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YARBROUGH: Why isn’t anyone talking about for-profit charter schools?

Dick Yarbrough

Dick Yarbrough

At the risk of sounding like Johnny One-Note, let me go back over my concerns one more time about the charter school constitutional amendment bill in the State Senate that may or may not have been passed by the time this gets to you. (My deadlines and legislative deadlines don’t always coincide.)

I don’t have a problem with charter schools. In concept, charter schools are fine. My problem is that nobody seems to be talking about for-profit charter schools. That is a different matter.

Call me cynical, but you have to wonder why all the enthusiasm by legislators to promote charter schools while continuing to cut public school budgets and furlough teachers, particularly when the State Department of Education recently released a report saying that charter schools in Georgia don’t perform as well as traditional public schools and their graduation rates are no better.

Legislators have gotten downright threatening with reluctant colleagues about charter schools and that just hasn’t made much sense to me. If charter school performance is not that much better than that of their public school cousins, why the urgency?

Thanks to a sharp-eyed reader who suggested I might want to see what is happening in Florida with their charter schools, I think I have broken the code. It’s not about the kids. It is about money and politics and influence peddling. Now, things are beginning to make sense.

The Miami Herald did an in-depth study on charter school operations in Florida in December and says that charter schools are a $400 million business and have turned into one of the region’s fastest-growing industries, “backed by real-estate developers and promoted by politicians” and “rife with insider deals and potential conflicts of interest.” The Herald says state lawmakers in Florida have chipped away at local school districts’ ability to monitor the activities of charter school managers until they are virtually without any government oversight, even though the state donates $6,000 in taxpayer dollars for every student enrolled.

As for the mantra that “parents will be in control,” in many cases it is the management companies that are firmly in control in Florida. The paper says that some charter school managers have rendered governing boards “irrelevant” by ignoring their recommendations.

In Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, the Miami Herald says about two in three charter schools are run by management companies, which charge fees ranging from five to 18 percent of a school’s income and can exceed $1 million a year in income.

Further, the paper says, many management companies also control the land and buildings used by the schools and collect as much as 25 percent of a school’s revenue in lease payments. Think that can’t happen in Georgia?

Let’s take a look at Cherokee County. The board of education had the temerity to turn down a charter school application from for-profit Charter Schools USA headquartered in — you guessed it — Florida. The petition sounds eerily like some of the deals reported in the Miami Herald. The petition proposed that Red Apple Development, a corporation affiliated with CSUSA, purchase the school facility, then lease it back to CSUSA. The for-profit charter school would use tax funds to pay debt service and maintenance on the property, and Red Apple would retain all the benefits of ownership. That is what you call your basic sweet deal.

The board’s rejection didn’t sit well with the local legislative delegation. In redrawing school districts as mandated every 10 years, the delegation seems intent on placing two incumbent school board members in districts with two other incumbents, even though the guidelines suggest not doing that. It so happens that the two were vocal opponents of the charter school petition. A coincidence? I think not.

It is interesting to note than none of the Cherokee County legislators, including State Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) have their children in Cherokee’s public schools, even though the system is one of the best in the state. It is also interesting to note that the delegation has allowed the Cherokee County school system funding to be slashed by $118 million over the past seven years. Do you see where this is going?

I’m not against charter schools in principle, but don’t be surprised if powerful for-profit charter management companies come in and dominate the business with a little help and encouragement from certain politicians. This isn’t about the children. It is about money and political influence and special interests. Why am I not surprised?

Email columnist Dick Yarbrough at yarb2400@bellsouth.net. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/dickyarbrough.

Comments

kjf 2 years, 6 months ago

Imagine the evil of a private company building a new school facility to replace a an asbestos filled firetrap built in the 1930's and then charging rent to use it. Terrible, terrible. All school facilities must be built by and maintained by government employees.

Imagine a private company telling a school board that their standards are too low and ignoring them.

Imagine a private school educating students to the same level that China and South Korea does, keeping science and engineering jobs in this country. I agree with you Dick, competition in education is a terrible thing.

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FactChecker 2 years, 6 months ago

Even while using satire, you should not misrepresent facts. Schools have regular fire inspections and "firetrap" schools, should one have existed, would be required to renovate to keep it up to standards. In the 70s & 80s, schools were inspected for asbestos and were required to have all asbestos removed. As for the idea that private charters have higher standards, just the opposite can be demonstrated clearly through existing data. While the idea of competition is good, let's put it on the right level. If students could generate as much enthusiasm for competing academically as they do in sports programs, then the competition for having the best school in you district, state and nation should help most schools excel, providing they are sufficiently funded.

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Jan 2 years, 6 months ago

I hope those that have criticized public schools and heralded the great educational opportunities of charters read your column. I am sure that other states have similar stories of greed. Thank yo for doing the research.

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ED101 2 years, 5 months ago

The problem many see is that status quo in GA is not cutting it for their kids. 48th in the nation is not something to be proud of. IF anything can be learned from FL it is that we as Georgians will have to be alert and active to keep things in order like anything else. IF you dont weed a garden ti gets over grown. same thing has happened in our school district's in GA. The local BOE in many places just dont do their jobs and are like ticks you can not get them out. So what do you do ... well a charter school is a great alternative. A private company who is in business to manage a school properly as to achieve set education goals by their commissioning party. If that school does not meet yearly goals they are shut down.. what is the problem with that? Local school can be horrible for years an never get that same treatment. Parents should get a choice in their pubic education... the decades old model is failing our kids an employer are demanding more intelligent students from our schools. Charters are a tool to get this done. The fear is all about money and control but not from the charter .. but from the tradition school district loosing federal and state funds. What i best for the children is not even considered.. just that crying about who gets the money. Most charters run leaner and better than a traditional school so one can argue the management company is doing ti better with tax payer dollars. Right now the school mentioned is not receiving any money slated for CCSD. and yet the charter is doing it with less and thus far is excelling at it. Maybe ccsd should check how they are managing their funds it might be they are bloated and over funded. OR the BOE is just that crooked..

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KD 2 years, 5 months ago

Georgia is currently in the bottom 5% nationally when is comes to education. Do you want to stay status quo? As parents we have been patiently waiting for it to get better. The powers that be have basically done nothing to imporve the situation continuing to say there is no money. Parents are tired of it. We want better for ourr children. Status quo is not good enough. I read where it is "proven" that Charters do not do any better than the local schools. Are you comparing these "Charters" to a state in the bottom 5%? I think not. Regarding surveys - that is a selling tool, I can take a survey and get whatever results you need depending on the people I survey. Let the people of Georgia vote in November if they want to stay Status Quo.

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kevin 2 years, 5 months ago

Maybe because the for-profit ones will be too successful in Georgia.

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