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Friday, 25 April 2014 07:05

Charter School Pirates of Privilege Plunder Public Schools

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

abusschool(Photo: loop_oh)

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It bears repeating again and again that the concept of charter schools is a scam and - more significantly - a betrayal of society's obligation to provide communities filled with economic opportunities to all.

A recent article in the Huffington Post - "Big Profits in Not-for-Profit Charter Schools" - lays out one of the most basic complaints about charter schools: The primary parties they enrich are the administrators and nonprofits that run them, along with the for-profit consultants who provide services to allegedly "improve" public education. The article notes that some charter school administrators make "very heady profits":

Currently, there are approximately 2.5 million students enrolled in publicly funded charter schools in the United States. These charter schools are operated by both profit-making companies and "not for profit" organizations. In New York City every charter school is operated by what is known as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. In New York State, only 16 out of 209 charter schools are operated by for-profit companies. In other states, particularly Michigan, Florida, and Arizona, for-profit companies dominate the charter school movement. In Michigan, about 65% of the charter schools are run by for-profit educational management organizations

However, operating non-profit charter schools can be very profitable for charter school executives like Eva Moskowitz. Moskowitz earns close to a half a million dollars a year ($485,000) for overseeing school programs that serve 6,700 children, which is over $72 per student. By comparison, New York State Education Commissioner is paid a salary of $212,000 to oversee programs with 2.7 million students or about 8 cents per student. In other words, Moskowitz earns about 100 times more than King for each student enrolled in a Success Academy Charter School. Carmen Farina, New York City School Chancellor is paid $212,000 a year to oversee 1.1 million students or about 19 cents per student.

According to my calculations and The New York Times, other non-profit charter school administrators also make some very heady profits. The head of the Harlem Village Academies earns $499,000 to manage schools with 1,355 students or $369 per student. The head of the Bronx Preparatory School earns $338,000 to manage schools with 651 students or over $500 per student. The head of the Our World Charterearns $200,000 to manage schools with a total of 738 students or $271 per student. The local head of the KIPP Charter Network earns $235,000 to manage schools with 2,796 or $84 per student. By comparison, the chief educational officer ofTexas is paid $214,999 to manage a system with almost 5 million public school students.

As most readers of BuzzFlash and Truthout are aware by now - if you follow the school privatization debate - many large foundations play large roles in bankrolling big salaries and resources that dwarf the capabilities of underfunded public schools. This includes the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, of course, and a host of neoliberal and right wing philanthropists who think that they are improving education by privatizing it and even further neglecting the students in real need of educational attention.

Charter schools are a triple winner for the agenda of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's apostles, whose goal is to essentially stigmatize public education. This allows them to enrich the already-wealthy individuals who oversee the charter schools and movement; break the back of teachers' unions; and eviscerate perhaps the most basic role of society in a democracy: providing enriching and effective education to all students.

Although some studies show charter schools performing better - perhaps because they often cherry-pick their students - many analyses indicate charter schools, in general (despite their enhanced philanthropic resources), perform no better or worse than schools teaching comparable students. In short, the whole supercilious, patronizing notion that the "best and the brightest" in society must come to the rescue, with their haughty assertion of superior knowledge about how to educate young people, is nothing more than a self-profiting sham.

The charter school movement is inextricably bound up with economic inequality in the United States. After all, it is rare to see any move toward charter schools in well-off or even middle-class suburbs. What the charter school movement is about is blaming large swaths of urban areas for being economically abandoned due to an alleged failure of the public school systems. It is not phrased that way by Duncan, who grew up in Hyde Park near President Obama's home and attended Harvard, but that is the heart of the issue.

Systemic changes to economic inequality (impacting destitute minority communities in the cities - and poor rural white communities that do not even enter the national charter school agenda) for the most part, are not on the table. That suits the ruling elite just fine. They have no desire or sense of obligation to alter an economic system that has produced urban plantations of poverty that are patrolled by a police state. Yet, they blame teachers' unions for producing students who are allegedly unemployable in communities where there is no significant number of jobs (other than illicit ones, which give the police a reason to occupy the communities).

Charter schools do provide us with a lesson in education, but not the intended one. It is incontestable that in the United States, school districts with greater economic resources and families with higher incomes have higher graduation rates and fewer dropouts.  

We have learned a lot about charter schools over the past few years.

The most salient educational lesson we have absorbed is that the rich have found a new way to make money off of the poor - and leave the most needy even further behind.

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