Are charter schools an emotional response by inner city low income families to long standing state funding inequities? A University of Virginia Law Review article addresses concerns that school funding inequities in Black urban areas lead to a tolerance of unfettered growth in charter schools.
The federal government support for charters also feeds the expansion without sufficient regulation. The net result may be a bubble and crash much like the recent financial crisis. What should be done to avoid a cataclysmic fall that could destroy communities?
Mother Jones summarizes the three practices that lead to serious mismanagement. I add a summary of the status Florida’s legislation to address these concerns.
More authorizers, more problems. District authorizers tend to approve fewer charters than do other agencies because districts recognize that they will be responsible for children the charters reject. Thus, proponents look for independent authorizers outside of school districts. The states in which there are multiple ways to start charters have significantly more growth and lower academic achievement.
States with multiple authorizers have more charters that do not have ‘skin in the game’. Too often decisions are made to benefit board members and management companies, not schools and children.
Misalignment of incentives. Education management companies (EMO) control over a third of charter schools that enroll nearly one-half of charter students. EMOs, particularly for-profit, tend to look for ways to increase revenues or cut costs not in alignment with board goals. While the non-profit charter boards are supposed to protect the school interests, members often are selected by the EMOs that run the schools.
Predatory practices. Some charters pay parents to recruit students. Others run campaigns to intimidate families to endorse parent trigger laws to convert public schools to charters. Charters “take advantage of vulnerable parents who lack the political power and financial resources to advocate for change in the existing system.” Punitive practices create a hostile environment for those who are seen as difficult or have learning disabilities.
The policy bubble is a result of an emotional reaction to inequity. As charters increase in number, they becomes institutionalized. Then, as incidences of fraud, mismanagement, lack of achievement, and civil rights violations mount, the bubble bursts. The financial and community costs are enormous.
In order to reduce the threats, governments should:
- maintain high standards to screen authorizers and prevent ‘authorizer hopping’.
- require full disclosure of lease and management agreements, expenditures and profits.
- prohibit predatory practices such as fining parents and selective admissions.
- improve federal qualifications for charter expansion grants to states.
Does Florida’s legislature address these concerns?
Florida legislators have begun to recognize the need for better authorizer standards to reduce fraud and civil rights violations, but legislation is yet to pass. EMO contracts and financial records remain undisclosed in spite of reported profiteering. Predatory practices have been acknowledged few are addressed. Background checks for authorizers are proposed.
The extent to which proposed legislative charter system changes are designed to curb abuse or simply curb local school district control in order to expand charters is a critical concern.