New Report Details Trouble With California’s Charter Schools

A report released this month by the research and policy center In The Public Interest details the educational shortcomings and financial wastes of California’s charter school industry, a warning to other states, and the federal government, considering implementing similar policies.

The report describes how charter schools have wasted hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding and tax subsidies by building nearly a third of California’s charter schools in communities where there was no demand, and frequently offering an education that was of a much lower caliber than the area’s public schools. Over the last 15 years, the state has spent over $2.5 billion just on leasing, building and buying charter school buildings.

Typically, school districts receive money to build additional schools only if the five year population growth estimate of the county shows that the district will not be able to meet demand for public education in five years with the current supply. However, the same rule does not apply to charter schools.

In addition, the report found that three-quarters of the state’s 1,200 charter schools provide an education that is not superior to the one offered in that community’s public school, meaning that nearly $2 billion in California funding and financing were unnecessarily wasted on institutions that provide a low quality education.

Over 30 percent of California charter schools were determined to be both failing and in a community with no need for additional educational resources. Meanwhile, public schools in need of funding are going without.

The report states, “Because legislators’ vision for charter schools has not been incorporated into funding formulas, the hundreds of millions of dollars spent annually on charter facilities have not created the hoped for incubator of innovation and continual improvement. While some charter schools have proved exemplary, much of the industry has become dominated by the same types of organizations legislators had sought to reform: large chains of schools where materials, methods, and evaluation are centrally dictated and teachers lack the power to set the curriculum; Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) that replicate a single model over and over again with little variation; and schools whose quality of education is no better than that of nearby public schools, and who do not serve to spur improvements in the wider system.”

The report is troubling considering Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is an avid defender of unregulated charter schools and a voucher system. As a billionaire philanthropist in Michigan, she advocated either for public schools to shut down and privatize in the form of charter schools, or offer all parents vouchers to lessen the cost of sending children to private and religious schools.

Like in California, DeVos’s initiatives to implement charter schools in Michigan have failed to raise the advancement of disadvantaged students or improve the performance of traditional public schools, with results on national reading and math tests plummeting as charter schools expanded. In 2015, a federal review found “an unreasonably high” percentage of charter schools fell into the list of Michigan’s lowest performing schools. 80 percent of charter schools in Michigan are operated for-profit, the highest rate of for-profit charter schools in any state in the country.

When a bill was introduced that would have placed basic regulations and oversights over charter schools, DeVos withheld financial support from Republican lawmakers until they killed the measure, arguing that the free market should be the only regulator of education.

DeVos has been criticized by supporters of charter schools for creating one of the most unregulated charter school markets in the country; the nation’s most successful charter networks refuse to open schools in Michigan because of the instability. Because there is no limit on the number of charter schools that can be opened, more than 150 schools have opened or closed in Detroit in the last seven years, with too many seats available in downtown schools and not nearly enough in the poorest, most remote neighborhoods.

A recent report found that the expansion of charter schools in US cities is “exacerbating inequalities across schools and children because children are being increasingly segregated by economic status, race, language, and disabilities and further, because charter schools are raising and spending vastly different amounts, without regard for differences in student needs.”

Media Resources: In The Public Interest 04/2017; Feminist Majority Foundation 2/7/17, 1/18/17

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