As described in Part 1 of this series, the charter school movement had noble goals – to create a new type of school that would appeal to kids who didn’t like school. It was thought that the best way to accomplish this was to strip out the layers of regulations and accountability public schools were obligated to follow. However, relaxing the rules made it an ideal environment for anyone to start a charter school.
For a while, idealistic entrepreneurs created charter schools around their causes – religion, science, technology, strict discipline, etc. Since 2010 we’ve seen a change – people are starting charter schools who are in it for the money. There are non-profit and for-profit charter schools popping up around the country. The appeal of the $1.1 trillion public education enterprise has caught the attention of people looking to make money. When hedge-fund managers start touting the riches to be gained, people listen.
For-profit charter schools are pretty easy to understand – your goal is to cut costs enough so there is enough left over to pay the investors. Non-profit schools should be just that – concentrating all their funds into student services. However, there have been numerous reports lately about non-profits that make a profit. The investors buy the school’s property and then charge exorbitant leases – to another company the same investors have set up to run the school. See a recent report HERE.
Either way, these charter schools are set up to minimize costs. Since 80-85% of a school’s budget is personnel, that’s where the savings occur. New/cheap teachers. No unions (a side benefit of charter schools is union-busting in large urban areas). Fewer classes in the arts (music, art, foreign language).
The bottom line (or bottom dollar) is that charter schools have become a business. When you hear people talk about “school choice” or “privatization” they mean “profit.” Every penny wasted on fraud or paid out to investors deprives the students in that school of a better education than they are receiving. Money for education is tight – shouldn’t it all go to the kids?