Big charter school operators have been whispering about getting their own independent board to approve charter schools. This week, Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education editorialist Mike Thomas unsurprisingly made the case that it was time for Florida to do just that. Writes Thomas in The Edfly Blog:
Charters are competitors. They steal customers, deplete revenues and increase costs. When charters siphon off kids, they not only take the money that comes with them, they often cause nearby schools to operate under capacity. This increases inefficiencies and per-student costs because all that empty space still must be maintained.
As charters continue to expand, they will force districts to make more and more tough choices on personnel, closing schools and redrawing attendance boundaries, both political poisons. We are seeing this play out in spectacular fashion in some older urban areas.
So there is a serious conflict of interest in play and it only will get worse as school choice expands.
To manage this conflict, states like Florida have guidelines for districts to follow in approving charters, and an appellate process to the State Board of Education for charters that are turned down.
This is not ideal in the long run.
I think Tennessee is headed in a better direction. It is contemplating an independent board to approve charters. This follows the recent denial of charter school applications based solely on protecting the turf of existing public schools.
The school districts are fighting this idea, arguing for local control of public education.
Of course they would like to pick and choose the location of charters to fit within the framework of their existing schools, giving them control of where choice and competition occurs. This pretty much negates the concept. History is not on their side as the free market plays a growing role in education and successful charters open up franchises in other states.
Two years ago, my kid’s name got picked out of the hat for the best charter school in the region. I kept her in the neighborhood public school because it sold me on quality and had a heck of a band director.
Long term, the future of public schools will depend not on blocking competition, but winning the competition.
As Thomas makes no proposal which addresses budgetary issues, I must assume he presumes his new independent charter school board will be dictating to local school boards they will have to fund the charter schools. When this untenable dynamic comes to light, it’s easy to see that his proposal is a non-starter. Never mind just how preposterous it is that a distant appointed board should dictate to an elected board the manner in which they spend taxpayer dollars.
But Florida’s current system which Thomas bemoans as “not ideal in the long run,” is already rife with serious conflicts of interests. Let’s look at them.
* The Foundation Thomas is working for has received funding from two charter school corporations which do business in Florida – Charter Schools USA and K12 Inc. Moreover, the Foundation also accepts funding from several faux education philanthropies like the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the Eli Broad Foundation which fund countless pro-charter school entities across the nation. It is these which Thomas’s boss, Patricia Levesque boasts as providing 90 percent of the Foundations funding.
* Florida’s new education commissioner, Tony Bennett, accepted campaign contributions from Charter Schools USA and K12 Inc while running for Indiana’s education superintendent. He also received $50,000 from Eli Broad (Eli Broad Foundation) and $200,000 from Alice Walton (Walton Family Foundation). Bennett has a seat on the charter school commission which hears application disputes now. Neither the legislature, the Bush Foundation nor Bennett have expressed any concern for these clear conflicts.
* In my November 2011 post I detailed how four Florida legislators either own or have financial relationships with charter schools.
* The chairman of Florida’s Board of Education, Gary Chartrand, is chairman of KIPP charter schools of Jacksonville.
Thomas’s justifies his proposal as it’s in the interest of “free markets” and “competition.” No mention of “accountability.” It’s next to impossible for parents to hold a distant politically appointed board accountable, while a locally elected school board is.
The contradictions don’t end there. The Foundation for Excellence in Education has been advancing legislation which actually manipulates markets with legislation that gives unfair advantages to charter schools by circumventing local oversight and, yes, choice. In conservative circles this is referred to as government choosing winners and losers.
Thomas’ anecdotal comparison of local school boards as a burger joint monopoly is morally inverted. Unlike the burger joint, local school boards aren’t seeking to have their franchises operate at a profit. Thomas’ charter schools do and it is they who seek to game the system.
UPDATE: See this commentary from Jonathan Pelto: http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/01/20/charter-schools-when-you-dont-succeed-change-the-rules/