This is what happens when a state hands over public education to investors and bankers: They use up the school start-up effort for financial reasons only and forget the potential for negative impact on the students if the school fails.
As reported by The Charlotte Observer, the most recent casualty is the StudentFirst charter school in North Carolina that abruptly announced last Friday that it would be closing its doors for good after numerous struggles with unethical administration and misuse of public funds. Here is a reaction from an involved parent that day:
The Republican-dominated North Carolina legislature made this possible by instituting sweeping reforms a few years back that took local control out of the hands of locally elected school boards and handed it over to a statewide appointed commission that was supposed to be a big improvement of accountability for charter schools in the state.
Sound familiar? That’s because Oklahoma is proposing the same model framework in SB 573. I described the details of that bill in my earlier post.
The framework gives all accountability to one appointed state-wide commission that controls which charters are allowed and which are to be disciplined and controlled. Most importantly, this commission’s power is mostly after-the-fact, rather than proactive. When school debt is allowed, then the potential for a huge waste of taxpayer funds that cannot be recovered becomes larger than any negative potential of the current set of controls in traditional education in the states.
Perhaps it’s because it takes a very different person to do well as a banker or hedge fund manager than it does to be a teacher or a principal.
The NC fiasco shows the built-in weakness of the model that has been passed around from red state to red state that allows charter schools to go into debt. When a school administration knows that it cannot take up the slack of its administrative failings with going deeper into debt, then they know from the beginning that they better bring their “A game” to work from day one.
1. Model legislation was passed.
2. Authorization of charters was given over to a central commission for the whole state. This was supposed to solve a number of problems that other states have seen by giving the authorization job over to special people with special training and talent to do that job of authorization and oversight. It didn’t work that way, just as it hasn’t worked in so many other states.
3. Due to bad administration at the school, financial problems started affecting the performance of the school. This shows that money actually does matter in public education and has a profound impact on the performance of a school.
4. Once word got out of financial difficulties, many parents pulled their students as soon as they could and moved to other schools.
No problem, right? Wrong. What I heard in so many of my struggling students’ stories (and especially when I taught alternative school) was that things started falling apart when they started moving from school to school. Participation in a school has to do with consistency, relationships, and continuity of expectation. Going to school is not like walking into your favorite restaurant or clothing store. School is less a place to be shopped than a relationship to be developed.
And this is the big difference between the way that a corporate raider thinks about school and the way that an experienced teacher or principal thinks about school. Teachers know that school is not a place, it is a relationship.
Conclusion: So, we can’t just do speculative work in one charter and – oh, well – if it doesn’t work we just offer a new “store” for the kids to shift over to. It doesn’t work that way. Schools are not stores and students are not customers. That sounds obvious to educational professionals; but, clearly it is not so obvious to bankers who want to make big bucks in the education business.