Charter schools as a form of K-12 education have been around for 25 years. In those 25 years however, many charter school founders and managers have sought increased public funding and decreased public oversight into school operations, resulting in schools that are essentially privatized.
Charter schools are not structured and do not function in the same way as a neighborhood school or local school district or directly elected Board of Education. With each passing year, charter schools more resemble the privatization of education to private foundations or for-profit companies. In 2015, the Washington State Supreme Court found its state law creating charter schools to be unconstitutional because public education is the sole function of an elected government authority – and charter schools were found to be privately operated.
Recent studies conclude that 40% of the country’s 2 million charter school students are at schools operated by private, for-profit companies while the vast majority of the other 60% of students are in schools operated by private non-profit foundations.
MOST CHARTER SCHOOLS are governed private boards – in many cases, these private boards set their own rules and by-laws with no direct public oversight whatsoever.
In 2009, Kevin O’Shea and Rosemary DiLacqua were charged with defrauding the Philadelphia Academy Charter School (“PACS”). DiLacqua, as PACS’ board president, authorized the quick rise of O’Shea, who had no educational qualifications, from facilities manager for the school, to its CEO, earning $200,000. The malfeasance included using approximately $710,000 to buy a building with the aim of reselling it to another charter school for a $1 million profit; demanding kickbacks from PACS vendors; using approximately $145,000 to outfit offices for themselves with posh amenities including at-screen televisions, executive bathrooms and granite countertops; submitting for reimbursement at least $40,000 in fraudulent invoices for personal meals, entertainment, home improvements, and gas and telephone bills; billing approximately $50,000 worth of home repairs to PACS; collecting approximately $34,000 in rent from entities using PACS facilities, attempting to destroy computer evidence to obstruct the investigation against them, and ling a false tax return.
MANY CHARTER SCHOOL BOARDS further hire distant school management companies that are either for-profit or not-for-profit corporations.
In Ohio, dozens of charter school boards turn about 96 percent of their taxpayer funding over to White Hat Management Company, a for-profit EMO. White Hat takes in more than $60 million in public funding annually for its charter school management services, yet refused to comply with requests from the governing boards of its own schools for detailed financial reports. Despite two Ohio court rulings compelling White Hat to release the requested documents, the company refused.
MANY CHARTER SCHOOLS remove tax dollars from traditional public school classrooms leaving those schools and their students underfunded.
A recent independent study of the fiscal impact of independent charter schools in Los Angeles found unmitigated charter growth resulted in over half a billion dollars each year in lost revenue and added costs for the Los Angeles Unified School District. When a student leaves a district school for a charter school, the district immediately looses per pupil funding for that student but critical education infrastructure, oversight costs, and a larger portion of higher-needs students stay with the district. Siphoning resources from traditional public schools in Los Angeles limits educational opportunities for the more than 540,000 students who continue to attend traditional LAUSD schools.
MOST CHARTER SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS are simply private citizen volunteers with no public certification or approval but they make decisions controlling millions in public dollars.
For example, a 2015 investigation by the North Carolina State Auditor found that Kinston Charter Academy’s board’s “lack of experience and involvement resulted in insufficient oversight.” No one on the board of the School, which shuttered in 2013 leaving nearly 200 students and their parents in a lurch, had an education degree or previous experience in teaching or school administration. Amid strained finances, the board approved payments to family members of the CEO nearly $100,000. Despite not being able to pay the school’s teachers in the final month of operation, the board approved vacation leave payouts to the school’s CEO and his wife who served as board chair.
MOST CHARTER SCHOOL OPERATORS claim they are exempt from public sunshine or freedom of information act laws because they are private entities.
For example, Pennsylvania’s charter schools routinely ignore the state’s Right-To-Know Law, despite being legally bound to comply with it. In May 2013, the director of the state’s Office of Open Records testified that her office had received 239 appeals in cases where charter schools either rejected or failed to answer requests from the public for found that only about half of that city’s charter schools posted minutes from their board meetings on the school’s website.