Seventeen Charter Schools Siphon $155 Million from Buffalo Public School System

To the shock of many, the Buffalo News, Buffalo’s main newspaper, recently published an article exposing serious problems with charter schools. Like Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News usually goes out of its way to provide biased reporting on charter schools, almost always presenting them in the most favorable light possible, while consistently ignoring well-documented problems.

The Buffalo News published “Viewpoints: Charter schools are no educational panacea” (( Scott, L. “Viewpoints: Charter schools are no educational panacea“, Buffalo News, January 18, 2020.)) by Buffalo School Board Member Larry Scott on January 18, 2020.

Several points are worth highlighting.

First, non-profit and for-profit charter schools have never been a panacea for education problems. Charter schools have solved no problems in education and society. On the contrary, they have harmed education, society, the economy, and the national interest for decades. Charter schools have multiplied problems for themselves and others. Far too many problems plague the segregated and deregulated charter school sector to claim that charter schools will solve the problems we were told for years they would solve. Thus, for example, poor academic performance, discriminatory enrollment practices, inflated administrator pay, high employee and student turnover rates, corruption, poor oversight, shady real estate deals, and closures have plagued the entire charter school sector for more than 25 years. Controversy and charter schools are fellow-travelers. Wherever charter schools pop up, scandal and questionable practices are not far behind.

Adding insult to injury, 17 charter schools in Buffalo annually siphon tens of millions of dollars from the under-funded, over-tested, and regularly-scapegoated Buffalo public school system. Larry Scott breaks down the astonishing numbers:

The second largest expenditure in the Buffalo Public School budget is tuition for 17 Buffalo charter schools, projected to be $133.9 million this school year. This expenditure has grown exponentially since 2001, when the cost totaled just $2.1 million. In addition, the District passes through to charters supplies and direct services, such as transportation, food service and special education, amounting to approximately $21 million annually, for a total District cost of $154.9 million. If four new charter applicants are authorized by the State Education Department, the District projects an additional $33.2 million annual expense for charters after five years. Meanwhile, the local Board also has no say over the spending of per-student charter tuition or charter school policies. (emphasis added)

The Buffalo Public School system serves about 34,000 students in 58 facilities. Black and Hispanic youth make up more than 22,000 students in the district. Importantly, and not surprisingly, the Buffalo Public School system, like most public school systems, enrolls far more English Language learners and students with disabilities than area charter schools, which clam to be open to all. Unlike charter schools run by unelected individuals, Buffalo Public Schools accept all students and educate “more than three times as many English Language Learners (18%) and almost two times as many students with disabilities (23%) than Buffalo charters.”

Charter schools in Buffalo are no different than charter schools elsewhere: they all siphon different forms of public wealth from public schools, leaving everyone worse off. The only forces that benefit from charter schools are owners of capital and their conscious and anti-conscious allies who own-operate charter schools. For them, charter schools are major source of profit.

Charter schools may keep expanding but they will keep failing and closing as well, leaving thousands of families out in the cold. Public schools, however, will always be there for all students and families, no matter how hard and how much neoliberals, privatizers, and corporate school reformers undermine them in various ways.

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