Charter Schools Fail And Close Every Week

Free-market Accountability Equals Failed Bankrupt Project

Nonstop disinformation from charter school promoters that charter schools are amazing and successful is belied by the failure and closure of charter schools every week.

Not a week goes by that we do not hear of yet another charter school failing, closing, and abandoning hundreds of parents, teachers, students, and principals. Below are many examples.

These closures are often sudden and abrupt, which is why parents, teachers, students, and principals always say they are shocked by the closure announcement. They didn’t see it coming, they often say. They always feel blind-sided and like they have to scramble desperately to find a new school.

Interestingly, most of this news comes from a media that is typically charter-friendly. A media more critical of charter schools and more in tune with scholarly and professional research on charter schools would make the public aware of far more problems, failures, and closures in the charter school sector.

Some of the charter schools that close have been around for only a few years while others have been around for more than 10 years. Overall, about 5,000 charter schools have closed over the past 30 years. That is a high number in both relative and absolute terms. Currently, there are fewer than 7,800 privately-operated charter schools in the country.

Most charter school students are low-income minority youth. Charter schools are generally more segregated than public schools and tend to have fewer nurses and fewer experienced teachers than public schools. Many do not offer meals or transportation, and all are governed by unelected private persons. Like private businesses, many charter schools also spend a large amount of money on advertising. In addition, quite a few charter schools are owned-operated by private for-profit Education Management Organizations (EMOs).

The top four reasons privately-operated charter schools close nationwide every week include financial malfeasance, mismanagement, poor academic performance, and low enrollment. Scandal, fraud, nepotism, and corruption, it should also be recalled, are widespread and entrenched in the charter school sector. Conflicts of interest are rampant and transparency is negligible.

It is also important to appreciate that the high charter school failure-closure rate is not an expression of “accountability at work” but rather a failed bankrupt project altogether—“a scam” in colloquial terms. Charter school operators want people to believe that endless churn, instability, and turnover in the charter school sector is somehow a good healthy thing—a sign of success and virtue. We are to believe that weekly closures and severe disruptions and upheaval are how charter schools “live up to their promise” of providing hope and an outstanding education and future.

But who thinks running a school poorly, often for years, and leaving thousands of parents, teachers, students, and principals high and dry every week represents success, greatness, and an amazing model to emulate? Is this what “accountability” looks like? Why is such a thing tolerated for even one second?

In reality, charter schools are imbued with the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free-market.” There is no security, stability, or accountability in this dog-eat-dog setup where everyone is compelled to fend-for-themselves in their consumerist quest for a “good” education offered by a private operator focused on profit. Only the so-called “fittest” individuals survive in this competition of all against all. The commodification of education really means “you are on your own out there in the twenty-first century, good luck.” Anything can happen. Nothing is guaranteed. There will be many different losers—the “invisible hand” at work.

To be sure, charter schools have long over-promised and under-delivered, hence the long-standing chasm between charter school rhetoric and charter school realities. Charter schools were never the silver bullet that promoters claimed they were. Such disinformation is designed to fool the gullible.

Neoliberals and privatizers do not understand or accept that human responsibilities cannot be commodified. They reject the conclusion that education is a right, not a business. They approach education and life from a narrow business-centric perspective. They think “costs,” “efficiency,” and “results” are the end-all and be-all. They don’t see that students are not widgets, machines, robots, or “products.” They think that students are part of some assembly line and that they can be developed, quantified, and processed like business products. In this technicist and instrumentalist view, students and life are approached along behaviorist lines linked to reward-and-punishment structures that accrue to “winners” and “losers.” It is no accident that parents and students are often referred to as customers and consumers by charter school promoters and owners.

Below is a short list of charter schools that have closed recently, leaving thousands of parents, teachers, students, and principals out in the cold again—all in the name of “accountability.”

Unexpected and quick charter school closures speak to a high level of instability and mismanagement in the charter school sector. This is not “accountability at work,” it is failure on a broad scale.

Charter School Closures

According to a June 15, 2023, article at WIS News 10 in Columbia, South Carolina, Midlands Arts Conservatory Charter School “is set to close its doors for good on June 30 [2023] and both parents and students say the news of the closure is a shock.”

