Florida Charter Schools

Obsolete Aim of Maximizing Profits as Fast As Possible Results in More Parasitism and Deeper Attacks on Public Schools and Public Interest

Under the veil of high ideals, nonprofit and for-profit charter schools across the nation have long been violating the public interest in a variety of ways.

One of the most destructive ways is the non-stop siphoning of unthinkable sums of public funds from public schools—schools that are often chronically-underfunded, over-tested, constantly-shamed, and increasingly militarized and surveilled.

This legalized theft usually takes the form of a large or full portion of state and federal per-pupil funds “following” a student to a deregulated charter school governed by non-elected individuals with many business connections. Incidentally, these “per-pupil” funds, contrary to what charter school supporters dogmatically repeat, do not actually “belong” to this or that student. This is a distorted and self-serving way to render a complex social issue like public school funding. It trivializes the deep social significance and nature of societal investments in social programs like education.

Oftentimes, however, additional fleecing of public schools and the public purse takes the form of private charter school operators also seizing different types of local funds approved and raised democratically by local residents for local public purposes. Not only do these residents usually have nothing to do with charter schools, they voluntarily and independently raise such funds for the specific purpose of improving locally-governed public schools they highly value. This public money is not raised to fund private entities like charter schools. The public is not interested in that. It is important to note here that the inability of charter schools to levy taxes is, in fact, one of the many ways that charter schools differ fundamentally from public schools.

Recently, Florida’s legislature passed an antisocial bill that would permit privately-operated charter schools to seize a significant portion of voter-approved local tax dollars designated specifically for improving public schools governed by locally-elected public officials. This means that when a community engages in a democratic and public vote to raise their own local taxes to pay for their own public schools, private interests can come in and legally seize a large portion of this public money that they have no valid claim to. To put it another way, residents can publicly and democratically raise funds over which they have no say or control, also known as taxation without representation. In Florida, this means that 20 public school districts that recently passed a tax increase to fund public schools—including Miami-Dade County—will be forced to share that money with privately-operated charter schools. This parasitism, which is spreading in all sectors, has intensified in the neoliberal period which began in the late 1970s.

Charter school supporters and promoters in Florida and elsewhere want people to believe that as long as something is “legal,” it is automatically valid, ethical, acceptable, and just. They also self-servingly insist that “charter schools are public schools” so that they can “justify” the hostile seizure of funds that do not belong to them. Charter schools are always “public” when they want public funds “shared” with them, but they are private when it comes to their own budgets, administrative practices, meetings, governance arrangements, lobbying efforts, enrollment practices, and more.

Charter schools in Florida were authorized by the legislature in 1996. Currently, there are more than 600 charter schools in the state. Like most nonprofit and for-profit charter schools across the country, Florida’s charter schools are low on accountability and rife with fraud, corruption, waste, and racketeering. Over the years, many affiliated with charter schools in Florida have been arrested.

In addition, even with their ability to cherry-pick students, more than twenty percent of charter schools in Florida received a failing grade in the 2015-16 academic year. ((The Center for Popular Democracy, The League of Women Voters of Florida, and The League of Latin American Citizens, Florida charter schools fall short on state assessments, January, 2017.))

Further, according to Integrity Florida (2018):

Since 1998, the Florida Department of Education reports that at least 373 charter schools in Florida have closed their doors. More than 160 failed in the 2012-17 period. Some have failed because they faced financial pressure due to overestimated enrollment, others because of financial mismanagement and others for academic reasons. Thirty-five Florida charters closed in 2015-16, the highest number of any state, [emphasis added]. ((Florida Integrity. The hidden costs of charter school choice: Privatizing public education in Florida, September 2018, p. 22.))

By now, Florida has likely closed far more charter schools, leaving thousands of families out in the cold and disillusioned with charter schools.

People do not want public funds casually handed over to wealthy private interests obsessed with maximizing profits as fast as possible under the pretext of “saving the kids” and “offering parents choices.”

There is no such thing as a public charter school. There never has been. Court rulings and other legal rulings in many different jurisdictions across the country have repeatedly confirmed that these deregulated, deunionized, segregated, non-transparent, test-obsessed charter schools are not public schools precisely because they lack many of the long-standing features and characteristics of public schools and the public sphere. Nonprofit and for-profit charter schools do not walk, talk, and act like public schools. They are not officially government entities. Legally and philosophically charter schools differ from public schools. In theory and practice, they are mainly pay-the-rich schemes.

Charter schools have no valid claim to public funds. The claim of charter schools to public money is not legitimate. Something does not become acceptable and appropriate just because political representatives of the rich usurp public right and pass a law ensuring that public funds that belong to the public can be easily seized by privately-operated charter schools.

If parents wish to enroll their child in a nonprofit or for-profit charter school governed privately and operated by a large corporate chain, then let parents pay for the charter school, the same way parents pay to send their child to a regular private school. The public has no obligation to charter schools.

Fortunately, anti-consciousness about charter schools keeps dissolving. Charter school disinformation is slowly losing traction. More people are seeing right through the charter school hoax and joining others to expose and oppose these pay-the-rich schemes masquerading as socially responsible “innovations.”

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