The 5 questions you need to ask about charter schools

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By Brian Washington

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Education activists across the country are being put on alert to help raise awareness about the need for higher standards and more accountability for charter schools to protect the public’s investment in these schools and ensure that students’ needs are being met.

Next week charter school industry insiders will kick off what they call “School Choice Week,” a campaign to promote unaccountable charter schools—which are at the center of several reports concerning waste, fraud, and abuse—as an alternative to traditional public schools.

However, the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) is asking pro-public education activists to use this time to demand answers from politicians and charter school proponents about what it calls “essential gaps in accountability and fraud looming over the charter sector.”

5 Questions to Ask During School Choice Week

CPD’s “5 Questions to Ask During School Choice Week” will help public education advocates demand answers to the critical issues surrounding charter schools and their impact on students and public education. The questions include the following:

  • How much money has your state lost to charter waste, fraud, and abuse?
  • Are charter operators required to establish strong business practices that guard against fraud, waste, mismanagement, and abuse? Do regulators in your state have the authority and resources to regularly assess charter school business practices?
  • Does your state require charter school operators and their boards of directors to provide adequate documentation to regulators ensuring funds are spent on student success?
  • Can your state adequately monitor the way charters spend public dollars including who charter operators are subcontracting with for public services?
  • Are online charter operators audited for quality of services provided to students and financial transparency?
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More Standards and Accountability Needed

More than 2 million students attended the nation’s more than 6,000 taxpayer-funded charter schools. But unfortunately, oversight is not keeping up with the growth of these schools—leaving huge gaps for fraud and other abuses to take place. The bottom line—taxpayers are literally left paying the price.

A recent study, published by CPD, alleges that about 100 million in taxpayer dollars has been lost to fraud, waste, and abuse nationwide in relation to the charter school industry. In Pennsylvania, CPD alleges that these problems are costing about $30 million and $64 million in New York. It also states that, given the lack of regulation for charter schools, these reports are merely the tip of the iceberg.

Meanwhile, the prestigious Annenberg Institute at Brown University has also issued a report on charters calling for higher standards regarding accountability, transparency, and equity.

What can you do?

CPD is asking education advocates to share the links to the questions and the various reports mentioned above via social media with other supporters of public schools and lawmakers in your state.

You can use Twitter to ask local politicians (using their @handle) the questions mentioned above and, when you do, be sure to use the hashtag #questions4charters.

Also, visit the Education Votes charter schools page to get more information about how charters are impacting students and public education.

Reader Comments

  1. Here’s a better question to ask yourself: SHOULD THE TESTING INDUSTRY BE SETTING THE AGENDA FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION IN THE U.S.?

  2. I don’t know much about charter schools, but it has been a topic in the local news, so I am researching. However, I am familiar with biased studies. My main concern is the almost 100 million dollar loss. It appears that most of that is thanks to PA and NY collectively losing 94 million. The remaining 6 million loss is shared among approximately 20 states, according to the study. I suppose this would be where an unbiased party would report and compare the monetary waste by the public, non-charter school system to prove one is better than the other.

  3. Imagine a class of 30 students…3 high achieving…3 totally disruptive. Our present system moves towards removing the 3 high achievers to “give them a better chance”, and leaves the 3 totally disruptive students. What happens to the other 24? I have always advocated Mr. Boros’ approach. Remove the disruptive students, give them a better chance through a totally different approach and at the same time you will not have left the other 24 students behind. Although not quite on the topic of charter schools, the connection is there. As to charter schools…the 6th question must be – who would be educating our children and what would be their bottom line agenda, besides making a profit. Although there are many charter schools with laudable goals, by the very nature of a “charter”, any moral compass could be used. Would you want your tax dollars being spent on a school that did not support the basic tenants of our constitution? Of course there are problems in our educational system, but for every problem, there is a solution. We must never lose sight of public education as the path to equality for all.

