Billionaires Love Charter Schools

From the very beginning, more than 35 years ago, the idea and practice of charter schools was conceived and gradually executed by those with abundant cultural, social, political, and economic capital. Charter schools are not the product of grass-roots forces, as the public has often been led to believe. They never have been. Charter schools did not arise as a result of ordinary everyday people coming together and saying: “hey, we need charter schools, let’s make it happen.” Charter schools did not emerge from the ground-up. Nonprofit and for-profit charter schools, which have a well-documented track record of failure and closure, have been a top-down capital-centered phenomenon from the very start. Their history shows that they have nothing to do with advancing the public interest, improving schools, or closing the “achievement gap.” Nonprofit and for-profit charter schools have mainly made certain people richer.

Not surprisingly, we regularly hear and read about the big influence of the ultra-wealthy in the segregated charter school sector. Naturally, these major owners of capital seek to conceal their narrow private interests behind high ideals. To prevent people from seeing charter schools as pay-the-rich schemes, for example, they try to portray charter schools as bona fide down-to-earth “opportunities” that “empower” parents to “choose” the type of school they want their child to attend (even though it is actually charter schools that choose parents and students, not the other way around). In other words, charter schools are a benign and welcome form of “educational freedom” and consumerism. The public is supposed to overlook the fact that charter schools have increased problems instead of solving problems and just blindly support the creation of more charter schools as if nothing is wrong.

The most recent brazen involvement of plutocrats in the charter school sector comes, once again, from Los Angeles, California, where billionaires are spending enormous sums of money to gain control over LA’s many public schools so as to consolidate and multiply charter schools in the region. They are mainly using neoliberal Political Action Committees (PACs) to funnel large amounts of private money to Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school board forces who are pro-charter school. For more details on the unscrupulous political-economic architecture being deployed in Los Angeles to secure arrangements that favor the rich, see California Plutocrat Education Election Spending by Thomas Ultican.1

A key feature of the neoliberal antisocial offensive in the current context is the plunder of the state by major owners of capital, mainly through public-private “partnerships,” also known as pay-the-rich schemes, of which charter schools are a classic example. The rich are rapidly eliminating public authority and social responsibility and replacing it with their own narrow agenda to enrich themselves under the veneer of high ideals. In the sphere of education this is expressed through the ongoing privatization of public schools which has lowered the level and value of education. The rich are using the state in this fashion to establish more and more pay-the-rich schemes in other spheres and sectors as well, cynically presenting such wrecking activity as a “solution” to problems, “the way forward,” or “getting out of the crisis.”

Confronted with the harsh reality of a continually failing economy and no way out of the constantly-deepening crisis, the ruling elite have no choice but to turn to the state to ensure a certain rate of profit, no matter how fictitious that profit is, and no matter how damaging to society and nature such a narrow drive is. Crisis-prone charter schools are an essential part of the self-serving efforts of the rich to stave off the inescapable falling rate of profit. Deregulated and non-transparent charter schools are seizing billions of public dollars every year from public schools, mainly urban schools that serve large numbers of poor and low-income minority students confronting many challenges in life. The state is increasingly being used by the rich to further lower the level and quality of education on a broad societal level, causing many to worry about the future.

The way to combat this destructive trend is to collectively defend the right to education and fight for an education system controlled by the public, free of the influence of narrow private interests who want people to believe that consumerism, individualism, and the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the so-called “free market” somehow benefit students, teachers, parents, and society. This long-term fight includes the demand: Stop Paying the Rich! Invest in Social Programs! Public funds must not be used to subsidize the private interests of the rich. State-organized corruption to pay the rich must be opposed. Privatization only leads to nation-wrecking, more inequality, more corruption, higher costs, and lower quality services.

An education system, economy, and society free of the burden and demands of capital is possible and necessary. Owners of capital add nothing of value to education, the economy, and society; they are a drain on all three. Owners of capital reject social responsibility and become more greedy and parasitic with each passing day. This is why charter schools have solved no major problems. Just the breadth, depth, and regularity of fraud, corruption, and scandal in the charter school sector is enough to make anyone reject them.

With nearly 1,300 charter schools, California is home to the largest number of charter schools in the country. California is also home to some of the fiercest resistance to these pay-the-rich schemes. The charter school lobby in California has been complaining bitterly for some time about restrictions to their ability to siphon money from pubic schools and to operate with impunity. If the general context of what is unfolding in the society at this time is any guide, it is safe to say that opposition to school privatization and corruption will keep growing.

  1. Thomas Ultican.  California Plutocrat Education Election Spending, TULTICAN, September 20, 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.