There is Virtually No Difference Between Nonprofit and For-Profit Charter Schools

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Stop kidding yourself.

 

Charter schools are a bad deal.

 

It doesn’t matter if they’re for-profit or nonprofit.

 

It doesn’t matter if they’re cyber or brick-and-mortar institutions.

 

It doesn’t matter if they have a history of scandal or success.

 

Every single charter school in the United States of America is either a disaster or a disaster waiting to happen.

 

The details get complicated, but the idea is really quite simple.

 

It goes like this.

 

Imagine you left a blank check on the street.

 

Anyone could pick it up, write it out for whatever amount your bank account could support and rob you blind.

 

Chances are you’d never know who cashed it, you’d never get that money back and you might even be ruined.

 

That’s what a charter school is – a blank check.

 

It’s literally a privately operated school funded with public tax dollars.

 

Operators can take almost whatever amount they want, spend it with impunity and never have to submit to any real kind of transparency or accountability.

 

Compare that to a traditional public school – an institution invariably operated by duly elected members of the community with full transparency and accountability in an open forum where taxpayers have access to internal documents, can have their voices heard and even seek an administrative position.

 

THAT’S a responsible way to handle public money!

 

Not forking over our checkbook to virtual strangers!

 

Sure, they might not steal our every red cent. But an interloper who finds a blank check on the street might not cash it, either.

 

The particulars don’t really matter. This is a situation rife with the possibility of fraud. It is a situation where the deck is stacked against the public in every way and in favor of charter school operators.

 

But most people don’t want to take such a strong stance. They’d rather find good and bad people on both sides and pretend that’s the same thing as impartiality.

 

It isn’t.

 

Sometimes one side is just wrong.

 

Policymakers may try to feign that there are good and bad charter schools and that the problems I’m talking about only apply to the nefarious ones.

 

But that’s a delusion.

 

There is no good way to write a blank check and leave it on the street to the whims of passers-by.

 

Most apologists want to draw the distinction between for-profit and nonprofit charters.

 

But as Jeff Bryant, an editor at Education Opportunity Network, puts it, this is a “Distinction without a difference.”

 

These terms only define an organization’s tax status – not whether it is engaged in gathering large sums of money for investors.

 

The law is full of loopholes that allow almost any organization – not just charter schools – to claim nonprofit status while enriching those at the top.

 

We live in an age of philanthrocapitalism, where the wealthy disguise schemes to enrich themselves as benevolence, generosity and humanitarianism.

 

So-called “nonprofit” charter schools are just an especially egregious example. No matter what label you pin to their name, they all offer multiple means to skim public funding off the top without adding any value for students.

 

For instance, take the use of management companies.

 

A for-profit charter school can simply cut services to students and pocket the savings as profit.

 

A nonprofit charter school can do the same thing after engaging in one additional step.

 

All I have to do is start a “nonprofit” charter school and then hire a for-profit management company to run it. Then my management company can cut services and pocket the profits!

 

It’s really that simple! I turn over nearly all of my public tax dollars to the management company that then uses it to operate the school – and keeps whatever it doesn’t spend.

 

 

Heck! It doesn’t even matter who owns the company! It could even be me!

 

The law actually allows me to wear one hat saying I’m nonprofit and then put on a different hat and rake in the cash! The only difference is what hat I’m wearing at the time!

 

SO I get to claim to be a nonprofit while enjoying all the advantages of being for-profit.

 

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SOURCE: Florida Sun Sentinel

 

I may even be able to buy things with public tax dollars through my for-profit management company and then if my “nonprofit” school goes belly up, I get to keep everything I bought! Or my management company does.

 

So the public takes all the risk and I reap all the reward. And I’m still graced with the label “nonprofit.”

 

Oh, and speaking of spending, being a “nonprofit” doesn’t stop me from the worst kind of real estate shenanigans routinely practiced by the for-profit charter schools.

 

Both types of privatized institution allow for huge windfalls in real estate. If I own property X, I can sell it to my charter school (or management company) and then pay myself with tax dollars. Who determines how much I pay for my own property? ME! That’s who!

 

And I can still be a nonprofit.

 

Think that’s bad? It’s just the tip of the iceberg.

 

Thanks to some Clinton-era tax breaks, an investor in a charter school can double the original investment in just seven years!

I can even get the public to pay for the same building twice! And even then taxpayers still won’t own it!

 

But that’s the complicated stuff. There’s an even easier way to get rich off the public with my “nonprofit” charter school, and operators do it all the time: write myself a fat check!

 

After all, I’ve gotta’ pay, myself, right? And who’s in charge of determining how much I’m worth? ME!

 

I can even pay myself way more than my counterparts at traditional public schools who oversee exponentially more staff and students.

 

For instance, as New York City Schools Chancellor, Richard Carranza is paid $345,000 to oversee 135,000 employees and 1.1 million students. Meanwhile, as CEO of Success Academy charter school chain, Eva Moskowitz handles a mere 9,000 students, for which she is paid $782,175.

 

And this is by no way a unique example.

