Charter Schools Increase Fraud, Corruption, Chaos, and Anarchy

Every day, more than a few news items, journal articles, books, and blogs expose a range of scandals, crimes, fraud, and corruption associated with charter schools—schools that barely make up seven percent of the nation’s schools. There are arrests, fugitives, government investigations, embezzlement, lawsuits, lies, mismanagement, Enron-style accounting, shell games, nefarious links between millionaires, legal loopholes of all kinds, little accountability, and rampant arrogance, anticonsciousness, and impunity, making a reckless “Wild West” atmosphere seem civilized, stable, and virtuous in comparison.

The charter school sector has taken all the antisocial, antipublic, and antipeople practices of medieval autocrats and opportunists to new extremes. To be sure, such crimes and corruption are widespread in other sectors and institutions in society. After all, the society and its outdated economic system are decaying rapidly and dragging everything down with it. But the charter school phenomenon has introduced a new level, a new range, a new quality of criminality, secrecy, recklessness, and impunity. It has brought a new vigor to the drive to violate all civilized norms of conduct. It is breathtaking in its scope, and there appears to be no end in sight to the wrecking activity, making one wonder how much more chaotic, anarchic, and violent things will get in the charter school sector in the months and years ahead.

One only has to read Doug Martin’s Hoosier School Heist (2014) to feel irreversible internal nausea about the corruption and fraud unfolding in the education privatization movement energetically organized by major owners of capital. The many works of Kenneth Saltman, Christopher Lubienski, Alex Molnar, Danny Weil, Bruce Baker, Susan Ohanian, Diane Ravitch, Jeff Bryant, and so many others have also exposed and opposed the widespread corruption plaguing this deregulated, non-unionized, and non-transparent sector.

It is important to appreciate that this neoliberal perfidy is taking place in the context of a continually failing economy, the constant lowering of living and working standards for millions, and no sign that the ruling elite have any solutions to the worsening problems. Today, insecurity prevails broadly. The natural and social environment are being destroyed rapidly. Unemployment and under-employment remain high. The labor force participation rate is at an all-time low. Student debt is out of control. More young adults are living at home with their parents. Violence is widespread. Depression and opiate addiction are pervasive. Surveillance is increasing. Poverty and segregation are growing. Income and wealth inequality are intensifying. More wars are being planned. The entire polity is more marginalized than ever by a discredited political setup. The 2016 elections are scandalous and offensive in every respect. National chauvinism is alive and well. And chaos, anarchy, and violence are everywhere, including in new television shows and movies that take the spectacle of cruelty and anti-consciousness to new levels, desensitizing and dehumanizing more people in the process. One cannot even wake up in the morning without being traumatized by some “breaking news” about another tragedy of some sort.

It is not possible to feel normal, well-adjusted, and healthy under such circumstances. Optimal well-being cannot take place when all the conditions surrounding people are worsening. People everywhere are wondering what is going on in the world. Where are things headed? What is happening? Things feel like they are spiraling out of control—and they are. It has become cliché to say that change is taking place rapidly. If anything, the rate of acceleration of change is itself accelerating. While it is easy to lose one’s bearings and feel defeated, pessimistic, and overwhelmed under these conditions, it is neither necessary nor helpful. Paralysis and inaction will only lead to more tragedies. Activating the human factor and social consciousness is critical to moving forward in a good way.

The main aim of highlighting such conditions is to stress the point that charter schools are expanding rapidly in this retrogressive and dangerous context. Indeed, they are flourishing in this context and function as a “retrogression multiplier.” They wreck education at an exponential rate. This is why one should always be wary of never-ending charter school propaganda and hype. Naturally, the statements of charter school promoters have become more anti-conscious, detached, and absurd in this fractured, precarious, and decaying situation. As conditions deteriorate, charter school promoters make greater efforts to render the havoc wreaked by charter schools as virtuous, desirable, positive, and great; the opposite of socially irresponsible and harmful. They create the impression that, by and large, nothing problematic is happening and the future looks sunny for charter schools. Indeed, charter schools can only do great things and should always be unequivocally supported. The goal of all this disinformation is to distort reality, sabotage perception, and confuse people so that they cannot see what is actually going on, how it violates their interests, and the necessity for organizing with others to oppose charter schools.

Privatization in the neoliberal context cannot but give rise to the outrages taking place in the charter school sector (and other sectors). Privatization in the context of a failing economy, falling profits, no substantive investment opportunities, and no way out for the ruling elite necessitates more shortsightedness, pragmatism, and recklessness—and more tragedies for the people as a whole. Who thought that one day it would become “normal” for parents and students to become consumers, for schools to be treated as commodities that come and go like shoe stores at a mall, and for major cities to turn into big casinos where schools and lives are casually gambled with?

Everywhere, charter school laws are written in a manner to allow minimal oversight and many loopholes. This is not an aberration, accident, or the result of some “bad thinking” by otherwise “well-intentioned” legislators. The worsening economic conditions and contradictions in a decaying society necessitate greater lawlessness and impunity for the ruling elite. Lawlessness and impunity are products of objective social developments. Laws with no teeth are deliberate and conscious creations, not anomalies. Neoliberal laws and arrangements cannot embody human-centered aims and policies; they cannot be harmonized with pro-social goals; they are not designed for human-centered purposes. Endless charter school exemptions from public standards of governance are conscious and deliberate. Charter schools are, by definition, deregulated schools, or “schools with no rules,” as President Bill Clinton, a staunch supporter of charter schools, once called them. From this perspective, anything that “unduly inhibits the autonomy” of a charter school (e.g., a public regulation) should be rejected.

Major owners of capital, seedy lawyers, opportunistic business people, unscrupulous real estate developers, hedge fund parasites, Wall Street looters, and their retinue and cheerleaders are vigorously riding the charter school gravy train in the context of a failing economy and a society that cherishes social Darwinism, possessive individualism, and greed. Wiggin’s (2013) Forbes article, “Charter School Gravy Train Runs Express To Fat City,” is one of hundreds of articles that exposes this serialized and legalized theft in the name of “improving schools” and closing the 170-year-old “achievement gap.” Not surprisingly, waste and abuse are the fellow-travelers of charter schools, something numerous investigative news reports from across the country have exposed with great regularity.

The good news is that the dialectic lives and the negation of the negation operates with a vengeance. The dialectic cannot be suppressed. Retrogression may be in flow at this time, but its days are numbered. Nothing lasts forever. Everything is temporary. The old is constantly giving way to the new. Everything is transient. Slowly, but surely, more people are cutting through the suffocating fog of disinformation surrounding charter schools and recognizing that charter schools are nothing more than pay-the-rich schemes masquerading as an attempt to “improve schools” and “save the kids.” As they say “the tide will turn.” But it will turn much better and faster with more collective action with analysis and by unleashing the human factor and social consciousness. The multi-faceted resistance to charter schools and the privatization of education will intensify in the months and years ahead. There will be no peaceful or easy path for proponents of the neoliberal anti-social offensive.

Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at Read other articles by Shawgi.