Exceptionally Weak Oversight of Virtual Charter Schools is Standard

While accountability, oversight, and transparency have long been weak in brick-and-mortar charter schools, all three are even weaker when it comes to virtual charter schools, also known as cyber charter schools. ((Unlike public schools, all charter schools in the U.S. are governed by unelected individuals.))

This is troubling in and of itself but also because virtual charter schools are notorious for particularly low graduation rates, abysmal academic performance, and widespread fraud and corruption. The news is regularly filled with stories about scandals plaguing virtual charter schools, even more so than the typical scandals and fraud plaguing brick-and-mortar charter schools. And just like brick-and-mortar charter schools, virtual charter schools also under-enroll English Language Learners and students with disabilities. The latest findings on these and other problematic aspects of virtual charter schools are available here.

According to the Education Commission of the States (January 2020), at least 25 states with charter school laws do not provide additional oversight specific to virtual charter schools . This issue has come up sharply in recent weeks in Pennsylvania, where public demands for greater scrutiny of virtual charter schools have grown louder and become commonplace. Forty-five states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and Guam currently have laws enabling the creation of charter schools, which means that more than half the states with charter school laws eschew much-needed oversight and supervision of cyber charter schools. The long-standing absence of accountability and transparency in the charter school sector is a built-in feature of state charter school laws and not some unfortunate omission or something legislators innocently forgot to enshrine in law.

It should also be recalled that the entities that “oversee” charter schools (charter school authorizers) are usually not public in the proper sense of the word, which means that there is little real accountability to the public, which is problematic given the billions of dollars siphoned each year by virtual charter schools from public schools. Members of many charter school authorizers across the country are appointed, not elected, individuals.

In this context many parents often find out the hard way that virtual charter schools are not the fit for their kids that they thought they would be.

The privatizers and neoliberals behind charter schools are determined to enforce an antisocial aim for education. They have no interest in a pro-social education system that serves nation-building. Privatizers and neoliberals willfully ignore the fact that people do not want or need education arrangements that are unaccountable, segregated, mired in corruption, and a major source of profit for narrow private interests.

Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at stell5@naz.edu.. Read other articles by Shawgi.