Public dollars, private rules: The charter school calculus

Aug 15, 2014

The phenomenal growth of charter schools nationwide has been aided by a canny legal strategy in which the schools claim to be public for the purpose of taking in tax dollars but private for the purpose of evading government oversight, according to Preston Green, John and Carla Klein Professor of Urban Education at UConn's Neag School of Education.

"They're picking and choosing whether they're going to be public for one purpose or private for another," says Green, who is also a professor of educational leadership and law at UConn.

Along with co-authors Bruce D. Baker (Rutgers University) and Joseph O. Oluwole (Montclair State University), Green published a paper in the Emory Law Journal earlier this year showing that attorneys for have argued both that such institutions are entitled to public funding and that they are exempt from rules that govern traditional , ranging from labor laws to constitutional protections for students.

Charter schools have, for example, successfully fended off attempts to organize their employees into unions, with just 12 percent of charters unionized, compared with more than 35 percent of all education, training, and library professionals. Exempt from collective bargaining agreements in 21 states and the District of Columbia, they're able to extend the school day or increase instructional time with no input from teachers.

One of the most significant, but so far overlooked, ways this affects students is in the area of discipline. While public schools must provide due process to students when making decisions about suspensions or expulsions, most states exempt charter schools from school district discipline policies. This lack of protection may have enabled some charter schools to suspend and expel students at much higher rates than their public counterparts. In San Diego, Green and his coauthors report, the city's 37 charter schools have a suspension rate twice that of the public schools, while in Newark, the suspension rate in charter schools is 10 percent, compared to 3 percent for the city's public schools.

"Students of color in particular should be seriously concerned about the issue of discipline, because even in traditional public schools they're suspended and expelled at a much higher rate than their white classmates," Green says.

It's not just discipline, though; charter schools may be exempt from constitutional protections in areas like search and seizure and the exercise of religion. It's obviously one thing for a Catholic school to require religion classes, but does the same logic apply to a charter school like Arizona's Heritage Academy, which last month was criticized by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State for requiring 12th graders to read books claiming that God inspired the drafting of the Constitution?

"When charter schools were created, there were widely shared assumptions about what it meant to be a public school," Green says. "What charter schools have been very good at since then is taking advantage of the fact that it's actually unclear what's meant by the term 'public school.'"

The first charter school opened in Minnesota two decades ago. Since then, they've become a favored tool of the school reform movement, spreading to 42 states and the District of Columbia. In May, New Orleans announced it would be the first school district in the country to entirely replace traditional public schools with privately-run charters.

But as they grow, the strategy of having their cake and eating it too may come back to haunt charter schools, Green argues. The more that charter schools argue they should essentially be treated as private schools, the more likely courts will be to declare them ineligible for , he says.

As an example, Green points out several court decisions that argue charters are entitled to tax dollars because they're required to meet the same accountability measures as traditional publics. Recently, more charters have been seeking to free themselves from teacher evaluation requirements, setting up a possible collision over funding.

"Ideally, what would happen is that lawmakers would stipulate in the statutes that create charter schools that charters are public for transparency and evaluation requirements, and for student rights," Green says. "At the very least, though, this is a discussion that should happen in public."

Explore further: Research finds charter schools nationwide more cost-effective, produce greater ROI

More information: Having it Both Ways: How Charter Schools Try to Obtain Funding of Public Schools and the Autonomy of Private Schools, Emory Law Journal, Vol. 63, No. 2, 2014 , papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cf… ?abstract_id=2399937

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Forestgnome
1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 15, 2014
And yet they're in so much demand you can hardly get a spot for your kid. Seems this is what the majority wants, since the vocal minority (aka extreme liberals) have decimated the public school system through policies focused on everything BUT a good education. Instead of wasting time bashing a system that's working, these professors should be trying to figure out how to get the public school system back to basics.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (4) Aug 15, 2014
Sweden goes one step further, vouchers.
The govt gives vouchers for food instead of operating govt run grocery stores or govt run farms.
Why do govts use vouchers for food and not education?
Because they know people would starve if they depended upon a state run stores. State run hospitals, like VA, kill people who are waiting for care.
barakn
5 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2014
State run hospitals, like VA, kill people who are waiting for care.
There is a contract between us and the soldiers who risked death and suffered physical and mental harm on our behalf to provide them with health care. However that health care system is underfunded specifically because conservatives like you would rather have them die in the field of battle or at home of suicide than care for them. It's like complaining that a man can't run right after you hamstrung him.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (4) Aug 15, 2014
So, the public schools are abysmal and the solution is to keep giving them money....