  4. Knowledge is the sum of education, training, experience, and associations. Education is the key and yet we allow under education created by our large over-consolidated urban school districts where graduation rates are less than 50% and where the primary beneficiaries are the administrators and the unions. There is no economy of scale in 50% graduation rates. First we should quarantine the kids who disrupt, threaten, and violate the rights of those who are trying learn. We need to establish academies for children who live on the street in a feral environment. These academies would feed, educate, and mentor youth who are disadvantaged by a lack of parenting. Second we should deconsolidate large urban school systems into smaller neighborhood systems with no more than 10,000 kids. Smaller school systems have fewer levels of bureaucracy and are more responsive and approachable for parents. Then we should offer State wide public vouchers so that the districts can compete head to head for enrollment and drive the continuous improvement of educational achievement. We are the only industrial nation that locks our kids into school districts based upon postal code. The State would have to subsidize differences in per student funding between districts. Most failing large urban school districts are already heavily state subsidized and spend more per student than more successful schools. Subsidizing vouchers would be less expensive than the costs of welfare and incarceration. Rules for transfer between districts would include maximum annual enrollment changes and student return policies. Also we would not be prosecuting parents for trying to get their children into better school districts. In our high school counseling, we should focus adequate importance on higher value added and higher paying careers in skilled trades such as designers, machinists, tool and die makers, and welders that are presently in short supply. Every high school should again have its own industrial arts department to give our kids some ability to make things with their own hands.

  5. Why is o one mentioning that charter schools are segregating our children? Parents must apply for their child to go to the charter school. This, in itself, ensures parent involvement. Every study on student performance says parent involvement is a key ingredient to student success. Separate education is NOT equal. The Supreme Court said so.

  6. Many California homeschooling families sign up with online charter schools that give them 900-1800 per student to spend on various classes, equipment and materials. While parents absolutely have the right to home educate their children, I see classes running $150 and up. People are clearly making money (state money) on teaching electives, core content, home ec style classes, giving horseback riding lessons, and more. Being a charter school vendor is a ticket to the money being given to non-brick and mortar charter schools like Excel. River Springs, and the like. The charters do standardized testing and are therefore eligible for the money, pay “educational specialists” to meet with the families, and the families are able to spend this money as they see fit. The classes for homeschoolers are getting so expensive that families who don’t sign up with a charter school can scarcely afford them anymore, forcing home educators who don’t want to be a part of a charter out of great opportunities for their children.

  7. Better question to ask is to all of you delusional fools supporting the current public education.

    How much waste is in public education?
    How screwed are the teachers if unfunded liabilities come back to haunt their retirement?
    How useless are the teacher unions in their out of date deal-making?
    Why are public education more concerned about tossing people into colleges (usually unprepared) than preparing them with skills for the real world?

    And before any critiques me, understand that I want public education to work but the ideas that groups like Education Votes and their supporters want are clearly the wrong direction.

    1. Sir,

      The teacher unions that I have been associated with try to make conditions for better educations for children first. Yes, they do try to make conditions for their members better with such things as a livable wage and job security. Just because you are a teacher and sign a contract to teach does not mean you are obligated to take a vow of poverty. Job security does need to be monitored but firing senior teachers and hiring new people because they are “cheaper” will not improve education. Massive teacher shortages are coming because of these conditions. Would you work under the conditions that many are working under now?? I think not. So instead of hammering teachers, look at what they have to deal with. Private and voucher schools won’t touch the troubled kids that public teachers deal with, unless of course, the child is a great athlete. Finally, I have noticed that politicians in my state, Indiana, that came up with all of these wonderful ideas to improve education NEVER seem to find their way to a full time teaching job in the schools that they were going to straighten out. Wonder why that is??????

    2. In Minnesota, charter schools are public schools. Parents do not have to apply to send their children there. There is no segregation. I am beyond offended by the “5 Questions” article. I have taught in treatment programs, mainstream schools and charter schools. I am not currently part of a union, and guess what, it doesn’t make me a less effective teacher. I am a union supporter, but I am very frustrated that groups like the NEA continuously drive a wedge rather than build bridges. Aren’t we all educators? This division is exactly what right wingers love to exploit.

  8. I taught for seven years in an outstanding charter school in Oakland and have been teaching in a large comprehensive district high school.for the past four years. My thoughts- all of these “accountability” “transparency” “reporting” terms are really code for more jobs for state and district administrators that contribute nothing to educational outcomes.

    We all pay taxes in one form or another so this taxpayer lingo is empty rhetoric. Charter schools are public school alternatives for families and teachers who see district run schools as a monopoly of choice.

    My mandatory teachers union robs me every month with no visible benefit to either me or my students. The local contract is skewed to meet the needs and demographic of elementary school teachers . It still views our colleagues in administration as an us vs them conflict rather than a collaborative model of the 21st century workforce. Charter schools are not the problem.

