"The Whole People must take upon themselves the Education of the Whole People and must be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one Mile square without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual but maintained at the expense of the People themselves. Instead of Adoring a Washington, Mankind should applaud the Nation which Educated him."
John Adams from a letter he wrote to John Jebb in 1785.
Charter schools have gained a large foothold all across the country over the past 20 years and Utah is no exception. They are pushed as a cheaper and better alternative to public schools but that is rarely the case. They are seldom better - often marginal or worse - never cheaper - sometimes costing far more, and with no public accountability. The Utah legislature, nevertheless, has chosen to subsidize charter schools at a higher rate than public schools.
The National Education Policy Center, a non-profit located in the School of Education at the University of Colorado, examined charter schools across the country and issued a report detailing what they found.
A substantial share of public expenditure intended for the delivery of direct educational services to children is being extracted inadvertently or intentionally for personal or business financial gain, creating substantial inefficiencies
In Washington State, the Supreme Court recently ruled such use of public money unstitutional. In reasoning that is applicable to Utah, the court ruled that:
“The fact that public school money distributions are generally based on per capita student attendance does not mean that common [public] school funds are available for students who do not attend common schools. Where a child is not attending a common school, there can be no entitlement to "an apportionment of the current state school fund, to a credit predicated on attendance of children at such school."
Unfortunately here in Utah, as reported in the Salt Lake Tribune, lawmakers are charging ahead and passed a bill giving private charter schools another $16 million. This is money taken away from already underfunded public schools - like our own Morgan School District. With this bill, charter schools are now more fully funded than most public schools in the state.
Columnist Paul Rolly writes about how Republican Senator Howard Stephenson of Draper, a long time advocate for charter schools, promised in 2006 that-
"charter schools educate for less" but now - in trying to justify the $16 million increase, he is saying just the opposite
charter schools actually need more not less than public schools.
Salt Lake Tribune Columnist Paul Rolly recently wrote:
"Stephenson has long been a critic of traditional public schools and has pushed many initiatives that would steer money from already-underfunded classrooms to his own pet projects — like charter schools, or digital learning tools provided by private vendors. One such vendor pushed by Stephenson and eventually chosen by the Utah Office of Education was DigitalBridge, which offered a tracking program to measure student progress. That company went bankrupt before its services were completed, and the state was out $3.5 million. As co-chairman of the Joint Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee in 2013, Stephenson pushed through a formula that gave more weight to the senators on the panel, many of whom were in Stephenson's mold, than to House members. The result: Most of the top 10 funding priorities were Stephenson's projects, and they came at the expense of such needs as teacher training, smaller classrooms and early-education programs. I would add also at the expense of a heating system in Morgan High School."
Read the full Paul Rolly column here
You can also read more on Utah Office of Education Priorities here
The League of Women Voters in 2013 published a report, Funding Utah Public Schools, which details the history of charter school funding in Utah. Read the report Funding Utah Public Schools here
"Since 1998, the State of Utah has provided the bulk of funding for the rapidly growing charter school program. Since these are publicly funded schools, the state provides an average of $5,620 per pupil to fund charter students from both state education and local district revenue replacement programs. The state provides an average of $3,935 for each traditional district and charter school student. In addition, the legislature withholds an additional amount from school districts based on the number of charter students from their district to compensate for lack of local charter school funding. Calculated annually, this amount is a statewide average of 25% of all local levies plus 100% of the average debt service revenue for each district student. In 2012, local district revenue replacement funding accounted for $1710 per charter school pupil. In 2012, charter students cost the State of Utah $252 million. That funding translated to 11% of all state public education funding for 8% of the total student population."
In 2007, Utah voters soundly rejected private school tuition vouchers by a margin of 62% to 38%. This was the eighth time private school voucher measures had been brought before the voters and rejected. The public in Utah does not want tax dollars going to private schools and it has said so repeatedly.
But the reaction from charter school advocates like Stephenson was particularly nasty and undemocratic. They went after School Board members who had voiced opposition to their privatization plan then passed laws taking the election of School Board members out of public hands. Now voters choices limted to just the handpicked charter loyalists on the Governors list.
Charter school advocates claim that public education is an old and failing idea, it's been called an "Edsel", Howard Stephenson even thinks public education is "Socialism". They claim the whole public school system is broken and needs to be replaced. They claim they have new ideas like free market competition. They use these arguments to systematically pull funding away and ensure that public schools can't perform. It's difficult to imagine how any school could perform at all with students huddling in blankets in 40 degree classrooms. Or classrooms so crowded that teachers have to correct 120 papers with each assignment, usually at home, unpaid, on thier own time.
Diane Ravitch, Assistant Secretary of Education under George H.W. Bush wrote about what is happening to public education in her book, Reign of Error
The hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools. In it she describes the charter school reform movement this way:
Reform” is really a misnomer, because the advocates for this cause seek not to reform public education but to transform it into an entrepreneurial sector of the economy. The groups and individuals that constitute today’s reform movement have appropriated the word “reform” because it has such positive connotations in American political discourse and American history. But the roots of this so- called reform movement may be traced to a radical ideology with a fundamental distrust of public education and hostility to the public sector in general
Remember the name Michael Milkin? He was the junk bond king in the 1980's. When he got out of federal prison he started a charter School titled K 12 Inc. How about Fetullah Gulen, a radical Turkish Muslim? He owns the largest chain of charter schools in the country with names like the Horizon Academy, and Harmony Public Schools The Atlantic Magazine ran a recent article on Gulen and his charter schools titled "American Charter Schools and the Secretive Turkish Cleric." Link here.
Who else are large investors in charter schools besides Milkin the Junk Bond King and the Turkish imam,Fetullah Gulen? They include JPMorgan Chase,the bank recently find $13 million for mortgage fraud. The bank that helped crash the economy. Also Rupert Murdoch, Bill & Melinda Gates,The Walton Family, Mark Zuckerberg and the Koch Brothers are all heavily invested in charter schools. These big money financial backers want access to the equally large tax revenues used to fund our schools, and, to protect their access to this money, they want decisions on how to educate our children to be in the hands of corporate executives not in the hands of voters. They are working, through lobbying groups like ALEC to end publicly elected school boards across the country just as they have succeeded in doing here in Utah. link here
ALEC just failed in Washington State but it lobbies heavily for charter schools in other state legislatures and push to keep charter schools financial dealings under wraps. It's no wonder. Performance is dismal and Corruption is rampant.
Diane Ravich describes in her book the behavior of charters like White Hat Management, a company running 50 charter schools in 6 states. In Ohio, White Hat Schools scored no better than C and most got D's or F's on state school performance tests though White Hat received more than $1 billion in revenues. In Las Vegas, a charter school owned by Andre Agassi opened in 2001. Students in it's first three graduating classes passed only 4 of 37 advanced placement tests they took and the cheerleading coach was investigated for running a prostitution ring. K12's Colorado Virtual Academy enrolled 5,000 students but it's graduation rate was only 12% compared to public school average of 72%. Colorado tax payers spent $100 million on virtual charter schools like K12 but half the students enrolled dropped out and returned to public schools. The money of course stayed with the charter schools.
In Florida, Charter schools walked off with $70 million in state school funds then simply closed thier doors. Read that report here
The Alliance to Reclaim our Schools and the Center for Popular Democracy released a study detailing the level of corruption, waste, and mismanagement in the charter school industry. A copy of the full report is here