A June 10, 2023, article at NBC Bay Area – KNTV reports that Perseverance Preparatory Charter School in San Jose “appears to be closing permanently.” The school operated for less than five years.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on June 9, 2023, that, “Next Door Foundation plans to close its kindergarten charter school at the end of next school year.” Enrollment in the school, which opened in 1997, has declined.

On May 23, 2023, The Denver Post reported that:

A charter elementary school centering Black students won’t open as planned in Denver this fall. 5280 Freedom School did not enroll enough students for next school year, and the Denver school board isn’t considering giving the charter school more time.

Less than two months earlier [March 30, 2023], the following headline appeared in Native News Online: “Indigenous Charter School in Denver Will Close at End of School Year.” Low enrollment was given as the reason for the closure. Here it should be noted that many charter schools do not have long waiting lists, as charter school promoters like to often assert. Many charter schools fail to meet even low enrollment targets. There are many parents and students not clamoring to enter charter schools.

Over the years, dozens of other charter schools have failed and closed in Colorado. For instance, a March 16, 2023, article in The Coloradoan, stated that “31 Colorado charter schools closed in the last decade.” The article points out that:

Essentially, for every four charter schools that open each year in Colorado, one closes. That volatility can create added social and emotional strain to students and families tasked with finding new community supports and educational opportunities upon a school’s closure.

Here again we see the antisocial consequences of the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market” at work. Parents, students, teachers, and principals have no control over their affairs in the charter school sector; “free market” carnage rules. A charter school may be here one day, and gone the next, just like a shoe store at the mall.

On May 19, 2023, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that:

The state’s charter school authority voted unanimously Friday to accept Girls Empowerment Middle School’s decision to close. The Las Vegas school will be shuttered after the school year ends — the last day was Friday — because of financial issues spurred by chronically low enrollment.

On May 4, 2023, Caroline Beck of the Indianapolis Star reported that “one third of Indy charter schools close.” That is a very high number.

Also on May 4, 2023, an article on the WCNC news site (North Carolina) reported that:

The North Carolina State Board of Education voted Thursday [May 4, 2023] to officially revoke the charter of Eastside STREAM Academy in east Charlotte. [The school] has just two months until it has to close its doors to students. Its charter expires on June 30th.

Reasons for not renewing the school’s charter are the typical reasons given for closing many charter schools across the country. They include failing grades, staff turnover, and fiscal mismanagement.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency revealed on May 5, 2023 that the decade-old Harlem Hebrew Language Academy Charter School in Manhattan, New York will shutter at the end of the school year. Low enrollment was only one factor in the closure decision.

Live 5 WCSC reported on April 24, 2023, that:

A charter school in North Charleston [Gates School] will close its doors after this school year following a history of violations and instances of noncompliance, according to the Charter Institute at Erskine.

On April 12, 2023, Alaska Public Media reported that:

Last week the Anchorage School Board voted to revoke the charter of Family Partnership Charter School…. For years, the district tried to help the school fix longstanding dysfunction on its policy committee. Family Partnership Charter School is the oldest and largest charter school in Anchorage. It opened in 1997 and is one of two charter schools within the district that also serves as a homeschool program.

A March 22, 2023, headline from the Waco Tribune-Herald (Texas) reads: “Waco Charter School parents, staff tell board they were blindsided by closure plan.” Here again is the theme of sudden closure and complete shock, pointing again to the high level of mismanagement and instability in the charter school sector. Waco Charter School was closed at the end of this school year due to low enrollment and financial problems.

On March 20, 2023, The Empire Center in the state of New York announced that:

Buffalo Collegiate, a charter school serving grades 4 to 8 since Fall 2018, announced this month that officials will be shutting them down in June for failing to meet student performance criteria outlined in the state’s charter school regulations.

Many other charter schools in Buffalo, New York have had a poor academic track record for years but are allowed to continue to operate.

Meanwhile, in Rochester, New York, about 80 miles east of Buffalo, we learn from the charter school-friendly Democrat & Chronicle (March 10, 2023) that, “Three years after receiving a last-second reprieve from closure, Rochester’s Urban Choice Charter School is again likely to be shut down by the state Board of Regents.” The Democrat & Chronicle informs us that:

According to the state’s most recent site visit in November 2022, the school was meeting only three of its 10 benchmarks. Student performance on standardized tests now lags behind RCSD in most areas; teacher turnover is excessive, key leadership positions are unfilled; and the school has failed to follow through on some of the promises it made to secure earlier charter extensions.

