Ending Public Funds For Privately-Operated Charter Schools Versus Improving Persistently Deplorable Charter School Transparency and Accountability

One of the ways that even those who skillfully expose and critique endless charter school problems still miss the mark and (un)wittingly support the destruction of public education through more school privatization schemes is by obsessing over how to improve disturbingly low levels of transparency and accountability in the charter school sector, instead of demanding that no public funds or assets be funneled to charter schools in the first place. This shows that the world outlook guiding such writers and investigators is not free of the grip of capital-centered thinking and categories, which is hindering progress.

The notion that thousands of charter schools engaged in all sorts of fraud, corruption, waste, and other serious problems can be fixed by implementing “smarter” policies, laws, or regulations that somehow “rein them in” ignores the fact that charter schools are deregulated and have loopholes by conscious design. The “Wild West” feature of charter schools is deliberate, inherent, and directly related to their “free market” underpinnings. This is not some aberration, oversight, or the result of poor thinking and planning. Far more importantly though, such a notion ignores the fact that charter schools have no legitimate claim to public funds or assets because they are not public entities in any way, shape, or form. Charter schools are not public schools; they never have been. Public funds belong only to public schools, no one else. To funnel public wealth to private competing interests under the banner of high ideals is irrational, destructive, and unethical.

A school cannot be public in the proper sense of the word if its structures, functions, aims, practices, policies, owners, and results differ significantly from public schools that have been around for generations. Furthermore, something does not become public just because it is blindly called public over and over again, or because it is supposedly “tuition-free,” or because it receives public funds.

Charter schools fail and close for a variety of reasons all the time, namely financial malfeasance and poor academic performance. Thousands of charter schools have closed in under 25 years, leaving many families abandoned and betrayed. “Here-one-day-gone-the-next” is not unusual or shocking in the unstable charter school sector, which is heavily dominated by wealthy private interests. Of course, churn, volatility, instability, and upheaval are the opposite of what a modern education system in a society based on industrial mass production needs. Modern society does not need any more chaos, anarchy, and violence.

A long-term moratorium on all charter schools with the aim of eventually phasing them all out and prioritizing public schools instead is necessary and doable. It is not a distant dream or a far-fetched goal. Charter schools, which did not even exist 27 years ago, have caused far more harm than anyone bargained for, and people from all walks of life are becoming more fed up with these privatized, segregated, deunionized, poorly-supervised “schools” that are landing in the news every day because of some scandal that out-does the scandal from the previous day. Charter school fatigue is growing. To be sure, charter schools did not become corrupt and incompetent overnight; there have been more than “a few” “bad actors” out there for a long time.

While it would not have come close to fully funding America’s 100,000 public schools, the billions that could have gone to public schools instead of being fleeced by privately-run deregulated charter schools for more than 25 years would have had a huge positive impact on public education, the economy, society, and the national interest.

Government is not serving the best interest of the people when, with or without oversight, it annually funnels billions of public dollars to privatized, marketized, corporatized charter schools. Public funds belong to the public, not private competing owners of capital. Charter schools, whether they are transparent or not, have no valid claim to public funds, wealth, and property.

Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at stell5@naz.edu.. Read other articles by Shawgi.