Charter School Promoters Loathe Public Authority and Intensify Lawlessness, Threats, and Bully Tactics

In recent years, and especially in the past 2-3 years, more public school boards across the country have taken resolute action to reject more charter school applications and not renew the contracts of existing privately-operated charter schools. These democratic decisions are usually taken for valid reasons such as:

  • the charter school application is poorly-written
  • the planning of the charter school is not well-thought-out
  • the charter school provides a redundant service
  • the charter school is beset by chronically poor academic performance
  • the charter school engages in financial malfeasance or mismanagement

Research and experience also show that charter schools intensify segregation, close frequently, are governed by unelected individuals, have high teacher and student turnover rates, employ fewer nurses than public schools, often fail to provide transportation, pay teachers less than their public school peers, treat teachers as “at-will” employees, hire more inexperienced teachers than public schools, operate non-transparently, oppose unions, and deprive public schools of large sums of public money that belong to public schools, causing great harm to these public schools and their mostly minority students. In addition, many charter schools spend lots of money on advertising (just like a private business), frequently over-pay administrators, often have inflated student wait lists, and are constantly mired in corruption, scandal, and controversy. Charter school promoters also believe individualism, consumerism, competition, and the “free market” are advanced humane ways to organize education; they view education as a commodity, not a modern social responsibility. Although recurring economic crises discredited “free market” ideology long ago, charter school promoters believe the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market” will improve schools and society.

But since the profits seized by the owners of capital behind charter schools are so huge, charter school promoters have decided that they will bully their way to charter school expansion; they will brook no opposition; they will have their way no matter how damaging it is to the public interest, society, and the economy.

Thus, recently in various cities charter school promoters have turned to the courts, legislatures, governors, “commissions,” “review boards,” and other means to say to public school boards: “we don’t care how much you oppose and reject charter schools or how valid your reasons are, we are going to get our way no matter what. We will impose our will on you and multiply charter schools whether you like it or not. And there is nothing you can do about it. We will override any decisions we don’t like and operate with impunity.” The entities mentioned above all tend to have a neoliberal orientation and outlook that favors school privatization; they frequently operate in ways that violate the public interest. The point is that charter school promoters are in no mood to respect decisions made by entities comprised of publicly elected individuals, especially when these forms of elected governance are at the local level. Charter school promoters are, in other words, increasingly going over the heads of public school boards and getting their way.

While charter school promoters have always used economic, political, and cultural capital to enforce their privatization agenda, there is an escalation in the threats and bully tactics they are using to impose their dictate, mainly because public opposition to charter schools keeps growing. In this way, public authority is being rapidly abolished and replaced with rule by decree. Democracy is being further eroded. A situation is being created where it is not even possible to oppose privately-operated segregated charter schools that harm education and the economy. Even if a public school board decides with good reason to reject a charter school application or revoke a charter school’s contract, the public school board can be forced by the rich and their representatives to promptly reverse its democratic decision, as happened recently in Hillsborough, Florida. In other cases, when a public school board rejects a charter school application for compelling reasons, the law is set-up in some states so that the charter school applicant can appeal the decision to an entity that is comprised of unelected individuals and not accountable to the public. Such entities usually approve the charter school application, thereby overriding the democratic will of the public school board.

In these and other ways, charter school promoters are lowering the level of education, corroding democracy, and becoming more belligerent and tyrannical. And it is all being done with impunity. Anything pro-social, democratic, and public is anathema to charter school promoters—the same people who claim to embrace “freedom,” “choice,” “civil rights,” and “progress.”

Defenders of public education and the public interest must continue to describe, expose, and analyze endless problems in the crisis-prone charter school sector and disseminate this information broadly. They can and must organize various actions, including discussions, teach-ins, petitions, resolutions, social media campaigns, and much more to turn the tide against school privatization and its devastating effects on education, the economy, society, and the national interest. The public will can triumph over the will of the rich and their political representatives. The wealthy elite are not invincible or interested in opening the path of progress to society.

Public education in a modern society based on mass industrial production can only move forward in a pro-social way when it is free of the influence of private interests. Placing a modern social responsibility in the hands of competing owners of capital preoccupied with cashing in on kids, is a recipe for not only damaging education but also undermining the healthy balanced development of a modern economy and society; it is a form of nation-wrecking that people are under no obligation to tolerate.

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