You’ve heard the term “Public Charter School.” The whole thing is based on the “Charter School Growth with Quality Act.” And, wouldn’t you know it, it’s a piece of model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), serving its special interest corporate member donors bent on making public education private, no matter that “public” may be in the charter school title.
An ALEC Website extols the virtues of the bill and claims it would “expand quality public education opportunities for all children by establishing a state Public Charter School Commission to serve as an ‘independent’ statewide charter authorizer.” There are nearly 20 (and counting) public charter schools in my home state of South Carolina.
Allow me a cursory Deep South case study. It’s a new public charter school that will remain nameless. Its application was approved by its sponsor, the South Carolina Public Charter School District (SCPCSD), almost the exact ALEC title from the website. The new “public” charter school just opened Monday, the 18th. It shares space with a big ole’ church that describes itself as a “Cathedral.” Wasn’t it Jefferson who wrote about that “Wall of separation?”
Speaking of the First Amendment; the makeup of the new school’s Charter Planning Committee includes an ordained minister who is also an officer of the applicant organization. Another member of the Committee is a music minister, noted for serving as music coordinator for the “March for Jesus” rally of 15,000 participants, whatever that was. A third member has her master’s degree from a Baptist Theological Seminary and helps lead a children’s ministry at a local Baptist Church. Yet another CV emphasizes that the lady has “having served at First Baptist Church for many years.” It’s also noted that a real estate saleslady is actively involved with her church. That’s a whole lot of religion considering the state’s charter school act defines a charter school thusly:
(1) A “charter school” means a public, nonreligious, nonhome-based, nonprofit corporation forming a school that operates by sponsorship of a public school district, the South Carolina Public Charter School District, or a public or independent institution of higher learning.
Let’s get nonhome-based out of the way first. A virtual charter school is the quintessence of home-based. That’s where the instrument of instruction, the computer, is located. If a virtual charter school is K through 12, the state is telling you that a five or six-year-old can boot up and handle everything on his or her own. That’s nonsense. Adults in the home must help. You might want to call it nonhome-based, but you’d be wrong.
Nonreligious? Interesting, when one of the founders of the applying organization is an ordained minister and the applicant organization has the word “Faith” in the title. Nonprofit? Somebody profits. The South Carolina law insists that if an outside management company is brought in, it must be non-profit. Alan Singer’s HuffPost Politics blog recently pointed out a nonprofit charter school executive who hauled in nearly a half-million dollars for her oversight troubles. Singer cites other examples in the $330,000-$499,000 range.
Non-profit means nothing. The new school is doling out a lease payment of $108,000 a year according to records. That’s over a million in a decade. Nonprofit?
The applicant is a 501 (c)(3) incorporated in Texas and founded by the two women behind the South Carolina facility. Both are listed as Executive Directors of the applying entity. Paid Executive Directors? One founder writes that the intent is to build charter schools around Texas and the country. They’re on their third Texas application.
The name of the Texas school will be the same as the South Carolina School. One lady has declared herself as CEO and Superintendent of the South Carolina school in the local paper. Another article calls her the Executive Director. Her associate from the applicant organization is also her business partner in a t-shirt and screen-printing business that displays at charter school functions. They are also going to apparently hold leadership positions in both the Texas school and the South Carolina school simultaneously. At least that what two applications infer. My Texas source tells me both were either fired or forced to resign from their most recent charter school employment. One of the school leaders once declared bankruptcy according to her Texas application. Due diligence, anyone?
Let’s get back to the enabling South Carolina legislation, originally adopted in 1996 and updated periodically until very recently. By definition, the law describes a charter school as a public school. But, for the most part, it’s not a public school with its own unique limited district. In South Carolina, the entire state is considered a “district” for charter purposes. There are two other “district” definitions, but they’re in the minority. Most public charter schools fall under the state district. Actual public schools have their own unique districts.
That means a single state district public charter school can vacuum students up from any number of school districts. The public charters draw their funding from federal categorical funding and South Carolina state sources. Here’s how the line-item funding from H 3710 reads: “2013-14 the South Carolina Public Charter School District shall receive and distribute state EFA funds to the charter school as determined by one hundred percent of the current year’s base student cost, as funded by the General Assembly multiplied by the weighted students pupils enrolled in the charter school, which must be subject to adjustment for student attendance.”
Even though the amount (about $3,500) is significantly lower than dollars for public schools, it’s still a good chuck and it’s still taxpayer money. Interesting that red states like South Carolina never have enough money to support teachers and public education in general. One federal funding source for the public charter schools is Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan’s pet project “Race to the Top.” That’s 4 billion divvied up among all schools. Duncan is a huge supporter of the free market and charter schools. Another federal source is a revolving loan program.
There’s more. The public charter schools can also get extra cash from the school choice millionaire and billionaire crowd. It’s in the legislation: “The governing body of a charter school is authorized to accept gifts, donations, or grants of any kind made to the charter school and to expend or use the gifts, donations, or grants in accordance with the conditions prescribed by the donor.”
And if parents and/or guardians of a given public school are right-wing enough, they can vote to convert their school to a public charter school by filing an application with the local school board of trustees. A two-thirds vote is required and public becomes public charter without moving a muscle or brick.
Yep, while we were sleeping, ALEC and the school choice money boys slipped your Republican state legislators enough ALEC “all expenses paid “vacations” and campaign money mickeys to ensure that it’s just a matter of time before the public loses all control over public schools.
The solution can be found November 4th under “D.”