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Stolen Language: Charter Schools Are Not “Public” Schools

August 17, 2016

On August 15, 2016,  the Post News Group published an op-ed entitled, “There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Public Charter School.'”

The piece was written by retired San Francisco State University adjunct professor, education activist, and Oakland, CA. resident, Ann Berlak. In short order, Berlak lays bare the lie behind the popularized message, “charter schools are public schools,” in such a clear, direct manner that I thought it worth sharing with my readers:

This year, more than a quarter of Oakland’s 49,000 students are attending one of its nearly 40 charter schools, far more per capita than anywhere else in the state.

Is this something for Oaklanders to boast about?

Not long ago I visited a school in Oakland to read to third graders on “Literacy Day.” On 
the way to the classroom I asked my guide if this was a charter or a public school. The 
immediate and decisive response: “We’re a public charter school.”

On June 14th the LA Times informed the public: “Charters are independently operated, free public schools.”

The California Department of Education makes no bones about it: “A charter school is a public school.”

However, the term “public charter school” was developed by a PR firm to reframe the way we understand schooling in relationship to “public” and to democracy.

The campaign has been wildly successful. However, though the term “public charter school” is increasingly ubiquitous, charters are not public schools.

Public institutions—schools, libraries, zoos—are, at least in theory, funded by 
taxes from all the people in its jurisdiction—local, state and national—and are held accountable to and by those people through that fundamental process we in a democracy call voting.

Most public schools are accountable to an elected school board made up of community 
members. Residents of that community have the right to be present at Board meetings, weigh in 
on votes and debates, and access public financial documents.

Charter schools are run by executive boards, committees or corporations whose members often 
live outside the community in which they are located and are not accountable to parents or 
the taxpayers/community members who fund them.

If you don’t like what your traditional public school is doing, you can make your voice heard by 
addressing administrators, voting for new leadership or taking a leadership role yourself. If 
you don’t like what your child’s charter school is doing and you express yourself, you may be 
asked to leave. There is no democratic mechanism for spearheading policy change.

Public institutions are the motors of democracy. Their purpose is to 
promote and preserve the fundamental values of a democratic society: liberty, equality and 
the public welfare or common good.

Public schools recognize that the welfare of everyone’s children and grandchildren is 
intimately linked to the welfare of all. Through support and oversight by the community, 
public schooling is intended to serve the common good and preserve fundamental qualities that sustain 
democracy beyond getting students “college and career ready.” If public schools have not always lived up to their promise then it is necessary to redouble our efforts to have them do so, not to abandon them.

When students leave public schools for charter schools they take their per pupil expenditures –which in California averaged $9,794 last year–with them, leaving public schools with less revenue but the same overhead.

The federal government also spends millions on charters at the expense of public schools. Taxpayers paid one consulting firm nearly $10 million to the U.S. Department of Education Charter Schools. That’s $10 million fewer federal dollars for public schools.

The law forbids local districts, which in California are the main authorizers for new charters, from taking into account the potentially crippling impact of new charters on district financing when considering approving new schools.

So even if you find an excellent charter to send your own child to, you are reducing the chances of every student remaining in the public school having their own excellent education.

Charter schools’ claim they enhance democracy is disingenuous.

The highly touted freedom of individual parents to choose their child’s school comes at the heavy price of reducing two other essential functions of democracy: providing for the general welfare of a society that requires well funded public schools and insuring equal opportunity for all children.

Competing with traditional public schools for space and funding reduces the quality of the remaining public schools, and ignores patterns of clear advantage for the children of savvy parents, thus assuring that some children will be better schooled than others.

Being publicly funded, charters cannot be considered private. However, their private governance and their marginalization of fundamental democratic values disqualify them as public.

The most accurate label for charters is “Publicly–funded private schools.” Don’t let them abscond with our language. There is no such thing as a public charter school.

In its July 29, 2016, resolution seeking a moratorium on charter schools, the NAACP confronts a number of problems stemming from the handing off of public (and public education) funding to charter schools, including “seek[ing] legislation to strengthen investigative powers of those bodies that oversee charter school fraud, corruption, waste” and “seek[ing] to pass legislation at the State and Local levels that will ensure that parents have access to Charter School Advocacy Boards.”

The NAACP resolution is also clear that charter schools funded using taxpayer money are “publicly funded charter schools,” not public schools.

Diverting public funding to an entity does not make that entity “public” any more than receiving a blood transfusion from Barack Obama would make me president.

white house

____________________________________________________________

Released July 2016– Book Three:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of both A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

7 Comments
  1. Michael Fiorillo permalink

    Stolen language, indeed, and put most simply, a lie.

  2. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Really clear. I wonder if anyone can identify the PR firm that put the word “public” into this boon for profit seekers.

  3. Zorba permalink

    Reblogged this on Politicians Are Poody Heads and commented:
    If the charters are not accountable to the public, then, indeed, they are not “public” schools.

  4. Reblogged this on Crazy Normal – the Classroom Exposé and commented:
    No matter what you have been told, what you have read, what you think, corporate charter schools are NOT public schools. I want to stand and shout as loud as I can the world “Not!” Do not fall for that lie.

  5. Andrew permalink

    Re: “being publicly funded, charters cannot be considered private.”

    Why not? Aren’t they essentially just another private contractor, doing a service for a government entity? If DoD contractors can be referred to as “private contractors,” surely there’s nothing wrong with referring to charter schools as private contractors.

  6. tedcloak permalink

    re: “Public institutions—schools, libraries, zoos—are, at least in theory, funded by 
taxes from all the people in its jurisdiction—local, state and national—and are held accountable to and by those people through that fundamental process we in a democracy call voting.

    “Most public schools are accountable to an elected school board made up of community 
members. Residents of that community have the right to be present at Board meetings, weigh in 
on votes and debates, and access public financial documents.” :

    In New Mexico, charter schools are authorized, and overseen, either by their locally elected public school boards or by the elected state Public Education Commission.* Each charter school has its own Governing Council made up of local volunteers, which oversees the school’s principal. Meetings of all the above entities are subject to the state’s very tough open meetings law, which governs city councils, county commissions, and state entities of all sorts. Each charter school must re-apply for authorization every five years, and can and will fail if it hasn’t made good progress toward fulfilling the agreements made in its charter.

    So I think there is at least one exception to Dr. Berlak’s diatribe.
    _____________
    * There is one unfortunate exception: Overriding the PEC’s determination not to authorize it, the state’s appointed Secretary of Education authorized an on-line charter high school which hired an out-of-state for-profit firm to run its operation. We hope to change that in November of 2018 when we elect a new Governor.

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