Charter Schools Distort the Modern Socialized Economy

Every year billions of public dollars and assets flow into the hands of private businesses like charter schools, leaving public schools, the economy, the public interest, and the nation worse off. This is due to the fact that competing owners of capital are using deregulated charter schools to atomize the socialized economy for private gain. As pay-the-rich schemes, privately-operated charter schools drain the large-scale socialized economy of a huge amount of social wealth produced by working people and meant for the public interest.

When public funds leave the public sector and end up in the hands of deregulated private entities like non-profit and for-profit charter schools, that means narrow private interests are benefitting at the expense of the public. It means less added-value is used by and benefits the public. It means all public wealth is not reinvested fully and directly back into the public sector. Instead, a large portion of social wealth produced by workers is illegitimately claimed by external private claimants whose aim is to maximize profit as fast as possible.1 This distorts the economy and undermines public schools and the public interest. It is a net loss for society. It is socially irresponsible. Funneling public funds to private interests undermines modern nation-building that relies on a diverse, self-reliant, balanced, and pro-social economy under public control.

It may be asked: Why don’t public funds stay in public hands? Why aren’t public funds used for public enterprises and for public purposes only? Why do public funds have to go through the private circuit and still leave society with poor results? Why are narrow private interests even permitted to access public funds in the first place? Why do so many social programs and public enterprises have a pay-the-rich component to them? What legitimate claim do owners of capital have to wealth produced by workers?

Public and private are antonyms and should not be confounded. Public is the opposite of private. They do not mean the same thing. They should not be casually mixed up and used in intellectually lazy ways. It is problematic to mix them up because it denies the distinct properties of each category. There is a world of difference between the common good and exclusive private interests. What is good for major owners of capital is not good for the general interests of society. The aim of maximizing profit as fast as possible clashes head-on with the aim of serving the common good. These aims cannot be harmonized because one negates the other. Pursuing one comes at the expense of the other. There is no middle-ground or “safe mixing” of the two. Blurring the contrast between public and private is self-serving and invariably results in antisocial consequences. This is why so-called “public-private-partnerships” (PPPs), for example, are really pay-the-rich schemes that undermine the public interest instead of advancing it. There is little that is public about PPPs. The public does not need private “partners” to serve the economy and society; private “partners” are a big drain on both.

Public funds for public schools must not flow into the hands of narrow private interests; this does not solve anything, it just destabilizes education and the economy. Now more than ever public schools need more public funds and greater investments. This is especially true given that at least $600 billion has been cut from public education since the 2008 recession.

Public schools have been educating 90% of America’s youth for more than 150 years and must be fully funded, not continually starved of funds, over-tested, over-controlled, set up to fail, demonized and discredited, and then handed over to narrow private interests as a source of profit in a continually failing economy. Deliberately and persistently starving public schools of funds, over-testing them, demonizing and punishing them, and then letting neoliberals and privatizers privatize them only serves the rich and garbles the economy. It does not improve schools. It leaves the majority worse off.

The “starve-them, test-them, demonize-punish-them, and privatize-them” strategy is straight out of the neoliberal playbook and has been used in dozens of cities across America. It is a deliberate setup for failure. Neoliberals and privatizers are now directly responsible for thousands of failing charter schools and for mandating public school failure. Society is now stuck with two failing education arrangements thanks to neoliberals and privatizers. How is this helpful? Instead of solving anything, neoliberals and privatizers have made a mess of everything and humiliated the personality of society. An August 6, 2020 article from the Washington Post titled “New report finds high closure rates for charter schools over time” reported that:

A comprehensive examination released Thursday of charter school failure rates between 1999 and 2017 found that more than one-quarter of the schools closed after operating for five years, and about half closed after 15 years, displacing a total of more than 867,000 students.

How is this a good thing? In what sense can this chaos and instability be called a success? Is this what students, teachers, parents, the economy, and society need? Is this what charter school promoters mean by “success”? Over the past 30 years more than 3,000 segregated charter schools have closed, usually for financial malfeasance and/or poor academic performance. This is staggering when considering the fact that there are currently fewer than 7,500 privately-operated charter schools in the country. Charter school promoters are consistently silent on these damning and indicting facts.

Wealth is produced by workers who must have first claim to it. Wealth is not created by owners of capital. Owners of capital mainly control the wealth produced by workers. Workers do not control the wealth they themselves produce; they are alienated from the fruits of their labor, which means that the social product cannot be used to serve the general interests of society.

The state must be organized to advance the public interest using the social wealth produced by working people. Instead, the state is increasingly being used to pay the rich using the wealth produced collectively by working people. When the state prioritizes narrow private interests over the public interest in this way the socialized economy, workers, and nation-building suffer. The ability to reproduce the economy on a healthy sustainable basis is undermined. It means socially-produced wealth cannot be used to develop a diverse, self-reliant, and balanced economy that upholds the rights of all and provides a crisis-free life. This puts the future in peril.

The egocentric rich are only interested in expanding their class power and privilege, not the public interest, the socialized economy, or nation-building. Their objective position in the economy makes them blind to anything other than their private unlimited greed. They see the world only from their narrow business-centric perspective. The antisocial consequences that result from their seizure of social wealth for private gain does not concern them. This wrecking of society and the economy is presented as a “natural” and “normal” feature of a dog-eat-dog world that we are all apparently helpless to overcome.

Great strides can be made by blocking neoliberals and privatizers and by advancing a pro-social agenda that recognizes the need for new human-centered relations in society and the economy. Pay-the-rich schemes are socially irresponsible and make life worse for everyone except the rich. Enlarging the private fortunes of owners of capital at the expense of the entire society must be opposed in order to open the path of progress to society and strengthen and balance the socialized economy. There are much better ways to organize people, the economy, and society.

Socially-produced wealth must be plowed back into public schools and public enterprises, not handed over to private interests to do with as they please. If private businesses like segregated charter schools wish to exist and multiply, that is OK, but they must not have access to a single public dime, asset, or resource. Public funds and assets belong to the public and public enterprises. There is nothing public about charter schools.

Owners of capital must not be permitted to cannibalize the state for their narrow private interests. Education is not a commodity or “market opportunity” for “investors,” it is a public good, a social responsibility, and basic right that must be provided with a guarantee in practice.

  1. This is true for both non-profit and for-profit charter schools. []
Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at Read other articles by Shawgi.