Who's making money? Sadly, it's all the usual suspects.

In case you haven’t heard, public schools don’t make money.  In case you haven’t heard, charter schools make money.  It stands to reason, then, that public schools don’t contribute to political campaigns.  But charter schools do contribute to political campaigns and they contribute very nicely, thank you.

So guess who has the ear of Governor Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Alderman Edward Burke and Illinois House Speaker and state Democratic Party leader Michael Madigan?  The Chicago Teacher’s Union?  Try again.

People like Juan Rangel have their collective ears.  Rangel is the CEO of United Neighborhood Organization (U.N.O.).  U.N.O. is a Chicago charter school company that, you might have heard, ran into a bit of a snafu this week.  Seems the politically connected U.N.O., slated to receive $98 million in state grants, has been hiring contractors who also happen to be family members of UNO’s top executives.

What’s the big deal, you say?  It's the Chicago way, right?   Why get all fired up?

Well, for one, our politicians are selling public education to the highest bidders.  Charter schools take taxpayer dollars away from public schools.  That money ends up in the bank accounts of corporate interests.  That money, which could be used to build libraries and improve playgrounds and purchase badly needed technology for our public school students, is being quickly funneled into building a corporate education infrastructure.  For example, investment into the K-12 education sector soared from $13 million in 2005 to a record $389 million in 2012.

And then there’s this:  wealthy individuals from China, Nigeria, Russia and Australia are spending tens of millions of dollars to build American charter schools.

Why?

Reuters’ Stephanie Simon writes that, under a federal program known as EB-5, wealthy foreigners can ‘in effect buy U.S. immigration visas for themselves and their families by investing at least $500,000 in certain development projects.’

Lately, however, enterprising brokers have seen a golden opportunity to match cash-starved charter schools with cash-flush foreigners in investment deals that benefit both.

The demand is massive - massive - on the school side," said Greg Wing, an investment advisor. "On the investor side, it's massive, too.

But our public education system is broken and we need to fix it, right?

It’s not broken.  But it has been attacked – by spending cuts and well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning reformers – for decades.

Diane Ravitch is an educational policy analyst who once supported accountability reforms and now ardently opposes them. Ravitch has, for years, called for people to take action against corporate reforms:

What we need to improve education in this country is a strong, highly respected education profession; a rich curriculum in the arts and sciences, available in every school for every child; assessments that gauge what students know and can do, instead of mindless test prepping for bubble tests. And a government that is prepared to change the economic and social conditions that interfere with children's readiness to learn. We need high-quality early childhood education. We need parent education programs. We need social workers and guidance counselors in the school. Children need physical education every day. And schools should have classes small enough for students to get the attention they need when they need it.

We cannot improve education by quick fixes. We will not fix education by turning public schools over to entrepreneurs. We will not improve it by driving out experienced professionals and replacing them with enthusiastic amateurs. We will not make our schools better by closing them and firing teachers and entire staffs. No high-performing nation in the world follows such strategies. We cannot be satisfied with the status quo, which is not good enough for our children, nor can we satisfied with the Bush-Obama-Duncan "reforms" that have never been proven to work anywhere.

Josh Dwyer, Director of Education Reform at the Illinois Policy Institute writes that Governor Pat Quinn makes it sound like the slated $400 million cut to K-12 education will be the death knell of public education:

Similar to President Barack Obama’s approach to discussing the sequester, the Quinn administration is making these cuts sound like they will bring the education system to its knees. In actuality, it will force the state to spend as much on education this year as it did in 2008.

If Quinn was serious about tackling the issues within Illinois’ education system, he’d take a deeper look into how the state funds education and the outcomes this system has produced.

So where does all of this lead?  Well, take into account that Juan Rangel showed up with Rahm Emanuel in Emanuel’s first public appearance after resigning as White House chief of staff in October 2010.  And since Emanual has been in office, there has been a teacher’s strike, the slated closing of dozens of Chicago Public Schools and the proposed building of dozens of charter schools.

If this outright sale of public education to the highest bidder doesn’t bother you, it should.  It should bother you because the charter school issue will change the face of public education.  And, if you scratch the surface of this latest attempt at corporatization, if you look into who’s paying and who’s taking, you’ll see that certain people are profiting and certain people are getting fleeced.

And it’s exactly who you suspected.  It’s all the usual suspects.

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  • There is no difference between letting out a contract to pave roads to a connected company as there is between letting out a contract to a charter school operator. It's all political and will remain so as long as government is in the school business.

    The problem stems from the idea that the government should be in the school business to begin with. This idea only came of age during the late 1800's, at least on a massive level. As the government school monopoly increased from the community level to the city level and then state and now almost federalization of schools, the level of education has floundered. Do we need Barrack Obama or George Bush or President Next running schools from DC? If you think so, then there is no hope.

    Schools should be private and parents should have the choice of sending their kids to those private schools, be they religious, secular or focused on a singular discipline.

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    Another amazing and in-depth report. I have been keeping up with this drama for years, but you still have given me info I didn't know, like about the foreign investor's. I don't understand how this can be happening right in front of our eyes.

  • Excellent post, I don't like charter schools for so many reasons and this just adds fuel to my fire. Thanks for posting.

  • In reply to Kathy Mathews:

    Thanks for your comment.

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