter schools. That’s like General Mills’ board subsidizing Kellogg’s new cereals.

    Reply
  5. Mike in Denver

    We are likely to see a strike here in Denver, base pay is dismal compared (the skyrocketing cost of living in the city doesn’t help) to other districts and the incentive plan is confusing and charter school money is a black-hole. Lets see what the newly elected democratic state house, senate and governor do.

    Reply
  6. XXYY

    Terrific post, Yves. Thanks.

    Always good to see labor news in NC. The corporate media has largely stopped reporting it except to occasionally bash the workers and highlight the inconvenience of work stoppages “to the rest of us”.

    Workers *are* the rest of us.

    Reply
  7. Michael Fiorillo

    Charter schools are a stereotypical example of Smash & Grab Capitalism at its worst, and the fact that even Bernie is not willing to come out against them is about as revealing as it gets.

    Want a quick way to immediately recognize a neoliberal Democrat who can’t be trusted, no matter what the issue might be? Listen for them to use the phrase “public charter school” (there ain’t no such thing, and never will be) when education is being discussed.

    That’s a reliable Tell.

    You can be confident that any pol who supports charter schools will NEVER support universal health care, and will eventually go along with cuts/privatization to other public goods.

    Reply
    1. Jeff Bryant

      Bernie, and most other lefty Dems, hasn’t come out against charter schools because he doesn’t understand what they are. Indeed, most people don’t understand even the basics about charter schools, much less the details of how charter operators can enrich themselves through land deals, management contracts, and other self-dealing arrangements. Here, exactly, is what Bernie said about charters during the 2016 campaign and how his remarks typified the confusion over charters: https://ourfuture.org/20160317/dont-blame-bernie-most-people-dont-get-charter-schools

      Reply
  8. Ping

    It is disappointing that Bernie has apparently not come out against Charters lately, but he made strong statements against Charters during the last presidential election cycle.

    Reply
    1. JerryDenim

      It’s about not alienating voters.

      Otherwise good and politically left-leaning people have a remarkable habit of being incredibly selfish and anti-social when it comes to maximizing opportunity for their children. My sister-in-law, a former social worker with high-minded ideals believes firmly in the concept of public schools, but sends her kids to a private school where tuition cost more than my blood relation sister’s salary, who is a public school teacher. The SIL married well, but if she couldn’t afford the pricey private school she would murder baby kittens to get her kids into a well regarded charter. You can know something is long-term bad for society, but if it works well, next year, for your kid, you might still want to see that thing protected.

      Charters are a touchy subject, because parents.

      Reply
      1. Michael Fiorillo

        Whenit comes to charter schools and so-called education reform, Bloomberg is the Devil incarnate.

        I just retired as a NYC public school teacher, and can assure you that the Bloomberg years were extremely dark times for teachers, students and public education.

        And our so-called progressive mayor, has kept virtually all of of Bloomberg’s privateer appointees at the Department of Education.

        Reply
    2. Michael Fiorillo

      Bernie and others try to finesse the issue by saying they’re opposed to “for-profit” charters, but this is a dodge and misdirection, because 1) there are all sorts of work-arounds which keep the money spigots open for the privateers, and 2) the mere existence of charter schools is an existential assault on public education, on a deep institutional/tectonic level

      Reply
  9. Di Modica's Dumb Steer

    One of the other issues to keep an eye out for (in terms of how scammy these charter schools are) is the fact that their ownership structures are usually opaque enough for them to get away with all kinds of stuff. I’ve read instances where more than a few charters have rental agreements with property management companies, paying ridiculous amounts (as opposed to a public school, which would have the land owned by the local government). It then turns out that these property management firms are owned by some other arm of the charter’s corporate structure, essentially a self-dealing/siphoning off of public funds to private parties, at the expense of students, teachers, and everyone other than the charters.

    Such a dirty fraud.

    What was it Lambert said?

    Step 4: Ka-ching!

    Reply
  10. Off The Street

    Charter school strategy looks like a twofer.
    1. find a way to lock up a cash flow stream in the neo-lib way
    2. sell that education dream to willing parents by demonizing the ideologies of commie unions

    With 1, you have a new trough to exploit especially when you avoid or shift any stranded cost issues like legacy physical plant or sticky wages or benefits or the list is long. Add in the student debt available to fund the next step at the tertiary education level and you or your fellow travelers or co-conspirators lock up a generation.

    With 2, you have a potential audience wanting better ‘pure’ education but not being able to afford private school. They are pliable, to a point. That point seems to have been reached in many districts.

    Reply
    1. jrs

      of course there is the old fashioned way of getting better “pure” education, called “buying a house in a good school district” (which would invariably be mostly asian and white). But there were only so many who can do that (and ridiculous housing prices keep a limit on it).

      Reply
      1. newcatty

        A personal anecdote to the old fashioned way of getting “pure” education as mentioned above by Jr’s. I saw this in bold relief at the mid sized south western city where I worked in a position which required me to work in public schools k-12. The difference in the, just to begin with, literal facilities and infrastructure, including computer labs, science labs, arts spaces, playground or athletic fields was stark and obvious. The upper class districts had good or excellent ones. The landscapes surrounding them sites uplifting and pleasant. The most affluent looked like nearby desert resort. They did not have fencing surrounding them that looked like that of a prison. They had well working cooling and heating systems. They had classroom windows with desert or city views. The other schools had no windows (except in admin offfices or at school entrances).

