Raising A Generation Of Ignoramuses

New York Hedge Funds Pour Millions of Dollars into Cuomo-Led Bid to Expand Charter Schools

Democracy Now

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Education “reformers'” new big lie: Charter schools become even more disastrous

by Jeff Bryant, Salon

Monday, Mar 2, 2015 08:30 AM EDT

Rather than directly address what ails struggling public schools, policy leaders increasingly claim that giving parents more choice about where they send their children to school – and letting that parent choice determine the funding of schools – will create a market mechanism that leaves the most competent schools remaining “in business” while incompetent schools eventually close.

Coupled with more “choice” are demands to increase the numbers of unregulated charter schools, especially those operated by private management firms that now have come to dominate roughly half the charter sector.

As schools lose more and more students to the charter schools, parents then “vote with their feet,” choice advocates argue, and the market will “work.”

In Ohio, for instance, a recent investigation into charter schools by state auditors found evidence of fraud that made North Carolina’s pale in comparison. The privately operated schools get nearly $6,000 in taxpayer money for every student they enroll, but half the charter schools the auditor looked at had “significantly lower” attendance than what they claimed in state funding.

One charter school in Youngstown had no students at all, having sent the kids home for the day at 12:30 in the afternoon.

This form of charter school fraud is so widespread, according to an article in Education Week, many states now employ “‘mystery’ or ‘secret shopper’ services used in retail” that pose as inquiring parents to call charter schools to ensure they’re educating the students they say they are.

Enrollment inflation is not the only form of fraud charter schools practice. In Missouri, a federal judge recently fingered a nationwide chain of charter schools, Imagine, for “self-dealing” in a lease agreement that allowed it to fleece a local charter school of over a million dollars.

“The facts of the case mirror arrangements in Ohio and other states,” the reporter noted, “where Imagine schools pay exorbitant rent to an Imagine subsidiary, SchoolHouse Finance. The high lease payments leave little money for classroom instruction and help explain the poor academic records of Imagine schools in both states.”

A charter school manager in Michigan is about to go on trial for steering nearly a million dollars in public funds targeted to renovate his charter school into his own bank account.

In Washington, which was late to the game of charters and choice, the state’s first charter school is already under investigation for financial and academic issues.

Investigators in the District of Columbia, recently uncovered a charter school operator who “funneled $13 million of public money into a private company for personal gain.”

A recent report from the Center for Popular Democracy looked at charter school finances in Illinois and found “$13.1 million in fraud by charter school officials … Because of the lack of transparency and necessary oversight, total fraud is estimated at $27.7 million in 2014 alone.”

One example the CPD report cited was of a charter operator in Chicago who used charter school funds amounting to more than $250,000 to purchase personal items from luxury department stores, including $2,000 on hair care and cosmetic products and $5,800 for jewelry.

While charter school operations continue to waste public money on scandals and fraud – all in the name of “choice” – newly enacted school vouchers divert more public school dollars to private schools.

In parts of Ohio, “the state-sponsored voucher program has increased or even doubled enrollment at some private schools.”

In Indiana, which has the largest taxpayer-funded school voucher program in the country, according to a local source, virtually all of the participating schools, 97 percent, are religiously affiliated private schools.

In Louisiana, over a third of students using voucher funds to attend private schools are enrolled schools “doing such a poor job of educating them that the schools have been barred from taking new voucher students.”

In parts of Wisconsin, “private schools accepting vouchers receive more money per student than public school districts do for students attending through open enrollment.”

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