  9. The six question should be does the authority that has oversight responsibility have two things: power to hold charter management accountable for complying with all laws and standards and the funding and political will to provide oversight of the charter they are responsible for supervising.

    In California charter law was written in the 90s that the market will solve the problem of oversight and regulation because if there are scandals enrolled families will flee and the charter will close. However, the lack of supervision has resulted in the opposite outcome. Families and taxpayers have been taken advantage of and those that have a bad experience are ignored. The whole focus is on performance and the means of achieving that are a black box with at times public values of treatment of students and employees kept from the public.

    Making the situation worse is that California charter law says that revoking a charter that has abused its situation is difficult because revoking has to keep increases in student performance the highest value. If a local district tries to get information to properly supervise a charter operator can stonewall and there is little under California charter law that can be done because although local authorizing district may have the responsibility of supervising it is without the authority and financing to enforce public accountability of a charter.

  10. Charter schools are “PROFIT CENTERS” whose whole focus is on ROI
    they will always be more concerned on “profit” before our children.
    Charter schools take away from our public schools, our real estate tax money should be paying for our public schools and not enriching a corporation…..

    1. Has anyone done a comparison study of how states set up their charter schools and which states have the most problems and/or fraud? I have been working at one of the oldest charter schools in Alaska (we are almost 20 yrs old). All charter schools in AK are PUBLIC schools and as such we have to have things approved by the school board, principals attend principals meetings,we do state testing, etc. Instead of bashing ALL charter schools, do research on what makes the charter schools that are working work? All schools do not fit all students, so I love that charter schools can offer choices that meet the needs of the different kinds of students. I am not very knowledgeable about how charter schools are set up in other states, but know from reading that the ones that people are the most angry about seem to be the privatized ones. Maybe that is the problem. Maybe it how states set up accountability in the first place. So PLEASE do not bash all charter schools, do the research on what is working out their and try to fix it so we can continue to meet the various needs of students across the country.

  11. If there is any public good that should never be turned over to the private sector, it is the education of our nation’s children. A bare minimum condition for “contracting” with any organization or person(s) to provide children’s education should be that the organization/person be regularly audited for use of funds and efficacy of service delivery. A testing system for any such “school” should be far more inclusive and precise than the testing system being imposed on our public schools currently. Furthermore, there is no room to allow the children being educated under a charter school to fall through the cracks. If a charter school fails to meet the standard expected of the prevailing public school, the contract and funds going to that charter school should be withdrawn immediately. A child only gets to be a child once. Children’s lives do not get put on hold for years while self-declared educators attempt to make things “better”.

    “Fraud” may be what legislators are attempting to stop, but I believe most of the charter school providers are behaving just as they can be expected to behave, i.e., maximizing the return on investment of their shareholders. As long as we privatize (contract with charter schools), we cannot expect the primary mission of those school to be the education of our children. Our capitalist system requires the primary goal to be ROI. The argument can be made against any public monies going to charter schools, and can probably be made that doing so violates many state constitutions if not the US Constitution. Holding charter schools accountable and “supervising” them with vigor is only a minimal step.

  12. Yeah !!!”Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) for opposing President Obama’s call to replace sequester cuts to non-defense discretionary programs: “I steadfastly oppose the idea that for every dollar spent on defense, it has to be matched by a new extra dollar spent on non-defense,” he said.
    I I totally agree with Senator Sessions . It’s refreshing to know there’s at least a battle being fought against crazy spending. Thinking, rational people NEED to ask…What does one have to do with the other. STOP SENDING our country away down the river of free spending !

    1. Speaking of what one has to do with the other…. I thought this discussion board addressed Charter Schools! Make the connection please.

    2. Where were you when Bush spent the 5 trillion surplus +10 trillion on Iraq? Where were you when the stock marker tanked, the housing market died, and so many jobs were lost I can’t even remember the count? Now we spend on education, and other necessities and you say untethered spending? Now we are 17 trillion in debt and you are upset? It took President only 7 trillion to get us out of this mess. I do not want any more spent on defense but there is a lot more necessary needs that will be met but his proposals. I think you have your priorities mixed up. YOu probably think charter schools are a good idea, education should be cut and more give to prisons?

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