Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Call for Federal Charter Transparency Law

We've been here before. For instance, in 2015 while Congress was wrestling with what would eventually become ESSA, Sherrod Brown introduced the Charter School Accountability Act, which had some modest goals-- require greater charter transparency, mandate some reporting from charter authorizers, and compel charter operators to talk to the community before opening up. The bill was promptly sent to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, to never be heard from again.

But Congress has yet an other chance to get it right.

Representative Rashina Tlaib (D-Michigan) is introducing the Charter Oversight, Accountability, and Transparency (COAT) Act (how many person-hours do you suppose are used up trying to give bills names that spell something cute?).

This bill is pretty simple, and is asking for, well, transparency about what happens to public taxpayer dollars once they disappear into the charter school system. To keep their ESSA money, states would have to insure that every contract between a charter school and a charter management organization (the businesses that charter schools hire to actually run the schools) would have to require the following:

* How much of the money is being used to actually operate the school (by amount and percent)

* How much of the money is being used to run the CMO (by amount and percent)

* Salaries for CMO executives

* Public CMO meetings

* Whether the CMO is for-profit or non-profit

* The list of LLC's doing business with the CMO

It's a pretty pedestrian list; there's nothing here that is not also required of public school systems. Some civilians would be surprised to discover that this information is not available already. In particular, this is a good way to pull back the curtain on faux non-profits, where the East Egg Academy is a non-profit charter school, operated by East Egg Charter Management, which is a for-profit business that is pocketing $60K of that money.

It is hard to see how any reputable charter operation could object to this bill, but I guess we'll see. In the meantime, the bill has to somehow navigate the House before it can go to languish on Grim Reaper McConnell's giant mountain of Senate do-nothingness.

But in the meantime, you should send out the word of support to your Representative and suggest they might want to co-sponsor the bill. That includes those reps who are conservative or GOP, because despite its origin, this is not a bill calling for some sort of bleeding heart liberal twinkie handout-- this is a bill that simply demands that the taxpayers get to know what the hell the government did with our hard-earned money. It is, in fact, exactly the sort of thing that conservative lawmakers in another time and place would have introduced themselves.

Charters that are operating responsibly have nothing to fear, and the taxpayers deserve basic information. You can use the action network to send your message, or you can go old school, look up your rep and then send your own peresonal message.

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