Of course it is legal for charters to steal money

This article in the Washington Post discusses a recent court case settled by the Ohio Supreme Court that outlines one of the major dangers of charter schools that doesn’t get talked about much.  Actually, it addresses two things that don’t get talked about much.

While some charter schools are run by professional companies that do nothing but run charter schools, a great many are set up by groups that have no practical experience in running charter schools.  Do you remember noted football/baseball player “Neon” Deion Sanders?  He started a charter school.  Lots of rich people and community activists have started charter schools.  These owners choose the curriculum and the format of the school … but as you have guessed, these folks really have no experience running a school.  No problem!  They hire a school management company to come in and do the day-to-day running of the school.  It is like starting a company, and then handing over all of the operating authority to another company.  It happens in business.

Of course these management companies also control the purse strings … millions of taxpayer dollars that are handed over to a company that specifically has very little or no oversight from the government, or their ignorant founder.  If this sounds like a recipe for a scam, then you are also correct.  All over the country, there have been many cases where the management company has purchased the land or building that the school is in/on, and happily rents that facility/property to the charter school for obscene amounts of money.  Imagine getting a paycheck for working, and then charging your ignorant boss rent.  It quickly drains money from other public schools, other charter schools, and assures that less and less money gets to students in the form of material, equipment, or qualified teachers who will stay around so that future kids will benefit from their experience.

This takes us back to Ohio.  If a public school were to close for whatever reason, the school and all of its facilities and equipment are tax payer funded, and revert to the school district … hopefully to be either given to another school in the district, or sold off with the profits returned to the tax payers.

In Ohio, this is no longer true.  If a charter school closes, all of the equipment (and presumably the money) now legally belong to the charter management company, and can be moved to wherever the company wants or sold off, with the profits going to the company, and the taxpayers and school district are not entitled to anything in return.  The case that went before the court focuses on one particular company, but a report from the Akron Beacon Journal notes that, based on what could be found, the Ohio charter schools have been more wasteful than any other public entity by a factor of four, and that because of the nearly complete lack of accountability in the field, the waste is almost certainly much higher.  It is perhaps the ultimate irony:  people were convinced that public schools had no accountability (they really have considerable transparency and accountability), and instead, in many states, handed over power in education to groups that no have nearly no accountability to anyone …. and by the time the state does come in and close them down, they have fleeced millions from the tax payers that they don’t have to give back.

In some cases, charters may be the better alternative … but the idea of giving charters a free hand to do whatever they want without oversight from taxpayers or their elected officials is no different from dumping huge amounts of money into over the gate of some rich dude’s house and asking if he wants any more.

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