Overwhelming Majority of Voters Want To Rein In Charter Schools

As Founding Father Thomas Jefferson said on various occasions,  “a well-educated” populace is crucial to a strong and lasting democracy. As important as the government educating the populace was to Jefferson, he would have railed against the Republican poloy of using government-funded public education to enrich corporations.

Now, a new nationwide poll shows the American people overwhelmingly agree that public education should not exist to enrich and profit the charter school privatization movement and they are demanding strong regulatory laws to “rein in documented fiscal malfeasance by private charter schools.”

The poll, conducted by GBA Strategies, revealed that overwhelmingly Americans on both sides of the political spectrum “embrace proposals to reform the way charter schools are authorized and managed.” The poll was commissioned by two advocates for democracy, In the Public Interest and the Center for Popular Democracy, who have spent several years researching and documenting the “massive fiscal malfeasance” being perpetrated by private charter school operators across the nation.

According to the report on the poll’s results,

The public overwhelmingly supports strong initiatives to strengthen charter school accountability and transparency, improve teacher training and qualifications, prevent fraud, serve high-need students and ensure that neighborhood public schools are not adversely affected.”

The report also noted that there were surprisingly huge bipartisan majorities, including the majority of charter school supporters, demanding stronger government oversight, a shift in academic priorities, and robust efforts to make charter schools as accountable as public schools; “especially in today’s increasingly privatized ‘charter school industry’ run by corporate education franchises.”

The poll reaffirmed, according to education experts, that the public wants more experimentation in traditional public schools to accommodate “all students.” That was, after all, the initial concept of having charter schools and something the dominant corporate charter industry opposes vehemently. It is why “overwhelming majorities want greater regulation of the charter movement destroying traditional public schools by siphoning away precious taxpayer funds to profit corporations.

It has taken over a decade, but the public is finally sick of “the charter industry’s lack of accountability, systemic underperformance, harsh admission policies, and poorly or untrained teachers; all characteristics of the charter school privatization movement.” Voters particularly like the concept of “schools that integrate a dynamic curriculum with after-school and summer enrichment programs. Other ideas for innovating public school options, such as specialty curricula, also generate significant support.”

The term “specialty curricula” means a return to providing occupational courses in various industries that public schools once offered as a matter of course. It is true that America needs a robust college-educated population, but there is also a great need for occupational training in fields students can put to use without spending thousands of dollars for specialty private school courses offered by corporate-run scam outfits. It may come as a shock, but not every student aspires to be a corporate MBA, Wall Street financial advisor, doctor, lawyer, or astrophysicist.

It was encouraging, from an educator’s perspective, that the poll also revealed “that over two-thirds of voters give traditional public schools and public school teachers very high ratings, with twice as many voters saying schools in their neighborhoods are getting better, not worse.”  Despite what Republicans, and some absurd Democrats, habitually claim about the public’s hatred of public school teachers, “three-quarters of voters viewed public school teachers favorably; only 9 percent had unfavorable views.” The nine percent are certainly ardent Fox News viewers and the GOP’s religiously-driven “school choice” adherents.

It is remarkable that on the issue of “school choice,” the issue that ALEC, the Kochs, corporations and Republicans promote like a religion “ranks dead last on the American public’s list of education concerns.” Remember, the ‘school choice’ narrative is the primary tenet of, and reason, the GOP pushes replacing public education with the privatized religious charter school movement at the taxpayers’ expense. Taxpayers were also angry about the “overemphasis on standardized testing and the drastic cuts to arts, music and sports programs in traditional public schools” that have come, in great part, from private charters stealing money from the public system.

Americans are also weary of the emphasis on computer-centered skills that ranked far below the voters’ most important concerns for K-12 public schools. Voters felt it was more important to pay for “qualified teachers, smaller teacher-student ratios, more focus on learning than standardized testing, and good communications between parents and teachers.” Those concerns are completely in line with public school teachers and administrators who have seen their budgets slashed to fund private and religious charter schools.

It has been a long time in coming, but the public finally understands that their tax dollars have been flowing from public education directly to corporate and religious charters without the mandated transparency and accountability required for public schools. In fact, 92 percent of voters demand “open board meetings for the churches, corporations, and other organizations running charter schools, and 90 percent demand that charters disclose exactly how they are spending taxpayer money. Including regular audits to detect fraud, waste, and abuse of public funds including turning over their annual budgets and contracts.”

To demonstrate how aware the public is of charter school corruption, 80 percent support the idea that charters should return taxpayer money if students return to traditional public schools instead of pocketing the easy profits. An additional 67 percent want legislation to “prohibit charter board members and their immediate families from financially benefitting from their schools.”

It was particularly good news that voters are finally aware that most charter school teachers, like religious school teachers, are not required to, and typically do not, “meet the same training and qualification requirements as every teacher who works in taxpayer-funded public schools.” It is something that 90 percent of Americans want changed immediately. An increasing number of corporate and religious charters, all funded by taxpayers, use unqualified and often un-credentialed teachers as a cost-saving ploy to increase profits.

Those taxpayer-funded corporate profits are at the expense of under-funded public schools that voters are demanding be funded to fit the “community schools concept.” According to the poll’s results,

Eight-two percent want their tax dollars to fund schools serving as community hubs, providing health and social services, youth and community development, parental education, as well as academics for students. These community schools integrate high-quality dynamic curriculum with after-school and summer enrichment programs, ensuring that every student and their family gets the opportunity to succeed no matter what zip code they live in.”

The idea of charter schools may have commenced as well-intentioned, but like anything unregulated it has become a two-fold cancer on the nation’s public education system. First, without regulation, accountability, or transparency, it provided an easy target for religious and corporate scams to under-educate American children while robbing funds from public education. It is notable that in neighborhoods where public schools are adequately funded, American students, no matter their racial or economic makeup, always rank among the highest achieving in the world. Also, without the same oversight and accountability as public schools, the private and religious charter movement became an easy way for Republicans to send taxpayer dollars directly to their corporate donors.

One wishes that the push to “privatize education through corporate and religious charters” was solely the purview of Republicans, but that is not the case. It is certainly one important piece of the Republican, Koch brother, ALEC, religious, and corporate agenda, but it is also curiously embraced by the Obama Administration via the President’s choice of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and now his temporary “privateer” replacement and acting secretary John King. Mr. King, like his predecessor Duncan, has a long history of supporting corporate-friendly and corporate-mandated education reforms. He has also pushed for the wildly unpopular “corporate charter policy” of more standardized testing which critics say is highly ineffective for students, but extremely profitable to corporations creating the tests.

This poll’s results proving that there is overwhelming and bipartisan national support for reining in the charter school, corporate and religious, privatization movement is a prime opportunity for Democrats even mildly concerned about education. Besides providing legislatures and citizens with a well-founded basis to legislate “holding these schools accountable to parents, communities and taxpayers,” it is a reason to close “corporate and religious” charters and send the money back to public schools. The poll’s results are also a solid basis to demand that Congress begin adequately fund all public education.

Sadly, with Koch-ALEC Republicans controlling education funding and pushing privatization through charters, and coupled with an Administration enamored with privatized charter schools, it may be inevitable that the next generation of Americans will be stupider and more religious than the current one. And, despite their demands to rein in the corporate and religious charter school movement, American taxpayers will ultimately pay to under-educate the next generation to enrich corporations, completely destroy public schools, and create tens-of-millions of theocratic Republican voters.

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