Over the years, dozens of charter schools have failed and closed across New York state.

According to a February 15, 2023, article in The Kansas City Star, the Missouri Charter Public School Commission voted 6-1 to revoke the charter of Genesis Charter School due to years of poor academic performance. One month earlier, also in Missouri and for the same reason, “La Salle Charter Schools, Inc. announced it will be voluntarily giving up its charter school status and closing the middle school effective June 30, 2023.”

GoErie reported on February 7, 2023, that, “The Erie School Board on Jan. 18 [2023] voted to force the closing of Erie Rise due to poor student test scores. Erie Rise must close by June 30, according to the board’s resolution.” Erie Rise Leadership Academy Charter School opened in 2011 (more than 10 years ago).

In December 2022, CBS News Sacramento reported that:

A school shuttered its doors with no warning. Parents of Placer Academy Charter [in Rocklin, California] say the recent announcement came out of nowhere.

Going back a little further, a 2018 report from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that, “Florida charter school closures average 20 per year, report shows.” The real number is likely higher.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, between 2010-11 and 2019-20, a nine year period, 2,047 charter schools closed in the U.S.

Referencing a recent report on the largest federal grant program for charter schools, EducationWeek reported in October 2022 that, “Of the 6,000 [charter] schools that received [federal] funding for the program from fiscal year 2006 through 2020, 14 percent either never opened or closed, according to the report.”

A 2020 report from the Network for Public Education documents the closure of a large number of charter schools between 1999-2017. Peter Greene from Forbes offers this summary of report findings:

Within the first three years, 18% of charters had closed, with many of those closures occurring within the first year. By the end of five years, 25% of charters had closed. By the ten year mark, 40% of charters had closed.

Such closures are disruptive to everyone concerned. The report notes that about one million students were displaced by charter school closures between 1999-2017.

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), between 1998-99 and 2019-20, a 21-year period, 694 charter schools opened and closed the same year.

Across the country, dozens of charter school petitions are denied every year by public school boards who understand the perils of charter schools and charter school expansion. Fortunately, opposition to charter schools grows steadily and methodically each year. No doubt, charter school promoters will intensify disinformation in 2024 to justify the unjustifiable.

Privatization, a key pillar of the neoliberal agenda launched in the early 1970s, is a method by which major owners of capital restructure the state to funnel more public resources of all kinds to private interests under the banner of high ideals. While privatization enriches a handful of people it does not actually solve any problems confronting the natural and social environment. If anything, it multiplies problems. So-called public-private “partnerships” and various other pay-the-rich schemes are constantly being set up in different sectors in the name of solving problems confronting people and the economy. The net result is more economic and political inequality with each passing year. No real social progress is actually made.

Privatized education arrangements like charter schools, vouchers, or so-called “Education Savings Accounts” have only increased problems at all levels for everyone. The same can be said about education privatization schemes abroad, both at the secondary and post-secondary levels. With privatization, educational and intellectual missions are being replaced rapidly by mindless branding, intense digitization, endless slogans, aggressive advertising, diluted curricula, lower standards, and overnight credentials. It is all part of the destruction of the human factor and the social fabric of society.

Education is a right and rights cannot be commodified. Education is not a business or “cost” issue. Education cannot be reduced to “efficiency,” “results,” and quantification. The right to education must be guaranteed in practice in a complex modern society. It cannot be left to the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free-market.” Experience shows daily that this does not work.

Supplementary Note On Virtual Charter Schools

A June 12, 2023, article in The Hechinger Report indicates that nationally:

The worst [academic] results were posted by online charter schools, also known as virtual schools, which enroll six percent of the nation’s 3.7 million charter school students. Students at these schools learned the equivalent of 58 fewer days in reading and 124 fewer days in math than their public school peers. That’s like missing one third of the school year in reading and two thirds of the school year in math.

Many virtual charter schools have been rocked by salacious scandals over the years and have been fined heavily and/or shut down. [1] Many more will be shuttered in the years ahead.

1. See Cyber Charters in at Least 5 States Face Closure. What’s Going On?

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