If you hire someone to buy your groceries, you’ll probably ask for a receipt.
That’s really all education advocates want from the charter school industry.
Charter schools are bankrolled with tax dollars but often run by private businesses.
Is it too much to ask these businesses to account for how they spend the money?
Apparently it is because Jeanne Allen has been sending her representatives all over the country to harass Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and any other candidate with the audacity to demand charter schools be transparent and accountable.
Yesterday she wrote another blistering press release with the title:
“Democratic Candidates Asked to Listen to Voices of Struggling Parents Following Them Across Nation”
Allen is CEO and Founder of the Center for Education Reform – a billionaire backed lobbying firm for school privatization.
She doesn’t speak for parents. She speaks for the billionaires who pay her salary.
Armed with bundles of cash from the Walton Family and others, Allen has been organizing functionaries to disrupt Democratic rallies across the country including a speech by Warren in Atlanta last month. I wonder how she’s moving her protestors around – perhaps utilizing $2 million a year private jets like the one leased by Texas-based charter chain IDEA.
Oh! Wait! The Texas branch of the American Federation of Teachers made such a stink about that use of public dollars, the charter chain had to give up its lease.
States shouldn’t have to rely on teachers unions and the media to shame charters into being accountable. That should be the price of accepting public money.
But Allen doesn’t want to hear it. Back in 2016, she wrote a book called “Charting a New Course The Case for Freedom, Flexibility & Opportunity Through Charter Schools” that put forward the libertarian idea that charter schools need not be held accountable by anything other than the invisible hand of the market.
Unsurprisingly, such far right radicalism didn’t result in an invitation to last weekend’s Education Forum in Pittsburgh for candidates seeking the Democratic 2020 Presidential nomination.
Instead the room was full of public school parents, students, teachers, advocates and civil rights leaders.
Allen was furious. How dare they leave out charter school flunkies!?
It wasn’t so long ago that Democrats like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were staunch supporters of school privatization. But many in this new batch of progressives typified by Sanders and Warren are demanding real reform.
According to reports by the Network for Public Education “Asleep at the Wheel” and “Still Asleep at the Wheel,” more than $1 billion in federal funds were wasted on charters that either never opened or closed not long after opening. And now Congress has appropriated $440 million more dollars for the federal Charter School Program, a slush fund to open even more charter schools across the country even in states like New Hampshire that don’t want them.
Isn’t it fair to demand a few receipts?
Thank goodness there’s Republicans like Betsy DeVos who make no such demands. Allen has the entire Trump administration willing to listen to her anytime she wants. But ironically for someone who champions schools be run like businesses, she wants to corner the market and eliminate any political choice or competition.
In yesterday’s press release, Allen demanded the seven leading Democratic candidates at last night’s Los Angeles debate sit down and listen to her particular special interest group.
And – make no mistake – it is a special interest group.
Charter schools are the very definition of special interest.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, Special Interests are:
“A group of people or an organization seeking or receiving special advantages, typically through political lobbying.”
That’s exactly what Allen is trying to do.
She is challenging the request that charter schools meet the same accountability standards as authentic public schools.
She wants charter schools to be held to a lower standard – that they can enroll just the students they choose instead of having to accept everyone in their coverage areas like authentic public schools are required to do. She wants charter schools to be able to narrow the curriculum and get rid of extraneous classes and student services so that the business folks running the place can take the money that had funded these things home as a bonus. She wants to ensure charter schools can continue to operate with appointed bureaucrats and not be required to be managed by elected school boards drawn from everyday citizens in the community.
Authentic public schools aren’t allowed to skirt these rules. Why should charter schools? If they’re public schools, shouldn’t they have to abide by the same safeguards?
Allen claims she’s just looking out for children of color.
Yet the overwhelming majority of black students enrolled in authentic public schools – 7 million strong – would probably disagree with her. She certainly isn’t speaking for THEM.
Here’s this white woman telling the black community she knows what’s best.
Only about 800,000 black kids are enrolled in charter schools nationwide and that number is dropping.
Ex-journalist Roland Martin, who at least is black, held a streaming event a few days ago to reiterate his support for charter schools.
In a press release, the organization enthused:
“BAEO congratulates Betsy DeVos on becoming our next Secretary of Education. She is a very gifted and well-respected education leader with a proven track record of advancing excellence and equity for students. She has been a strong advocate of parental choice, ensuring that all children regardless of race or economic status have access to excellent schools.
“DeVos has spent much of her life working on behalf of low-income and working class Black families who just want access to better educational options for their children. She will be a strong supporter of parental choice policies and education reform initiatives that we believe will help close the academic achievement gap.”
However, after DeVos championed cutting civil rights guidelines for students, slashing funding for everything other than school vouchers and advised teachers to report their undocumented students to ICE, the civil rights community revolted.
Both the NAACP and Black Lives Matter have condemned DeVos and demanded a moratorium on new charter schools. These huge people powered groups represent the will of the black and brown community – not Allen, Martin and their billionaire backers.
Allen claims charter schools are necessary because of low standardized test scores at public schools.
However, she’s just parroting the same school privatization talking points of the past three decades. Increasing charter schools didn’t raise test scores in the 90s, the 00s or the 10s.
Moreover, the test scores she’s referring to are international comparisons between the US and other industrialized countries that don’t take many relevant factors into account. Most importantly, the US is committed to educating all of its students while many of these other nations are not. They weed out the lower achieving students by middle and high school. They don’t educate all of their students with special needs. And they don’t have the same level or scale of poverty. In short, these are not apples to apples comparisons and have little to tell us about the quality of the American system unless it’s that our ideals are better than most international systems.
Finally, Allen neglects to mention that charter schools have never outperformed authentic public schools. They are not a solution to falling test scores, because charter school kids get the same scores or often worse ones. Cyber charter schools in particular are notorious for achieving worse academic outcomes for students than literally not going to school at all!
The fact that many of the current Democrats have embraced charter school criticism may be a sign of real reform on the horizon.
And that’s what terrifies Allen and her rich backers.
The school privatization industry relies on being held to a lower standard than authentic public schools. That’s all a charter is, anyway – an agreement NOT to hold the business running a taxpayer funded school to the same standards as the authentic public ones.
All public schools should have to reach the same standards.
If there are charters that can do so, we should allow them to continue running as public schools. But those who cannot should be closed.
That’s just fiscal responsibility.
Like authentic public schools, charter schools should be required to show us the money, present the receipts and be accountable for their actions.
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