Waste and Failure in Cyber Charter Schools

While waste, corruption, and failure have plagued the segregated and nontransparent charter school sector for decades, privately-operated-owned cyber charter schools, even by the admission of the most dogmatic supporters of charter schools, are the worst of the worst.

The academic performance of cyber charter schools is consistently abysmal; they have a very high failure rate. Most students enrolled in online charter schools receive a low-quality education. For this reason, many online charter schools often close, leaving many families high and dry. Along with this, many in the charter school sector are angry because the consistently awful performance of cyber charter schools makes poor-performing brick-and-mortar charter schools look extra bad.

Theft and waste of public funds in privately-operated-owned cyber charter schools is also notoriously high and possibly even worse than in brick-and-mortar charter schools. Endless news reports of high-profile corruption cases have rocked the online charter school sector in recent years. With the intensification of top-down neoliberal strategies to attack the public sphere, this is unlikely to change in the years ahead. In many ways, cyber charter schools are more of a scam than privately-operated brick-and-mortar charter schools. For example, not only do privately-operated-owned online charter schools get as much, if not more, public funds than privately-operated-owned brick-and-mortar charter schools, they also have fewer costs and more ways to engage in and conceal financial malfeasance.

But asking a charter school (online or brick-and-mortar) to not be corrupt, wasteful, and scandalous is like asking a fish to ride a bicycle.

In Pennsylvania alone, privately-operated-owned cyber charter schools siphon $500 million a year from the public purse, causing great harm to public schools and the public interest. And much of this money never finds its way into the classroom:

Money intended to be spent educating children is instead spent on billboards, TV commercials, internet ads, and expensive mailing pieces advertising cyber charter schools. Public relations firms, lobbyists, and the CEOS and shareholders of private management companies profit from property tax dollars they receive from cyber charter schools. And Nick Trombetta, founder and former CEO of PA Cyber, went to jail for fraud after spending more than $8 million in taxpayer money on a private airplane, vacation homes, and other luxuries.1

Reading about charter school scandals and crimes is more surreal than a Walt Disney fantasy. A toxic atmosphere prevails in the segregated charter school sector. A range of antisocial practices have become normalized and regularized across this unaccountable sector.

The fact that these arrangements are allowed to flourish and damage education, society, the economy, and the national interest shows that major owners of capital are able to impose their retrogressive dictate on all. But it is also true that the public will is asserting itself as well. People from all walks of life are actively defending public education and developing ways to resist charter schools and other neoliberal arrangements. The privatization agenda of corporate school reformers has never been smooth and peaceful.

People need to become more vigilant about the neoliberal wrecking owners of capital have in store for education and other public programs and enterprises. Owners of capital are becoming increasingly reckless and violent in their efforts to reverse the inescapable law of the falling rate of profit under capitalism. This is why they become extremely belligerent at the smallest attempt to curb their assault on the public. They reject a human-centered approach to education, society, the economy, and the national interest. They do not want a fully-funded, world-class, integrated, locally-controlled public school system serving all people. They prefer to privatize, marketize, corporatize, and outsource education and other social programs.

  1. Spicka, S. “Cyber charter schools are awash in money they waste“, PennLive, January 31, 2020. []
Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at stell5@naz.edu.. Read other articles by Shawgi.