When someone is talking about teachers unions as a GOOD thing, you know they've got a highly skewed view of reality. Also, when someone complains that discipline in schools is "too high" when you've got teachers afraid to even teach their classes in some of the worst examples of educational dysfunction in our nation's history....I again must wonder if they're sharing reality with the rest of us.

It's quite simple. EIther you're going to improve the outcomes of public schools or they are going to go away. I think that public education is a good thing, but you are simply going to HAVE to get rid of the current union structure (and I mean COMPLETELY obliterate it and start over...as in not keeping a single person in the organization), and significantly change basic policies back to what they were when our schools actually did produce good outcomes.

Politics is what's preventing excellence here.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (4) Aug 15, 2014
However that health care system is underfunded

No, it is not underfund. It is poorly managed, like any govt program.
"The VA, some say, needs more money to do its job and care for veterans properly. But looking at the facts, that math just does not add up.

Since 2009, Congress has given Secretary Eric Shinseki every penny he has said he needed to fund the VA fully, resulting in an astonishing 50% increase in the agency's overall budget at a time when budgets everywhere else across the federal government have been squeezed, strained and slashed. Congress even exempted the VA from sequestration, a win that not even the Pentagon managed to score while still engaged in a war overseas."
http://www.cnn.co...dex.html
Osiris1
2.5 / 5 (2) Aug 15, 2014
The so called 'conservatives' are NOT conservative at all when they are spending the people's money for their own benefit. Look at the sports stadiums at high schools all over this nation, built as monuments to the ruination of the health of the student 'athletes' for the benefit of local rich who bet on them like they were modern day gladiators. Read recently that 'football' practices often run more than 24 hours per week. Where is the time left to do homework, eat, sleep, interact with family. Oooh yes, 'sports Heeroes' hopped up of steroids given by coaches are not good company and likely as not to assault their own families...all for the 'team spirit'?! We NEED to do away with interscholastic sports and bring back real education. Look at the 'charter schools' (tax paid 'academies' for the rich and bigoted and narrow minded) THEY do NOT have those blood sports for THEIR kids. No injuries for THEM! Only we the public get used as gladiators. Away with it all!
barakn
3 / 5 (2) Aug 15, 2014
Since 2009, Congress has given Secretary Eric Shinseki every penny he has said he needed to fund the VA fully, resulting in an astonishing 50% increase in the agency's overall budget at a time when budgets everywhere else across the federal government have been squeezed, strained and slashed.

Shinseki resigned in disgrace so obviously he wasn't doing a good job, like not asking for enough money.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2014
Since 2009, Congress has given Secretary Eric Shinseki every penny he has said he needed to fund the VA fully, resulting in an astonishing 50% increase in the agency's overall budget at a time when budgets everywhere else across the federal government have been squeezed, strained and slashed.

Shinseki resigned in disgrace so obviously he wasn't doing a good job, like not asking for enough money.

Many VA hospitals had enough money to pass out bonuses while patients were dying to be seen.
More money does not fix a poorly designed and managed system.
Why do the socialists always believe more money is the answer?
barakn
4 / 5 (4) Aug 15, 2014
Charter schools look better on paper until you realize that they teach far fewer special ed students http://www.crpe.o...-schools . Special ed students lower the public schools' test scores and cost more to teach per student. Taking that into consideration, it's amazing how public schools can do so much with so little.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2014
Special ed students lower the public schools' test scores and cost more to teach per student. T

This is a real scam. Public schools seem to try and put poorly performing student on as special education plan to acquire more federal and state money and give excuses for poor teachers.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2014
Charter schools look better on paper until you realize that they teach far fewer special ed students http://www.crpe.o...-schools . Special ed students lower the public schools' test scores and cost more to teach per student. Taking that into consideration, it's amazing how public schools can do so much with so little.


Yep, on different planets. Have you ever ACTUALLY visited a public school in crisis?