Early-stage charter development in a state often features the Bargain argument-- we keep pouring money into public schools and getting nothing, but charters can do awesome things for less money, so let's get chartering!
But that's just Phase One, and in Oklahoma, it's time for Phase Two.
The Oklahoman editorial board thinks that Oklahoma is going to shift from austerity budgeting to doing some spending, and it sees several likely areas. Some sort of prison reform. Spending of school bond issues. Rep Chad Caldwell wants to study the correlation between spending and "educational outcomes," which presumably means test scores in a bogus study that ignore eleventy zillion factors in order to focus on just one. And this one:
Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, will lead a study on equitable funding of charter schools. Some of Oklahoma's best-performing schools are charter schools, yet they are denied property tax funding other schools receive. As a result, some of the state's best schools are in some of the most dilapidated buildings. It's time to reassess a funding system that (perhaps inadvertently) financially penalizes excellence in education.
So in Phase Two we shift from "we can do the job more cheaply" to "Hey, why aren't we getting as much money as everyone else."
Stanislawski has attempted a bill like this before, arguing that it's costly to come up with a building to house a charter. And he's also behind the laws making cyber-charters in Oklahoma, a type of charter school that has not performed well, to the point that even charter supporters have been critical of them.
Stanislawski himself has been a voice resistant to making charters accountable for their use of taxpayer dollars, using an argument that the "charters are public schools" crowd might not support.
He equated it to the private sector. He said when the government pays a private company to do a job, they don’t ask how much everyone is getting paid, or how much the materials for the job are going to cost.
I'm not sure that really holds up, but thanks, Senator, for being one more voice that agrees that charters are private businesses and not public schools.
Stanislawski seems to sidestep one of the issues of using bonds to get physical facilities for charters, which is simply-- who owns the building? Is he proposing that the public issue bonds that are used to buy private property for an individual or business? When the government issues a bond for a public school, the process ends with facilities that are owned by the public. What we've seen in some states is government bonds being used to buy someone some private property.
That's before we even get to the damage done by diverting funds from the public school sector to private charter schools. It all seems kind of reasonable up front-- we just want these charters to have the same financial chance that public schools do. But McDonalds doesn't come to town and say, "Hey, we'd like to set up shop, but a building is really expensive, so could you issue a bond to build the facilities and then just give them to us as a gift?" And McDonalds is at least going to generate their own income once they get started-- a charter school will be living off of public tax dollars.
Oklahoma voters are encouraged to keep their eyes on their tax dollars, because once charters are established, they have really only two ways to increase their bank balance-- either cut the costs of operation, or by getting the legislature to send more money their way. Welcome to Phase Two.