 

There are just so many ways to cash in with a charter school even at a so-called “nonprofit” – especially if I want to dip my toe into legally dubious waters!

 

I could do like the almost exclusively “nonprofit” Gulen charter schools and exist solely as a means to raise money for an out-of-favor political movement in Turkey.

 

I could use charter funds to finance other businesses. I could decide to discontinue programs that students receive in traditional public schools such as providing free or reduced lunches but keep the cash. I could fake enrollment and have classes full of “ghost students” that the local, state and federal government will pay me to educate.

 

Fraud and mismanagement are rampant at charter schools because we don’t require them to be as accountable as their traditional public school counterparts.

 

If a traditional public school tried this chicanery, we’d almost certainly catch it at the monthly meetings or frequent audits. But charter schools don’t have to submit to any of that. They’re public money spent behind closed doors with little to no requirement to explain themselves – ever.

 

And all of this – nearly every bit of criticism I’ve leveled against the industry – doesn’t even begin to take into account the educational practices at these types of schools.

 

There is plenty of evidence that charters provide a comparable or worse education than children routinely receive at traditional public schools.

 

Where it is comparable, the issue is clouded by selective enrollment, inadequately servicing students with special needs and generally encouraging the hardest to teach to get an education elsewhere. Where it is worse, it is colossally worse, robbing children not just of funding but what is likely their only chance at an education.

 

But we don’t even need to go there.

 

We only need the issue of fiscal responsibility to bring down this behemoth.

 

Charter schools are no way to run a school. They are a blatant failure to meet our fiduciary responsibilities.

 

Traditional public schools are the best way to run a school. They protect the public’s investment of money and resources while providing a quality education to students.

 

So all this talk about nonprofit and for-profit charter schools is either a mark of supreme ignorance or a ploy for weak willed politicians to weasel their way out of taking a stand on an issue whose merits are obvious to anyone who knows what really happens in our education system.

 

It’s time to stop wasting taxpayer money on this expensive fraud.

 

 

It’s time for the charter school experiment to end.

 

 

And it’s way passed time to support fully public schools.


 

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Most Charter Schools are Public Schools in Name ONLY

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Charter schools are public schools.

But are they?

Really?

They don’t look like a duck. They don’t quack like a duck. Do you really want to serve them confit with a nice orange sauce?

Sure, charters are funded by tax dollars. However, that’s usually where the similarities end.

They don’t teach like public schools, they don’t spend their money like public schools, they don’t treat students or parents like public schools – in fact, that’s the very reason they exist – to be as unlike public schools as possible.

Advocates claim charters exist as laboratory schools. They are free to experiment and find new, better ways of doing things. Once they’ve proven their successes, these improved practices will eventually trickle down to our more traditional houses of learning.

At least, that’s the ideal behind them. But to my knowledge it’s never happened.

As a public school teacher, I can never recall being at a training where charter operators taught us how to do things better with these time-tested strategies. I do, however, recall watching excellent co-workers furloughed because my district had to meet the rising costs of payments to our local charters.

Moreover, if the freedom to experiment is so important, why not give that privilege to all public schools, not just a subset?

The reality is much different than the ideal. In the overwhelming majority of cases, charter schools are vastly inferior to their more traditional brethren. To understand why, we need to see the differences between these two kinds of learning institutions and why in every case the advantage goes to our much-maligned, long suffering traditional public schools:

1) Charters Don’t Accept all Students

Charter schools are choosey. They don’t take just any old students. They only accept the ones they want. And the ones they want are usually easy and less expensive to teach.

The process is called “Creaming” because they only pick the cream of the crop. Then when these students who are already doing well continue to do well at a charter, the administrators take all the credit. It’s as if they were saying – Look how well we teach. All these former A-students continue to get A’s here at our school. It’s really quite an achievement. (Not.)

However, sometimes the bait-and-switch isn’t so obvious. Occasionally, charters actually do accept special needs and/or difficult students – for a few months. Then when the big standardized test is coming up, they quietly give these kids the boot. That way they can claim they accept everyone but still get excellent standardized test scores.

Ironically, that’s what they mean by “School Choice.” It’s usually touted as a way of giving alternatives to parents and students. In reality, the choice only goes to administrators. Not “Which school do YOU want to attend?” but “Which students do WE want to accept to make our charter look good?”

Keep in mind, this situation is allowed by law. Charters are legally permitted to discriminate against whichever students they want.

By contrast, traditional public schools accept all students who live within the district. It doesn’t matter if children have special needs and therefore cost more to educate. If a child lives within district boarders, your neighborhood public school will take him or her in and provide the best experience possible.

Bean counters complain about poor test scores, but traditional public schools aren’t gaming the system. They aren’t weeding out difficult students. They take everyone. Administrators have no choice. This is dictated by law. Public schools are equal opportunity educators.

2) Charters Have No Transparency

Have you ever been to a school board meeting? Ever listened to school directors debate the merits of one course of action versus another? Ever looked over public documents detailing district finances and how money is spent? Ever read over bids vendors provide for services? Ever spoken at a public meeting to school directors about what you think is the best way to proceed in a given situation? Ever had a school director or two disappoint and then worked to vote him or her out of office?

