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Charter school’s failure a testament to inadequate standards and oversight

charterschools [1]It’s funny and sad how humans have to constantly relearn basic lessons of history. The latest exhibit here in North Carolina comes from the world of education where, once again, we’ve been reminded of just why it is that our forebears established a uniform system of public education.

It’s not that children didn’t receive education prior to the construction of a statewide public system that featured uniform rules, standards and oversight. The “genius of the market” assured that some kids did very well.

The problem, of course, is that “market failures” and parental “choice” also assured that huge numbers of children got very little education. To make matters worse, no one was ultimately responsible for the failure and, not surprisingly, North Carolina was a poor and backward state with a handful of “haves” and boatload of “have nots.”

We were reminded of these simple truths about the past again this morning by this story on the Charlotte Observer [2] documenting the latest outrage from the world of barely-regulated charter schools. As the Observer reports:

“New documents from the state charter school office detail a litany of problems in oversight, finances and academics at Concrete Roses STEM Academy in the days before it suddenly shut down.

The documents also raised concerns about personal payments the school’s founder and chairman, Cedric Stone, allowed himself on top of his salary.

Documents show that Stone used school money to make payments on Stone’s car and buy cellphones. They also show that he reimbursed himself nearly $15,000 for expenses without providing documentation.”

As usual, traditional public schools are left to clean up the mess and absorb the kids abandoned by the latest charter scam artists.

None of this is to imply that traditional public schools don’t fall short and screw up all the time or that properly regulated charters can’t help. The critical difference is that unlike essentially unregulated charters and publicly-funded voucher schools, genuine public schools operate as part of a system that exists to serve a public purpose and that is ultimately accountable to society — not the gods of greed, profit and loss.

Sure, that system is imperfect, frequently bureaucratic and always in need of improvement. But as our ancestors learned many decades ago, it is, like democracy itself,  far better than anything anyone has yet come up with for assuring that all children in our society have at least an opportunity to succeed. Sadly, if predictably, a few hundred families in Charlotte have had to relearn this painful truth yet again this school year and many more will have to do so as the state’s current leadership continues its mad rush to privatize our most important public institution.