In this article by Valerie Strauss, Carol Burris states: “All of the problems associated with charter schools, such as, siphoning public school funding, increased segregation, scandalous recruiting practices and blatant profiteering can be found in charters in and surrounding America’s Christmas city.” Superintendent of Schools Joseph Roy (Pennsylvania’s Superintendent of the Year) budgets $26 million for its charters. He estimates that if all charter students returned to public schools, the district, even after hiring some new faculty, would save twenty million dollars.
It is not only money that is lost to charters. Due to the cost inefficiencies that occur when schools have under enrolled classes and schools, the students lose needed academic and behavioral support services, and teachers lose professional development opportunities. Roy estimates that even local property taxes could be reduced if the charter system were eliminated.
The example of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania as described by Carol Burris, a former New York Principal of the Year and Executive Director of the Network for Public Education is only one of many. And, Ms. Burris is not the only critic. Pennsylvania’s Auditor General has called its charter laws ‘the worst in the nation’.
The inefficiency of dual systems of charter and public schools may not cause public outcry on its own until the charter sector gets large enough to impact how most schools function. These hidden costs hit some neighborhoods more than others. Headline grabbers are more likely to be the result of fraud and abuse. Charter profiteering in real estate is becoming legendary. Abuse of funds allocated for students with disabilities is particularly difficult to curb. Unethical recruiting practices for charters depict deplorable public schools and dispirited students. Even when these practices are extreme, they are often legal unless tax evasion can be proven.
Privitizing public schools is based on a philosophy that argues that government regulation stifles innovation. Thus far, evidence of innovation is scarce while fraud and abuse appear to thrive. The social costs are equally great as segregation increases and neighborhoods go into a downward spiral. At some point, philosophy has to yield ground to practicality.