I Have Nothing Against Charters, No Really!

April 21, 2018

I am about to say something that I’m guessing many of you will find truly shocking. I have nothing against charter or private schools. Nothing. I know many people who choose either option. And we’re still friends. So to all the Uplifts and KIPPs and ILTs and Harmonys out there, as a private company, feel free to take your money and start them.  However, leave the taxpayer funds in traditional public schools. 

 

But they don’t want to take their money and start them, they want to take taxpayer's money and start them. Why? Because public education is a $600 Billion a year industry, yes that is a B. Where’s the risk in taking someone else’s money to fund your private business? It’s a no brainer really. 

 

Always follow the money. 

 

The trail leads to four distinct areas and all revolve around the almighty greenback. They are privatization (independent ownership and thus profits), real estate, anti-union strategy, and social impact bonds (SIBs). Over the coming weeks I will discuss each of these in more detail.  Let’s start with the anti-union strategy.

 

Texas is a right to work state, so technically we do not have unions. But teachers are large in numbers and have organized groups that could influence policies affecting their profession. Unions bargain on behalf of its members, for things like a living wage, working conditions, health insurance, and retirement benefits.  If fewer organizations in a community offer decent pay with reasonable benefits, then there will be less demand in the market. 

 

For example, if XYZ employees 10,000 people and is known for paying better than minimum wage, a generous leave package, great health coverage and a pension plan then that’s where folks are going to want to work. Makes sense right? So that means that ABC and JKL who are competing for employees in that market are also going to have to offer a competitive package. 

 

According to the US Labor Department, benefits are approximately 30% of a salary. So private industry can save a lot of money by not offering a strong wage and/or generous benefits package and they won’t have to if the workforce pool is not demanding it; i.e.: the competition isn’t offering it.

 

This is why in Texas we see the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) in shambles, teacher’s healthcare costs soaring year after year, and their salaries stagnant. This is purposeful underfunding, a conscious choice on the part of our legislators to de-professionalize teaching and destabilize the teacher market. 

 

The resultant teacher shortage forces districts to utilize non-professional educators (like TFA) who can churn through the profession, padding their grad school applications on their way to their professional career with good pay and a stellar benefits package.

 

At the same time, introduce technology – assign lessons on the tablet and further reduce the need for a professional educator. Tablets and laptops don’t require a benefits package. 

 

The charter industry is all too game to support this destabilization. They would not survive without the likes of TFA. And any measure to lessen the educator experience on the part of ISDs is good news for charters. Charter schools aren’t required to hire certified teachers.

 

Texas is projected to provide $2.56 Billion to charter schools in 2017-2018.  With independent school districts (ISDs) consistently outperforming charters since their introduction in 1995, reasonable people would ask why do we continue to fund and expand charter schools?

 

Charter schools have hundreds of millions of dollars in bond debt that cannot be supported by current charter enrollments. To survive, they must increase enrollment and increase funding from the state.

 

Charter promoters need the Independent School Board (ISD) members and state legislators to be charter friendly, to continue policies that allow advancement of the charter school industry.

 

The financial problem is, there's only one pot of money. Advancing charter schools means underfunding public ISDs. 

 

Since it's school board election time in Dallas, remember this when you see 15 to 20 wealthy investor types donating $10-25K each to local school board elections, in districts the investor has never lived nor sent their children to school.

 

I testified last month to the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, who is flummoxed as to where to get the money to fund public education. I suggested the pool of money currently spent on unnecessary standardized testing.

 

Here's another suggestion: Moratorium on charter schools utilizing taxpayer funding.  

 

What could our ISDs do with $2.56 Billion? We could provide some serious public education such as a tutor for a struggling reader, a pay raise to our teachers, classroom supplies for all, early testing and treatment for our dyslexic children, violins for children who want to join the band, and pre-K for impoverished three and four year olds just to name a few.

 

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