Charter Schools: Are Not the Easy Alternative
Joseph Brennan D.S.W., M. Div.
Finland once proposed replacing public education with privately controlled schools, fortunately this was rejected. Today, it has one of the best educational systems in the world. All of its teachers belong to the union. In the United Sates, the press tends only to publicize positive information about charter schools, the reality is very different.
Charter schools achieve a level of success only when certain factors are present: well trained and highly motivated teachers, minimal socio-economic problems, students who are eager to learn, few physically or mentally challenged students, parents willing and able to encourage their child’s education, and the availability of adequate funding and other needed resources. Public taxes and well endowed Foundations have invested in numerous interstate charter companies. One such enterprise alone has already established thirty franchises throughout the country.
Not all Charter schools are successful. On the average their academic achievement levels are comparable to the public school system. Indeed they have encountered their own obstacles. Funding without generous Foundation support can be a major obstacle, especially for if those schools attended by children from poor or minority families. Salaries, administrative costs, and comprehensive social services, can make reliance on family financial support prohibitive. Educational opportunities for special needs children have also been limited. Location, transportation, and supplies, burden interested parents.
A major pitfall is the general lack of adequate governmental regulation, especially in such areas as: teacher selection and qualifications, curriculum design, and most notably administrative adequacy. Real estate developers have seemingly found a “new found dedication” to educational programs, and are active on charter school Boards of Directors. Fiscal irregularities have recently become discovered despite the fact that many operations claim that as private non-profit entities they should not be subject to strict fiscal auditing.
Investigations of charter schools have revealed incidents of nepotism, inappropriate curriculum, and administrative corruption. Such abuses have been reported in Philadelphia, Columbus, Detroit, Fort Wayne, Washington D.C., Detroit, and in cities in Florida, Arizona, and numerous other states. Poorly written, or vaguely written legislation, has frequently resulted in a blank check offering to charter school proponents, with the result that state officials have neither the time nor the capacity to properly monitor the administration of the charter’s limited regulations.
As a final note, just as in the public school system there are dedicated administrators and teachers, working in the charter school systems. The bottom line is that education is a serious and difficult commitment for which there are no magical solutions, not even charter schools.
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In one instance, a Charter CEO was charged with misappropriating over a million dollars, including money the children had collected for a “Toys for Tots” campaign. There have been family members on school payrolls, along with contractual leases to relatives and friends. The need for regulation became more obvious when, in one district, there reportedly were only seven persons overseeing seventy four schools. What makes this situation even worse, is that budgetary restrictions may soon reduce this number of supervisors in half. In one city, the Charter school operator reportedly rented property to herself, signing the lease as both the tenant and landlord.
Unscrupulous investors, under the aegis of the Charter school’s status, have selected their own Board members, purchased properties, and then subleased those to the same Charter school. At times, Charter Board members were not told of such arrangements. There have been allegations of financial officers of multi-school conglomerates manipulating records to conceal personal misuse of finances. All of these aberrations were related to the lack of proper regulation.
Where there is money, politics and financial supporters are not far behind. When we think of Charter schools we ought to avoid thinking of a few well intentioned educators wanting to improve educational standards and practices. In many instances, this could not be further from the truth. Mega-million dollar enterprises have preyed on these unregulated operations, abusing tax payer finances for their own profit. How much profit is actually made??? In most cases, this is unclear since unregulated private Charter schools are reluctant, and typically refuse, to divulge company financial statements.
Nor are religious institutions exempt from scrutiny. School voucher programs are but another method whereby tax payer money may be diverted to private school operations. Both past and present governors of Florida have favored such programs. Under the guise of religious liberty, Catholic representatives have even tied religious freedom and vouchers together. Will the same support be granted to Muslims schools when they request such funding?
There are no magical solutions to our educational quandary. No single proposition solves the problem. What however is certain is that despite to outcries of critics, the lack of adequate regulation of Charter Schools will only lead to further abuse and exploitation.