Wednesday, April 26, 2017

NC: The Company School

North Carolina (Motto: "We won't let Florida beat us to the bottom of the barrel") is considering some cool new charter school bills.

Some are the usual charter-flavored pork, like the bill that will raise the unregulated cap on charter enrollment growth from 20% to 30%. That is, any charter, including ones that demonstrably suck, can grow enrollment by 30% without having to ask anyone's permission. This is in keeping with North Carolina's rich history of making charter operators historically rich. Previous laws have also removed any accountability or oversight for charters that want to add grades.

Charter enrollment in North Carolina has doubled over the last five years. Charter fans might say, "See! That huge demand for charters tells you how awesome they are." I might respond that it could also be a sign that the legislature has systematically driven its public school system into a corner and made it increasingly unattractive. But that's a discussion for another day.

But the special new innovation is the concept of reserved charter seats for donors.

That's right! If your company donates land or buildings or equipment to a charter school, up to half of the seats in that charter could be reserved for the children of the company's parents. Employees of your company could also sit on the charter board of directors. Hand over a chunk of ground or a building, and your corporation can have its own school-- and be in charge of running it.

Rep. John R. Bradford III (R-Mecklenburg) says this is an "economic development tool" with companies locating in rural areas offering a perk to employees, pretty much like paying for employee meals. "This creates a vehicle where a company can create an employee benefit," he says.

Sure. A benefit. The first thing I'm thinking of is an employer saying, "Y'all come to work at our Podunksburg plant and we promise your kids won't have to go to school with, you know, Those People's Kids."

But hey-- haven't we had a system like this before, with companies providing schools and housing and stores?

Or the old coke town of Shoaf. Charming place.

Maybe I'm too quick in thinking of a company town with a company store and company school that is run by the company and which helps to fully control the fate of its employees.

Maybe what North Carolina has in mind is a elite private school that is available to select corporate elite, answerable to nobody in particular, and not only outside the realm of public education, but actually in the side the realm of corporate control. Maybe this is simply flat-out privatization, a means for corporate chieftains to both enrich themselves and protect their offspring from contact with Those People's Children.

Or maybe, having pushed the frontiers on charter schools and already started down the voucher path, North Carolina is trying to break new ground by presenting the fully-privatized in-house corporate charter school.

It's not a law yet, but congratulations, North Carolina, on finding bold new ways to assault public education. Your move, Florida!

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