Charter Schools Have No Legitimate Claim to Public Funds

Despite the sustained exposure of endless problems in the segregated charter school sector, charter school promoters are permanently stuck in “blindly repeat disinformation” mode and cannot seem to understand what is happening to them. Their social being and social consciousness objectively prevent them from grasping why the public increasingly opposes charter schools.

The most recent and significant epicenter of the charter school saga is Pennsylvania, where all kinds of changes or expected changes are coming to that state’s charter schools. And charter school promoters are not happy. They do not like accountability or the thought of losing billions of dollars in public funds that actually belong to public schools, not charter schools. In this vein, one of charter schools’ favorite victim cards is that they do not get as much money as public schools, that they are in a weak financial position all the time, and supposedly operate at a disadvantage compared to public schools. In other words, charter schools are “performing miracles” with less and should be allowed to continue to siphon public funds from the public purse.

But putting aside their poor record, do charter schools, which rest on the ideologies of individualism, consumerism, and the “free market,” have a valid claim to public funds and public property?

It cannot be stated enough that charter schools are not public schools in any sense of the word. As such, they have no legitimate claim to public funds or public property. Public funds and public property belong only to the public, not someone else. Charter schools do not possess the features of public schools which have been around since the mid-1800s. And the existence of charter schools does not make these core conclusions and principles magically disappear.

Unlike public schools, charter schools cannot levy taxes. None are run by publicly elected officials. Most are deunionized. All are deregulated. Segregation is widespread due to discriminatory student enrollment practices. Charter schools exclude many students—students that all public schools always accept. Homeless students, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities are consistently under-represented in non-profit and for-profit charter schools. Charter schools also operate on a different calendar than public schools, under-pay teachers, over-pay administrators, and have high student and teacher turnover rates, which is harmful to teaching and learning. It is also hard to form unity, solidarity, and a union when so many teachers come and go so frequently. It also goes without saying that accountability and transparency remain very low, while fraud, corruption, and waste remain at all-time highs in the charter school sector. The crisis-prone charter school sector has harmed education, society, the economy, and the national interest in many ways. Billions of public dollars and public facilities worth millions of dollars have been arbitrarily handed over to charter school owners-operators over the past generation. This public money could have greatly helped the nation’s public schools.

It should also be recalled that many charter schools perform poorly every year and thousands have closed in under 30 years, leaving tens of thousands of families out in the cold. Charter schools have failed an extremely large number of parents, students, teachers, and principals. The numbers are not small. And these numbers will only grow as more charter schools fail and close for poor performance, financial malfeasance, or both.

What is the justification for privatized education arrangements that undermine everything, including themselves? Is it useful to have arrangements that make everyone, except the rich, losers?

Charter schools are one of the many neoliberal phenomena that make the necessity for change that favors the people come to the fore more sharply every day. The necessity for democratic renewal which empowers people to act in their interest is immediate. So long as authority remains in the hands of the rich and their conscious and anticonscious cheerleaders, the public interest, public schools, the economy, and society will continue to suffer. The rich have to be deprived of their ability to deprive everyone of their ability to govern themselves and decide their own affairs. Public funds and public facilities must be restored to a public authority worthy of the name. Keep public assets and wealth out of the hands of privatizers and neoliberals.

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