Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Follow The Money

The Washington Post issued its list of "America's Most Challenging High Schools"two days ago and, of course, an inordinate number of charter schools made the cut.

Let me state that I am in favor of what charter schools stand for: more choice in education. I believe that not all children learn the same, and I have taught - and continue to teach - in a wide scope of schools serving vast populations of students (I currently work in an all special and alternative ed. district, and teach autistic children, children with physical disabilities, and at risk inner city students). I know from experience that the more choices provided for kids to learn, the better off they'll be. And while charter schools started out as something to bolster that choice, they have since become something completely different: investment opportunities.

The number one school on the Post list is BASIS, Oro Valley in Oro Valley, Arizona. The BASIS Schools are a national charter network owned and operated by Michael and Olga Block. 

BASIS schools are set up as a not-for-profit, but the Blocks have their privately held for profit company running the school. Mr. and Mrs. Block work for that company - not the school. Here's the best part: The state of Arizona can only audit the charter school - not  the company that runs it. So even though BASIS receives state funds, the state can't examine their financials. This essentially means that schools like BASIS can take state funds (as well as money from private donors) and hire/pay private companies and/or people on the local school board. They can even hire/pay their own privately held company to do work for the schools and/or have those companies provide supplies and other contracts - and they're not required to report any of that information. 

I have written before about the weird state of charter school money and outside investment. It stinks, and it's turning the education of kids into a business. That's not what education is. Education is a journey of self discovery and has nothing to do with turning a profit. Also remember that charter schools are not under the same rules and laws as public schools. That means it's easier for them to throw or kick students out. Ultimately, the kids being thrown out of charter schools go back into the public school system and, in many cases, the charter school keeps the state money received for those students. 

When I taught in Newark public schools, we had more than one student show up in the middle of the year who was out of control - disrespectful and a behavioral nightmare. When asked what school they came from the answer was almost always "I was kicked out of a charter school." 

Also remember that many charters are not required to admit/educate a population of students with special needs. In the case of Archimedean Upper Conservatory in Miami, Florida (#16 on the list) that means not admitting any students with special needs.

When a list like the one in the Post shows up, everyone sings the praises of charter schools and, in many cases, this is deserved. But when you begin to look into the money trail for a lot of them, they begin to resemble some kind of shadow corporation or, worse yet - the "dark money" politicians receive to fund their campaigns. I never thought I'd use the term "dark money" when speaking about the education of our kids - but it's become that.

I don't understand the privatization of schools. The greatest thing about the American public school system is its obligation to educate all kids - not just those who are going to improve test scores, bolster data, and increase the size of pocketbooks.

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