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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

CHARTER$ CA$HING IN ON KID$: H.R. 10 Sails Through House of Representatives

In the know...or in the dark?

"Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter School" bill exempts charter schools from federal requirements, basic tenets of transparency and accountability that are required of any publicly-funded institution. 

Just days after the release of “Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud And Abuse”, a report authored by the Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education, the U. S. House of Representatives voted to give the charter school industry an early Christmas present. 

By a vote of 360-45, the House on May 9th passed the bipartisan “Success and Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Act” (H.R. 10) to expand access to charter school funding. The bill would expand federal funding for charter schools by some $50 million; however, it offers no provisions to expand transparency and accountability for the charter schools receiving this money. When such provisions were proposed in the House, they were voted down on the shaky grounds that they were “burdensome and unnecessary” (even though public institutions must comply with such standards).

A majority of Democrats — 158 in favor and 34 against — joined all but 11 Republicans in support of the measure.

Of the five Michigan U.S. Congressional representatives who actually bothered to show up and vote (Justin Amash, Dan Benishek, John Conyers, Dan Kildee and Gary Peters), only two voted no: Kildee and Amash. The rest, including Peters, a Senate candidate who touts the fact his father worked as a public school teacher for more than 30 years, voted yes.

The bill, authored by House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) and the panel's top Democrat, Rep. George Miller (Calif.), would consolidate the two existing federal charter school programs into one to award grants to state entities.

The measure would also authorize the secretary of Education to maintain a federal grant competition for charter schools that did not win state grants.

Republicans have touted the issue of school choice and access to charter schools as a way of limiting the federal government's role in education policy. Charter schools receive public funding, but operate independently and therefore are not subject to federal regulations.

"Expanding education opportunity for all students everywhere is the civil rights issue of our time," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said. "I say we help those students by expanding those slots so they can get off the waiting lists and into the classrooms."

The House rejected, 190-205, an amendment offered by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) that would require the secretary of Education to develop conflict of interest guidelines for all charter schools receiving federal funds, such as disclosing individuals with financial interest in a given charter school.  Dubbing the amendment “an overreach of federal authority”, Kline said the proposal would be “unnecessary”.

Members also rejected, 179-220, an amendment offered by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) to require charter schools to publish data regarding student enrollment criteria, discipline policies and orientation materials on their websites.

Kline said that requiring charter schools to publish such information would impose “an unnecessary workload not required of public schools”.


Miller and Kline clearly displayed a sense of humor when naming the bill, which is basically an answer to a public education privatizer’s prayer—“success and opportunity” to get what they can from public school funds.

According to the bill, tax dollars would be used to “provide financial assistance for the planning, program design, and initial implementation of charter schools” and expand the number of charter schools. The bill “encourage States to provide support to charter schools for facilities financing in an amount more nearly commensurate to the amount the States have typically provided for traditional public schools”. 

The bill also supports “the startup of charter schools, and the replication and expansion” of charter schools and assist “charter schools in accessing credit to acquire and renovate facilities for school use”.

Our elected representatives have shown they’re willing to hand over what hasn’t been grabbed yet and serve it up to private corporations on a school lunch tray.

Studies show that charter schools have been determined to be no better academically than traditional public schools and their spread has created greater racial segregation. Charter schools will often “push out” low achieving students in hopes of improving the school’s academic profile while minimizing costs by educating fewer challenging students. Charter schools also “cream skim” the best students from public schools, leaving the more challenging students behind for traditional public schools to educate.

And, most importantly here in Michigan, charter school scandals reveal that tax payer dollars are going directly into the pockets of the charter school “education service providers” (like Smart Schools Management, Inc.) rather than to the teachers, the students and the facilities.

After all, the Grand Traverse Academy is still without a library nearly 14 years after it opened.

At a time when so many public schools are drastically cutting their basic budgets, why would Congress provide millions more to private school management companies that have not proven they are better alternatives? And why would education reforms undermine local school governance and democratic education?

Maybe you can ask your favorite Senator, because a version of the House bill (sponsored by Senators Mary Landreiu of Lousiana, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Mark Kirk of Illinois and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee) is making its way to a Senate vote.

Landrieu said the legislation would permit the development of 500 charter schools per year across the country. States that are using charter schools to turn around long-struggling traditional public schools, or that have policies in place to help charter schools secure facilities, would have an advantage in the grant competition.

Without measures in place to maintain transparency, the potential for conflicts of interest and abuse of public funds looms large. In court, charter groups have successfully argued that charter schools are not public entities but private organizations, despite the fact that they subsist largely on public funds (funds that would otherwise go to cash-strapped public schools). State regulatory agencies have no power to audit the financial records of charter schools.

And just try pointing out to our representatives that failing to require transparency in the use by charter schools of public funds betrays a central conservative value: fiscal responsibility.

Charter schools are taxpayer-funded but independently run. Most are not unionized, and their rapid growth across the country in recent years — helped along by the strong support of the Obama administration — has stoked endless debate in education policy and political circles.

Democrats in the House received no regulatory reforms in return for this give-away to education service providers.

They’re either the world's worst negotiators and biggest suckers…or they don’t really want charter schools to be regulated and transparent.

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