FOLLOW THE MONEY: THE FRIGHTENING CORPORATIZATION OF PUBLIC EDUCATION

This is messed up.

 According to the Chicago Public Schools’ 2013 budget, charter schools will receive nearly $483 million in funding -- up more than 13% from 2012 funding.

My daughter’s CPS elementary school has been fundraising feverishly for two years to raise approximately $50,000.  This money will be used to replace a poorly maintained asphalt parking lot with 'green space' so kids will have something to play on besides asphalt.

Even a fraction of that $483 MILLION -- $483 MILLION -- would have gone a long way to improve our local public school.

Since Mayor Rahm seems keen on the idea, I’ve been trying to get my head around the charter school issue.  Before I started really investigating it, the idea of charters seemed reasonable.  The theory, according to the National Education Association, being that 'charter schools are publicly funded elementary or secondary schools that have been freed from some of the rules, regulations and statutes that apply to other public schools, in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each charter school’s charter.’

Seems like a good idea, right?

It’s not.  Charter schools will ruin American public education.  And, eventually, the corporatization of American education will undermine American democracy.

Too dramatic?  Read on.

First, many charters are profit-based.  That means, to produce certain results charters can hand pick – and dismiss – students to influence those certain results.  REUTERS found that 'across the United States, charters aggressively screen student applicants, assessing their academic records, parental support, disciplinary history, motivation, special needs and even their citizenship, sometimes in violation of state and federal law.'

In Michigan, for example, 65 percent of charters are run by for-profit educational management organizations, or EMOs.  The majority of charter schools in Detroit and around Michigan are failing.  They’re failing because Michigan doesn’t do its homework.  They don’t require charter operators to show a proven record of success before opening a school (nor does the state require that those charters maintain performance levels like test scores, graduation rates, college placement after opening).  So, these charters keep operating, keep raking in profits and keep putting the public education system at risk by diverting public funds.

Is this a good idea?

Do we really need another profit-based industry receiving government subsidies?  No.   And, make no mistake, charter organizations are industries.  In the venture capital world, transactions in the K-12 education sector soared to a record $389 million in 2011, up from $13 million in 2005.  It would be interesting to find out charter school profits but, alas, they are not beholden to the government to report profits.  Yes, that’s right, they take our tax dollars but are not accountable to taxpayers.

Slippery?  Yeah.

Think of charters as just another subsidized oil company.  It’s bad enough that we subsidize Exxon Mobil (who, in 2011, raked in profits of over $41 billion).  I like to think of these subsidies as gifts from middle-class and poor families to the 1%.

You’re welcome.

The United States Constitution requires that all kids in America be given equal educational opportunity no matter what their race, ethnic background, religion, or sex, or whether they are rich or poor, citizen or non-citizen.  The right to an excellent public education is one of our most fundamental rights.

There are some solid charter charters.  But many -- junk charters -- perform below public schools.  And, yet, they continue to divert public funds that could make our public schools the best in the world.

Let’s hope that Mayor Rahm doesn’t get starry-eyed in the face of all this money flying around.  During the 2012 CPS Teacher’s Strike, Mayor Rahm demonized our public school teachers.  His administration made the strike an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ issue.  We, the Administration, want to see your kids in school.  They, the teachers, want to continue this strike.  That was the clear message from CPS Administrators.

Let's face it, charters are just a very sophisticated and expensive way to bust unions.  The corporatization of education puts democracy at risk by demonizing democratic forces like elections, collective bargaining, local control.

Elections, collective bargaining and local control are scary concepts to Wall Street money-makers.  Elections, collective bargaining and local control put private profit at risk.  And, as we all know, Wall Street aims to minimize risk.

Do the math.  Figure it out.  When you finally see the big picture, it’s actually a no-brainer.

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  • My concern is that once private industry gains a foothold - will the curriculum conform to teachings that benefit specific groups or that "dumb down" the public, or create mis-information that makes it easier for citizens to be happy with the status quo? Will large private or corporate investors be able to dictate what our kids learn, how they learn it, and also weigh in on what they should not learn?

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