Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Charters Want More Money

Charter fans have long argued that charter schools can be more economically efficient and consequently spend less taxpayer dollar for greater effect.

Despite the modern charter habit of burning and churning staff to keep personnel down and shedding any students who would be more costly to educate, charters are still not likely to deliver on their financial promise. But that really doesn't matter, because the promise of tax savings with charter schools was just the bait-- and here comes the switch.

In both New York and DC, charter schools are suing for more money. The New York lawsuit has been filed by a coalition of charter schools using some charter parents for cover. Their claim is that they are systematically underfunded, thereby denying charter students their constitutional right to "sound basic education." The DC lawsuit follows a similar tack.

The feds are positioning themselves to back the charters on these suits, once again using the administration's reasoning that education is a civil rights issue, and therefor the Office for Civil Rights gets to throw its weight around. A 37-page letter from that office dated October 1st lays out the case for suing districts that have not provided sufficient resources to schools. The DC lawsuit appeared this summer, and the New York suit in mid-September-- draw what conclusion from that you like. The OCR letter is painful in its detail; the mockable line is the one that covers adequate lighting as a suitworthy issue. But as Mike Petrilli noted over at Fordham's blog, this letter sends a pretty clear signal about which way the federal wind is blowing-- the feds want to make sure that all schools, including (especially?) charters, are getting a full slice of pie.

So here comes the switch. We pitched charter schools as more economical, more efficient, lower-cost alternatives. Now that we've got them up and running, we want more money. This is simply a continuation of the policy goal, adored and nurtured from corporate boardrooms to federal offices-- the policy goal of shoving public schools aside and replacing them with charter schools. I don't imagine that public schools will ever be completely done away with, because the charters will need some place to send the students that they refuse to educate, but those public schools will be stripped of resources and filled with the students that nobody wants.

It is really one of the oldest business tricks in the book, used by everyone from John D. Rockefeller to Jeff Bezos-- undercut your competition, and once you've bled them dry, boost your price as much as the market will bear. Charters just refine the technique by having federal and state government serve as the vampiric mechanism by which the competition is sucked dry.

Why shouldn't charters be as fully funded as public schools (yes, yes, yes, I know-- charters are public schools on days they want to be)?

1) They sold us on expanding their reach with the pitch that they didn't need to be as fully funded.

2) They aren't doing a public school's job. They aren't serving the same populations, and they long since stopped pretending that they were offering some sort of unique services. I've laid out the conditions under which I support charters-- if they want to meet those standards, I'll support them.

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