At traditional public schools, you can do all of this – even if you don’t have any children in the school system! At a charter school, you’re out of luck.

Charters rarely have to tell you how they spend their money, rarely debate management decisions in public, rarely invite or even permit you a seat in the audience. Heck! They don’t have to!

Charters survive on public money, but once that money goes in those charter doors, the public never sees it again. If you don’t like how the charter is treating your child, you can remove the little dear from the school. But if a non-parent doesn’t like how they suspect the charter is spending his or her tax money, there is absolutely no recourse. You are taxed without any representation. Wars have been fought over such things. It’s hard to imagine how that can be Constitutional.

In sum, traditional public schools are like most other government organizations. They are required by law to be transparent to the public. Charter schools, however, are money pits and what goes down those gaping holes is lost forever from public view.

3) Charters Advertise

Have you ever seen those huge billboards by the side of the road trying to convince motorists to send their children to a charter chain? Ever hear a radio advertisement about how happy little kiddos are at Brand X Charter School?

Those advertisements cost money. Your money, to be exact. You paid for those commercials. And what’s more, every penny spent on those glossy advertisements is one less that actually goes to educate your child.

By contrast, traditional public schools are not allowed to advertise. All their budget dollars have to be spent on things broadly educational. They have to spend on books, teachers, building upkeep, etc.

Not only are charters allowed to keep quiet about how they spend their money, even if they told you, it doesn’t all have to be spent on the children in their care. What could possibly go wrong with that?

4) Charters Defraud the Public

Despite all their best efforts at secrecy, charter school operators have been caught in countless financial scandals in recent years. According to Integrity in Education$200 million in taxpayer money was lost, misused, or wasted in just 15 of the 42 states that have charter schools.

These aren’t mere allegations. These abuses are well documented. The report states: “Charter operators have used school funds illegally to buy personal luxuries for themselves, support their other businesses, and more.”

Mountains of evidence demonstrate fraud throughout the country: Schoolchildren defrauded in Pennsylvania; “out-of-control” charters in Michigan and Florida; rampant misspending in Ohio; bribes and kickbacks, also in Ohio; revenues directed to a for-profit company in Buffalo, NY; subpoenas for mismanaged charters in Connecticut. Heck! In California alone, $100 million in fraud losses were expected just last year.

And that’s just the fraud we can see!

I’m not saying our traditional public schools are scandal free, but nothing like this level of malfeasance has been revealed. Traditional schools are under much stricter regulations. People are actually watching to make sure nothing like these charter scandals happen at our time-tested neighborhood schools. They are much better value for your money.

5) Charters Often Get Worse Results

It all comes down to teaching and learning. When we compare the results at charters versus traditional public schools, who does better?

Bottom line: the research shows that the overwhelming majority of charter schools are no better – and often much worse than traditional public schools. This is true even of studies backed by the charter school industry, itself!

For example, a recent study by charter-friendly CREDO found that in comparison to traditional public schools “students in Ohio charter schools perform worse in both reading and mathematics.”

In a study of Chicago’s public schools, the University of Minnesota Law School found that “Sadly the charter schools, which on average score lower that the Chicago public schools, have not improved the Chicago school system, but perhaps made it even weaker.”

Another report from Data First – part of the Center for Public Education – says, “the majority of charter schools do no better or worse than traditional public schools.”

However, there is plenty of evidence of charter schools producing dismal academic results for students. For instance, a Brookings report showed low performance in Arizona’s charter schools. A District of Columbia researcher for In the Public Interest group, “could not provide a single instance in which its strategy of transferring a low-performing school to a charter management organization had resulted in academic gains for the students.” The Minnesota Star Tribune reported that “Students in most Minnesota charter schools are failing to hit learning targets and are not achieving adequate academic growth.” Over 85 percent of Ohio’s charter students were in schools graded D or F in 2012–2013. In the celebrated New Orleans charter experiment, the Investigative Fund found that “eight years after Hurricane Katrina…seventy-nine percent of RSD charters are still rated D or F by the Louisiana Department of Education.”

That’s not exactly a record of success!

Meanwhile, our traditional public schools often do a much better job.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports that U.S. math and reading skills have improved for all levels of public school students since the 1970s, with the greatest gains among minority and disadvantaged students. Other results indicate that our schools achieve even greater success when properly funded.

The facts seem pretty clear. Charter schools are not like traditional public schools at all.

Most charter schools are a losing prospect for our children and our Democracy. Yet well-funded corporate lobbying interests continue to push charters as a public policy solution while instigating the closure of an increasing number of traditional public schools.

This is like closing hospitals and opening clinics on the power of crystals, snake oil and phrenology.

We need a national moratorium on new charter schools. We need to investigate every existent charter to determine if each are providing a quality service to students and not just the charter’s corporate share holders.

We know what works, and it isn’t charter schools. Support your friendly, neighborhood, traditional public school.