        Indeed, parents, who could afford the elite school districts ,as residences, were happy with their schools. I will never forget the time I was observing the lunch hour at one of the most “respectable and best” elementary schools. A little girl was hanging back with chatting with kids who were in line at the cafeteria, or those who had joined friends outside at the nice picnic tables in the courtyard. No one seemed to be paying attention to her. I walked up to her and and asked did she want to eat lunch? Did she feel ok? She said I don’t have any lunch. I walked over to a teacher on “lunch duty” and told her about the girl’s situation. Oh, she said. That one. Her mother never pays for lunch accounts or sends her with a bag lunch. She can have a peanut butter sandwich. I mentioned this to the girl and she looked sad and said I hate peanut butter sandwiches. As we watched kids eat from salad and pizzza bars, or deli sandwiches or hot entrees. I had no cash with me. Then the icing on the cake, the teacher said, in a wink and a nod, you know her single mom moved into an apartment just inside our district just so her kid could go to our school. Those people are starting to invade our schools. I left quickly. Just social economic class alive and well in America. To be sure the teacher Was one of the outliers, but not that rare.

        Reply
        1. Spring Texan

          Great story, and ugh.

          On a very minor note, this is a good example of why one should always carry cash . . . cuz you just never know when it will be needed. I almost always have a few hundred on me . . .

          Reply
  11. heathcl

    THE fundamental attraction of charter schools is that there is money to be made, lots–both by their administrators/ managers and by their investors. There are additional virtues for the billionaires who support charters–like non-union staffing. And a variety of real-estate and construction deals, not to speak of providing employment and tithes for religious and political supporters, as in the Gulen-related schools. But the wisdom of the Watergate advice, “follow the money,” is nowhere clearer than with respect to charters.
    And, yes, they provide a powerful test for right-wing Republicans hiding, like Arne Duncan, as pseudo-Democrats. They need to be smoked out.

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  12. JimTan

    Hmmmm……

    Charter schools are funded like public schools but are not governed by local school districts. And so this allows them to profit by employing non-unionized teachers and by “screen(ing) out the students who would be the neediest and most expensive to serve”. A classic case of regulatory arbitrage. Uber and Airbnb would be proud.

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  13. L

    Just to add to the informative article, this was a major issue in the last election in California. Gavin Newsom campaigned expressly to control charter schools and to limit their explosive growth while former LA Mayor and noted chater booster Antonio Villarigosa was roundly supported by them. Villarigosa was part of LA’s breakneck expansion of charters and once pushed for formal mayoral control of schools like Bloomberg and Rahm Emanuel.

    https://edsource.org/2018/while-criticizing-newsom-california-charter-schools-association-endorses-villaraigosa-for-governor/595340

    Also, calling Arne Duncan “pro-charter/anti-union.” is if anything being too kind by far. He after all instituted the race to the top grants.

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  14. Darthbobber

    “Weighing in on the teachers’ opposition to charter schools comes with the possibility of upsetting powerful donors.”

    The dilemma of those fightin’ dems. How to do anything at all for the masses of people having the screws turned on them under the existing order without upsetting the blood sucking leeches doing well indeed from the same order.

    Resolved thus far with bait and switch schemes and rhetorical distraction. Which are approaching their upper limit if they haven’t already passed it.

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  15. baldski

    Here in Nevada, there is a school voucher program that will grant $5000 per year per pupil for families who have students in private schools.

    Example: Bishop Manogue High School, tuition $10,850 per year. Student to teacher ratio 14:1. Very Nice.

    What middle class family can afford $5850 to send their child there? So, what happens? The rich families get a nice 50% subsidy for sending their kids there. Welfare for the rich.

    Reply
  16. chuck roast

    If the Medford school system’s toxic menu of yesterday is anything like the school lunch menu in LA, the teachers might want to re-focus a bit. How you can expect children to eat that crap in cafeteria and then expect them to have fully functioning bodies and brains is beyond me.

    Reply
  17. How is it legal

    So glad this piece referenced Obomber and Arne Duncan. god knows, those two Demorat Betrayers, along with Rahm Emanuel in Blue City™ Chicago, all three joined at the hip – along with the near, or total, entirety of current California Legislators, particularly those current Demoratic Silicon Valley Legislators – had so very much to do with unleashing the inhuman horror of Charter Schools.

    One rightfully expected, and received, the Charter School horrors from the Republicans; they were not at all expected from the Demorats. SHAME ON THOSE DEMORATS.

    Reply
  18. Cal2

    Training and credentialization are what is hurting public schools IMHO.
    My daughter attended teacher training college. Everything was great, huge amounts of enthusiasm among her and fellow students—until in the upper level courses.

    Then the flavor of the month instructional books like “Multiple Intelligences,” became mandatory reading.
    ie “Stevie Wonder and Beethoven should both be taught as equals.”

    As to gifted students, the future Steve Jobs types who will improve our society, they got a few minutes mention. Meanwhile huge amounts of time were dedicated to preparing teachers to deal with cultural outliers. For example,
    “How to teach reading to Central American children speaking non-majority languages such as Nahuatl.” Since it’s a California state credential, all possible bases must be covered. Special tests were administered regarding how to teach reading to the Nahuatls. etc.

    So, what the F* does that have to do with teaching in a mostly white, Middle Class and wealthy district where we live? Why are people expected ton continue to support public education with this kind of politicized B.S. infecting the state mandated curricula?

    She gave up on the state credential and now is happily teaching at a charter school. We will never vote one cent to approve any public school bonds, but will of course, continue to have our school property taxes extorted out of us.

    Reply
  19. Harold

    Cal2, where, exactly, did your daughter attend teacher training, may I ask? I thought most schools require a substantial practicum, or should.

    Also it’s my understanding that Charter schools require little of no teacher training, other than disciplinary techniques, though perhaps I am wrong.

    Reply

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