Charter Schools Continue Seizing Enormous Sums of Public Funds During Pandemic

While private businesses like non-profit and for-profit charter schools have been seizing enormous sums of public money for decades,1 they continue to seize hundreds of millions of public dollars during the “COVID Pandemic”—a move that further undermines the nation’s public education system and economy.

The latest example of this massive transfer of public funds to segregated charter schools involves $200 million set aside a few weeks ago for large corporate charter school chains by billionaire Betsy DeVos, U.S. Secretary of Education. This pay-the-rich scheme is taking place in the context of more brutal cuts to public school budgets around the country.

On top of this, in the current crisis, which is worse than the 2008 economic collapse engineered by Wall Street, charter school advocates are also taking virtue-signaling to new heights, casually and repeatedly lauding themselves as saviors and as “tried-and-true online experts,” even though many have ironically(?) turned away from notoriously poor-performing cyber charter schools in this disruptive transition to inefficient digital “communication” at all levels of education. Most people have simply not turned to online charter schools during this crisis. They recognize that online charter schools are subpar and not the way forward. Even well-funded organizations that support charter schools, like the neoliberal Center for Research on Education and Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, bemoan the persistently abysmal performance of cyber charter schools.

The conceited charter school sector believes, however, that this virtue-signaling will suddenly cause people to forget that charter schools are notorious for all sorts of corruption, fraud, and scandal. While the “COVID Pandemic” has overwhelmed many, people have not spontaneously forgotten the poor track record of cyber charter schools or brick-and-mortar charter schools.

The necessity today is for governments at all levels to cease funneling much-needed public funds to private business like charter schools and to direct these funds to public schools that serve 90% of the nation’s students. Public funds belong to public schools and charter schools are not public schools. There is no such thing as a public charter school, especially given the fact that charter schools are now openly claiming to be small private businesses so as to obtain public Small Business Administration money (from the CARES Act) that regular public schools, precisely because they are actually public, do not have access to.

The public never decided that public funds should go to privatized and marketized education arrangements. People want their public schools fully funded and under their direct control. They do not want education treated as a commodity. Parents should not be reduced to consumers who “shop” for schools that may or may not accept their kids.

The privatization of education undermines the public purpose and operation of public schools. It also damages the general interests of society. Privatization cannot be prettified. Privatization negates the public interest while enriching owners of capital. And to keep dogmatically arguing that running schools on the basis of the “free-market” is a sound, stable, and human-centered approach to education means less with each passing day, especially as we see in the current crisis that the so-called “free-market” disappeared long ago. The U.S. Federal Reserve, for example, printed more than six trillion dollars a few weeks ago to prop up the big banks and big business that laid the ground work for the current economic crisis many predicted for years—an enormous intervention in the so-called “free market.”2 The so-called  “free market” does not work, especially in education and healthcare.

  1. This does not include the billions of dollars unaccountable charter schools have received from venture philanthropists over the course of nearly 30 years. Nor does it include the numerous public facilities, assets, and services worth billions of dollars that charter schools have seized during the same period. []
  2. Over the course of the past 12 years or so the U.S. Federal Reserve, a private entity, has printed possibly quadrillions, not trillions, of dollars to artificially prop up the top one percent of the top one percent while the majority suffer more. []
Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at stell5@naz.edu.. Read other articles by Shawgi.