All things public education seem to converge in an overwhelming, frustrating mess, but this musing on the chaos is dedicated to just one of the beast’s many heads: privatization. And with the collection of –tion words in play, I would add one more equation: education + privatization = taxation without representation.
Run toward the roar. Those were the wise words of an old therapist, and I imagine some guru before him.
This particular roar started a whisper, really, when I got involved with a local school bond campaign to renovate our 100 year old high school building. Lured by what seemed like a simple fight over bricks and up to date science labs pulled me deep into issues of community perception, thinly veiled racism and classism, and the all-in/hell-no dichotomy of support for or against our public schools. The whisper became a clipped command. I find myself lately, completely compelled by its power. My private-catholic-white school bubble did not prepare me for this roar I never knew I had in me.
How charter schools work [or don’t]
Like local education advocate and writer Susie Kaeser posits in this thoughtful article on Ohio’s dual system of schooling, the more I learn about charter schools—especially the predatory, for-profit outfits like White Hat—the more my stomach turns.
Fun fact. You are subsidizing with charter schools your already unconstitutional method of funding public education with property taxes, to the tune of millions. Some charters are high performing, most are not. This may seem like a great plan…school choice and competitive stakes and all that. It’s not quite so simple, but that’s a whole book’s worth of analysis [see Reign of Error, below].
Charter or ‘community schools’ exist freely under no regulation or oversight, answer to no school board or elected body. Many are run like a business, cutting corners where profit or savings can be maximized, often lacking basic resources like a school nurse, in the name of ‘efficiency.’ That all sounds great, though. I mean, businesses can run however they like, and if the customers, I mean parents, are given full-disclosure, what’s the big deal?
Um, this is a huge deal. That model is fine at private schools where tuition pays for an individual child, and that child’s parents accept the terms of that contract with the school. And the rest is really no one else’s business. Private dollars are exchanged.
But then there’s this, from Kaeser’s article:
Not only do charter students receive more state funds than their public school peers, but the difference comes out of the per-pupil contributions for public school students. This is how it works. The state creates a pot of money for each school district that will pay for both charter and traditional students who reside in that district. While the state promised $5,732 to charter students living in Cleveland Heights, it only put $1,741 in the pot for each of those students.
When it is time to pay for charter students, the state subtracts the guaranteed amount—$5,732—for each student and sends it to their charter school. Public school kids get what is left. In effect, traditional public school students subsidize 70 percent of the cost of charter school students. [emphasis mine]
To add insult to injury, once the money passes out of public hands to the charter, there is no elected school board to be held accountable for how it is used.
Even more paining…let’s say a public school student relocates to a charter school, seeking greener educational pastures. Or perhaps lured by the ice cream truck parked on public school property, or the promise of a holiday turkey, just a few of the predatory practices documented here in Cleveland. Later, maybe the parent discovers that the education their child is getting is, indeed, subpar. But when their child transfers back into the public school, the money that followed him to the charter doesn’t follow him back, leaving that public school strained even more they they were before. The charter school’s management company is $5,732 more flush, until dollars reset the next school year.
It’s 7th grade civics all over again: taxation without representation. We pay, but have no say.
Private schools funded with public money
Charters are basically private schools funded by you, with your tax dollars. What’s difference? Aren’t public schools funded the same way, with tax dollars? Yes, public schools are funded by everyone, but they don’t serve everyone.
Like private schools, charters are selective about who they admit, can kick anyone out, and generally recruit in ways that will favor student retention and academic standing. They do not have to accept everyone who applies: rich, poor and IEP among us. They often choose carefully, unless they are terribly predatory. In which case, all bets are off, and it’s get the asses in the seats before the yearly attendance census. Bodies = profit.
This is a stunningly successful racket. A serious, competitive, money hungry, dare-I-say-embezzlement scheme aimed at separating us from our already scarce education dollars, and undermining public education in favor of privatization. And, given that we have crossed a historic threshold nationally of poverty in our public school body, trying to do yet more with less is the way wrong approach. Poorer children and their families need more resources, not fewer; more help preparing for kindergarten through universal pre-k; more wraparound services at their local school.
Oh, and? Teachers should no longer bear the weight of our societal sins, blamed for every ill, unstable family situation, and federally mandated bad curriculum decision [more on the Common Core another time]. Public schools are public institutions, and it’s time we take them back.
Read, rage…then organize
Please consider joining or creating a community book group, like the one forming in Cleveland Heights right now, reading Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error. The many headed beast is discussed in far more detail, including privatization, high stakes testing and data on whether our measure more/invest less plan is working to actually grow children’s minds strong and able.
You may not like what you learn [it’s a face-palm-a-minute endeavor, believe me] but we will like even less what may happen if we remain blissful ostriches. Ravitch is one of our foremost education historians, and has been on both sides of the debate. Follow her blog and check out her website, with her full list of books.
A little hope
How about a brief moment of dreaming? What should education be? What do you want for your child in school? What do you hope she learns or gains? What does an elite school provide that public schools should as well? What is the role of the school in your community? What does it do well? How could it be better?
This is my education dream: that teachers get back the freedom to teach, respect for doing so, and pay to match; and that students find ignited inside them a love of learning that no bubble test can quell and a strength of character that no private-school-catholic-white bubble life like mine could provide. It’s all in this fabulous 3 minutes by teacher turned poet Taylor Mali.