For-Profit Charters Still A Live Idea — Let’s Demand Answers from Candidates

For profit charter school corporations have proved in several states that they aren’t likely to abandon their crusade to turn the public good of public education into a private investment opportunity.

This is fair warning: They won’t quit in Oklahoma, either.

And leading up to the November elections this year, voters in Oklahoma have every right to ask for answers about each candidate’s policies toward for-profit charters, how transparent they should be, and who will control those charters.

Why the concern?

North Carolina is the last state to see this persistence. Recently, as reported on Diane Ravitch’s blog and in other media, a bill that was supposed to just be a technical fix bill included a new provision that would protect private charter companies from having to disclose who they have hired and how much they have paid those hires, even though they are being paid with public tax dollars.

According to North Carolina Policy Watch, one provision of that sweeping bill “…allows private, for-profit management companies that run charter schools to keep their employees’ salaries secret, even though they are paid with public funds.”

That same bill also provides for “…staff of for-profit charter school management groups to serve on the boards of the public charters schools that contract with them.”

Clearly, in North Carolina, there is an effort to make sure that there is “accountability” for public schools in all aspects, but private, for-profit charters should be allowed to have staff sitting on boards that control the contracts and should not be required to disclose how much they are making from public tax dollars.

Lightly Regulated Charters Proposed Here Just Last Year

Last year concerned teachers, administrators, parents and others in Oklahoma worked hard to stop the progress of a bill submitted into the Oklahoma Senate that would have thrown the doors open wide to for-profit charter school corporations. The legislation would have taken control away from local school boards and put the power of regulation of charters into a state-wide, appointed board.

In April, I posted “Bill Allowing Charter School Debt Threatens Education Funds in Oklahoma” warning about the possible effects of SB 573 becoming law. Later I posted “This Is What Happens When Bankers Run Public Schools” showing from examples in North Carolina what happens when investors and for-profit charter school promoters take on the task of public education.

Proponents of private charters in Gov. Fallin’s office and in Supt. Barresi’s office pushed this bill into the legislature. It was fashioned mostly verbatim from a model bill proposed by The National Alliance of Public Charter Schools that had been used earlier in several states including North Carolina.

Proposals for “Improvement” of Charter Laws Next Year

Here is the page on their website where they show their model legislation side-by-side with Oklahoma’s existing laws on charter schools. It also shows a score on how Oklahoma’s laws measure up to their model. Take a look. It’s eye-opening what is being proposed. Last year’s SB 573 was heavily fashioned after this model with most sections being identical.

Do we see any mention that they will give up? Just look:

The biggest area for improvement in Oklahoma’s law is expanding charter schools statewide (the state currently allows charters in 21 of its 537 districts). Other potential areas for improvement include beefing up the law in relation to the model law’s four quality control components…and ensuring equitable operational funding and equitable access to capital funding and facilities.

That’s hardly a call to break off the chase.

Proponents of the model legislation argue that this would give parents local control of where there children go to school. But, turning parents into shoppers is not the same as giving local democratic control of schools through elected boards of education.

Notice that I am not saying “if” here. When new legislation is proposed in this next legislative session we should be politically prepared. And a part of that preparation is selecting a Superintendent of Public Instruction that has answered some basic questions and made commitments about where they stand on these particular ideas.

Ask Questions – Demand Answers

To simply repeat what current law calls for falls far short, and should be treated as the dodge that it is.

It’s important that we nail down our candidates for any state office on their policy positions about this model legislation. It was pushed in the last legislature, controls other states’ education processes already, and surely will be proposed again this next session.

In short, will our new superintendent, governor, and legislators be for or against that kind of wide-open legislation for private charter corporations? That’s what my questions in earlier posts here and here were about.

These are fair questions. We deserve to know.