Chris Fitzsimon and others have written eloquently about what’s really driving the growth of charter schools in a lot of places, including North Carolina. Hint: it isn’t an altruistic commitment to the expansion of young minds. And no, it isn’t right-wing, true believer ideology about “the genius of the market” and the evils of government (although that’s certainly another one).
No, in this case, the driving force behind charters is this: money — as in the chance to make a lot of it.
“But how can that be?” you ask, “aren’t charters, public schools?
Well, yes, they are “public” in some technical sense, but that doesn’t mean that for-profit folks can’t run them or that giant private interests can’t swoop in to snag large, lucrative, sweetheart contracts to manage the darned things.
Check out this article that ran in Bloomberg Businessweek recently about two large for-profit businesses named Entertainment Properties Trust and Public Properties Development, Inc. who have identified charters as a great place to cash in by building and managing charter school properties.
Of course, private vendor contracts with public schools are nothing new. But in the case of charters, there is a lot more than pencils and school books at issue. In the case of charters, we face the real prospect of giant, national corporations coming in and, effectively, running the places at a large profit. Meanwhile, unlike real public schools where there is some chance for meaningful oversight of the contracts let, in the case of charters the oversight is basically nonexistent and left up to the charter boards — which can be easily stacked with quiescent or incompetent directors.
The bottom line: Not only are charters another key tactic in the right’s longstanding effort to tear down public education, they can also be a nifty way to funnel large amounts of public money to conservative corporations who will then turn around and lobby for more charters. This doesn’t mean there aren’t good charters out there doing good and important work, but it does mean that such actors are quite likely to become increasingly rare as they are swamped by the big money corporations who see charters as a vehicle for converting billions in public funds into profits for the few.