Saturday, October 3, 2020

DeVos Awards Another $131 Mill From Failed Federal Charter Fund

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced Friday that the department will pump yet another $131 million into the charter school industry (you may have missed the news; a few other things have happened in the last 48 hours).

The grants go to 19 different organizations, primarily charter school "developers." Amounts range from a tiny $299,988 to Acadia Academy in Maine up to $18 mill to Florida's department of education and $23 mill to the Texas ed department. There are a couple of state-level agencies, and a couple of charter-financing groups. Most intriguing [digression alert] is the $592K award to the ALL FOOTBALL CLUB LANCASTER LIONS CORPORATION. I don't know why they're in all caps, but then, I'm not sure why they're in the running for one of these grants. The AFC Lancaster Lions are an "American professional development soccer team" based in Lancaster PA. The corporation was formed in 2014. The organization was founded by Brian Ombiji, a pro "soccer player-turned-CEO" who came here from Kenya. He wants to start a "sports-infused charter school" for grades five through eight.

In addition to the typical core subjects, the school would offer courses related to print and broadcast journalism, fitness and nutrition, scouting, analytics and other sports-centered topics.

His founding board includes Faith Wangunyu, a Kenyan emigree who started the Princeton Preparatory charter schools in Georgia. Also on the board, Dean Kline, co-founder of Penn Ventures Fund, a venture capital outfit. As of August of 2020, the school didn't have a location nailed down. But now they apparently have a nice pile of money to go shopping with. 

It would not be a shock if AFCLL Academy Charter School crashed and burned or even experienced failure to lift off, because that is the not-uncommon historic pattern of such grants. DeVos is doling out tax dollars from the Charter Schools Program (CSP) fund. You may recall that this is the program that has, over its lifetime, lost over a billion dollars to waste and fraud. Like really a lot of waste and fraud and the charter school equivalent of vaporware--schools that never even open. 

But DeVos is kind of stuck in her covid talking point loop. 

“The coronavirus pandemic has made it clearer than ever before that students need the freedom to choose where, when and how they learn,” said Secretary DeVos. “All too many students, particularly the most vulnerable, have fallen further behind because the one-size-fits-all system couldn’t transition and adapt to meet their needs. A bright spot has been high-quality charter schools, many of which pivoted quickly and kept learning going. These grants will help to ensure these high-quality options are available to even more students in the future.”

Well, no. Charter schools haven't been any better at pivoting than anyone else. Heck, the shining sun that is Success Academy has announced it will be doing distance learning till at least January. But then, Succes Academy is more one-size-fits-all than any public school; like too many charters, it has its one size and it accepts only the students who fit. 

The DeVos covid argument highlights one of the fallacies of market-based education. Because it's true that many parents want a choice--they want to be able to choose a school that's open for regular face-to-face learning without any impediments like masking and PPE and weird social distancing rules, and they would also like that school to be completely free of the virus and their children and their family at no medical risk, and while that is a super-appealing choice, no matter how much families want it--the market is not going to provide it. 

The market provides what it wants to provide, not what the customers want it to provide. And the charter (and voucher) school market don't have to provide what everybody wants--they just have to please enough people to fill their schools, which means all you families with difficult or expensive students to educate can just go away. 

But hey-- let's dump another $131 million into charter school prop-ups and profiteers. It's not like public schools have any special pressing extra needs at the moment.

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