Charter Schools Spend Millions On Advertising and Marketing

Unlike public schools, private businesses like charter schools spend millions of public dollars a year on advertising and marketing.

Putting aside widespread fraud and corruption in the segregated charter school sector, this is an enormous waste and abuse of public funds, especially at a time when public schools are being starved of much-needed public funds and struggling to meet the needs of students. This is money that can and should be invested in teaching and learning, where it is most needed.

Many are also wondering why privately-operated charter schools need to spend so much public money luring students and families through advertising and marketing if, as charter school proponents repeatedly claim, they are so good, so attractive, and so superior to public schools?

The situation is doubly absurd when it comes to cyber charter schools, also known as virtual charter schools. These privately-operated online charter schools have even fewer “costs” and less overhead than poor-performing brick-and-mortar charter schools, yet they feel comfortable diverting precious public dollars to lure parents and students. Perhaps the worst part is the bang-for-the-buck part: virtual charter schools are notorious for their abysmal academic record and very low graduation rates. Cyber charter schools consistently rank among the lowest-performing schools in the country. While many parents may be flocking to cyber charter schools due to the “COVID Pandemic,” many are in for a rude awakening. Their kids will receive a poor quality education.

A typical example of financial waste and misuse comes from Pennsylvania, home to 14 cyber charter schools operated by unelected individuals. The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa. ((Sarah Hofius Hall, “As cyber charter school costs soar, state fails to conduct required audits”, The Times-Tribune. December 20, 2o20.)) reports that the state’s cyber charter schools spent nearly $13 million on advertising and marketing last year, with some spending almost $1,000 per student to convince others to enroll. This is staggering. Public schools do not do such things. On top of all this, crisis-prone cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania will siphon nearly a billion dollars from the state’s public coffers this year, leaving many public schools worse off. And to add insult to injury, these privately-operated virtual schools that receive huge sums of public money are not audited or held accountable in any meaningful way. Half of the state’s privately-operated cyber charter schools have never even had their finances reviewed by the auditor general.

Sadly, pay-the-rich schemes are wreaking havoc not only in the sphere of education but in other spheres as well, for example, healthcare, transportation, prisons, and infrastructure. At home and abroad, private interests are redoubling their efforts to use the state to funnel even more public money into their pockets as more sources of profit dry up and disappear. Such arrangements are destroying the fabric of society.

A modern standard to emerge with the rise of modern society with a public sphere is that public funds belong to the public and must not be diverted to narrow private interests for any reason. During the 16th and 17th centuries humans cognized a major distinction between public and private and began to take steps to protect and nurture the public interest and the common good. It is from these ideological, theoretical, historical, and political beginnings that today we have the conclusion and standard that public money must be used for social programs and projects that serve the public interest.

The more public funds the rich siphon from the public purse the worse it is for society, the economy, and the national interest. Such a trend intensifies the massive inequality we see in society and leaves working people with even less say over the direction of their lives. In this sense, pay-the-rich schemes are extremely retrogressive and take humanity backward. Private businesses like segregated charter schools should secure funds from non-public sources.

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