By Brooke Zarn and Kristine Baumstark (February 1, 2022)
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, charter schools nationwide tend to perform roughly as well as public schools and enrollment continues to rise. At the same time, however, a growing mistrust is undercutting the broad support charter schools have enjoyed in the past.
What’s wrong with charter schools?
Some fear that charter schools hurt public education financially. Additional concerns are illustrated by recent state legislative action—for example, legislators in Pennsylvania are considering charter school accountability reform and in Iowa, a revived bill that would provide state funds to send children to nonpublic schools has generated transparency concerns.
Nothing’s wrong if you’re okay with bribery
Perhaps the ugliest side of the issue can be summed up by the effort in Michigan to privatize public education. As the author of “Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization”, Maurice T. Cunningham explains, “The campaign is being funded by the DeVos family [. . .] and several dark money groups [. . .]. It’s an attack on public schools and an attack on democracy.”
A 2019 AP article explains more about this undue influence by detailing how millions were spent on campaigns by the charter/private school lobby in California. We see similar efforts nationwide, with families like the Waltons and the DeVoses using 501(c)4 “social welfare” organizations such as the American Federation for Children (AFC). The AFC has donated millions of dollars to various state legislators through its network of state political action committees (PACs).
Nothing’s wrong if you’re okay with wasting taxpayer money
Presumably, the influx of campaign dollars has pleased politicians and made them more favorable to charter and other private schools. But it’s doubtful that charter schools provide the benefit to our nation’s children that the name seems to promise. Indeed, at the end of the day, the only difference seems to be wasted tax money.
An investigation by the Network for Public Education determined that the U.S. Department of Education spent $4.1 billion to fund new charter schools and expand existing schools. However, a high number of schools either never opened or closed shortly after opening, wasting roughly $502 million in taxpayer money.
If it’s not okay by you, we have a suggestion
It only takes a few uber-wealthy donors exercising undue influence to affect policy at both the state and national level. Charter schools continue to operate with low oversight and mixed results despite their waning popularity.
Join the Wolf-PAC cause if you’re as offended as we are by such blatant influence peddling. Wolf-PAC’s goal is to get a 28th Amendment to our Constitution providing real campaign finance reform. For more information on what you can do to help, follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and visit our webpage: wolf-pac.com.
The Wolf-PAC all-volunteer Communications Team created this blog!
- Editing by Brian Martel and Kristine Baumstark
- Cunningham, M. (2022, January 23). Dark money fuels Michigan school privatization campaign. Detroit Free Press. https://www.freep.com/story/opinion/contributors/2022/01/23/dark-money-michigan-school-privatization/6607804001/
- Gov. Wolf Repeats Call for Charter School Accountability. (2022, January 25). Pennsylvania Governor’s Office, Press Release. https://www.governor.pa.gov/newsroom/gov-wolf-repeats-call-for-charter-school-accountability/
- Grading charter schools. (2021, April 3). The Week. https://theweek.com/articles/975156/grading-charter-schools
- Hytrek, N. (2022, January 25). GOP Senators Argue That Less Money Makes Public Schools Better. Iowa Starting Line. https://iowastartingline.com/2022/01/25/gop-senators-argue-that-less-money-makes-public-schools-better/
- Lecker, W. (2019, January 6). Charter lobby still paying for influence. The Associated Press.
- Still Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Results in a Pileup of Fraud and Waste. (2019, December 6). Network for Public Education. https://networkforpubliceducation.org/stillasleepatthewheel/
- Understanding the Opportunities and Challenges of Charter Management Contracts for Public Schools. (2021, December 16). The Center for American Progress. https://www.americanprogress.org/article/understanding-the-opportunities-and-challenges-of-charter-management-contracts-for-public-schools/