Charter Schools: Backpack Full of Cash

Part 2 of a 3 Part Series: Q and A

QUESTION: If a school is educating a child, whether it’s a private school or a charter school, doesn’t it deserve public dollars?

RESPONSE: Public and private mean the opposite of each other. Public and private are antonyms.

Public refers to the common good, everyone, the whole society. Public means inclusive and for all; non-rivalrous. Public also means not narrow or sectarian. Synonyms for public include: open and transparent. Private, on the other hand, refers to some, a few. Private means exclusive, not for everyone, not inclusive, not shared. Synonyms for private include: restrictive, secret, closed, not transparent.

Public and private are not synonymous in any way. Mixing them up produces conceptual confusion and harmful policies, practices, and arrangements all the time. There is a reason that public schools and private schools operate differently and have different profiles and features.

Charter by definition means contract. Charter schools are contract schools. Contract is the quintessential market category. Contracts make markets possible. Significantly, contract law is private law, which deals with relations between private citizens, whereas public law deals with relations between the state and individuals. These points cannot be overstated. It is because of these legal realities that charter schools are inherently privatized, marketized, corporatized arrangements. It is precisely why charter schools lack most of the public features of public schools and the public sphere. It is for this reason that a charter school cannot be something other than a charter school, regardless of whether it is if for-profit or nonprofit, “good” verses “bad,” operated by “mom-and-pop” or a corporation. There is a reason that charter schools are deregulated, deunionized, practice selective enrollment, have high teacher and student turnover rates, are plagued by corruption, lack accountability, and enrich a handful of individuals. If an individual with “good intentions” thinks they are going to make “their” charter school great and different from all the other rotten ones—think again. Such an idea is based on no thinking and no analysis. It is based on wishful thinking alone.

Public funds, assets, buildings, facilities, resources, and authority belong only to the public and no one else. They are produced by the public and must be controlled by the public at all times, not someone else. This is why the fate of public funds, assets, and buildings must be decided upon by the public alone and are to be used strictly for public purposes. Public funds for public schools must not go to private interests.

Private and sectarian interests have no claim to public funds, assets, and buildings. Public wealth must never be handed over to the private sector, let alone in the name of “efficiency,” “choice,” “competition,” “innovation,” “accountability,” or “results.” These buzzwords have provided cover for much of the neoliberal destruction that has unfolded over the past 40 years. Privatization in its many forms ultimately harms the economy and the national interest.

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