Saturday, June 8, 2019
Bernie is right on charter schools - Carol Burris, Diane Ravitch
Late last month, 11 people connected to California charter schools were indicted on criminal charges of grand theft, conspiracy, personal use of public money and financial conflict of interest. According to the Washington Post, over $50 million in total was stolen; the L.A. Times reports that $8.18 million went into the bank accounts and charitable trusts of the charter management company’s leaders, Sean McManus and Jason Schrock. The pair allegedly inflated enrollment numbers and cheated the kids who attended the schools they used as piggy banks.
This story is far from unique. During the month of May alone, we identified more than 40 newspaper stories from across the country documenting charter mismanagement, failure and outright fraud.
There was the May 29 story of the Tennessee charter CEO who was running a side business out of his charter school while its teachers were not being paid. and the May 25 story about the former charter board member who is seeking to make a real-estate killing based on knowledge he gained while on the Monument, Colo., charter school board. There was the May 6 story of a former school board member in Milwaukee who was bribed by a Philadelphia-based charter school company to operate three schools in Wisconsin.
Charter corruption, which now occurs every day, was one of several reasons why the NAACP called for a moratorium on new charter schools. Yet these daily instances of mismanagement, failure and fraud have not been enough to persuade charter advocates to address the concerns of our nation’s most prominent civil rights organization.
It is equally inexplicable that when Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders publicly supported that moratorium, he was subjected to a racialized attack — not only by The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools but here in the Daily News. It is long past time to set the record straight.
The majority of black and Latino families choose public schools, even when charters are an available option. Charter schools drain funds from public schools, and for the kids who choose the local public school, they and their schools have less. Sanders’ plan includes a tripling of Title I funding, whose greatest beneficiaries would be disadvantaged kids, both in public schools and in charters.
For those students who are already enrolled in charters, Sanders does not call for their schools to be shut down. Rather he calls for a moratorium, a pause, on the opening of new charters until charter schools clean up their act.
He is right. The lack of transparency that leads to scandal and the ability to profit and self-deal does not promote innovation or serve the interests of children of color. When charter schools shut down (one third of all charters close in less than 10 years), students, who are more often than not disadvantaged, are left scrambling for a school. There is nothing progressive about showing up to school, sometimes mid-school-year, to find the doors are shuttered and locked. But that is the reality that some kids face.
Why don’t charter advocacy organizations like the Progressive Policy Institute call for charter reform? Perhaps they don’t want to offend the billionaires like the Walton family who fund charter schools.
The claim that for-profit charter schools, which Sanders’ plan would ban, are rare is flatly wrong. Nearly every state with charter schools allows for-profit management companies to run them. In the state of Florida, about 45% of all charter schools are run by for-profit management companies.
From real estate leases, to tax breaks, to exorbitant salaries, self-dealing and sweetheart deals, lots of folks have, like McManus and Schrock, figured out how to get rich off taxpayers and disadvantaged kids.
Unfortunately, the charter industry is now overrun with scoundrels profiteering from people of color. Thank you, Bernie Sanders, for standing up and being willing to expose the scams that the charter establishment refuses to acknowledge or fix.