If that is so, it's going to be a future plagued with financial problems, financial improprieties, debt and scandal:
Even as the Obama administration promotes charter schools as a way to help raise the academic performance of the nation’s students, half of Chicago’s charter schools have been running deficits in recent years, an analysis of financial and budget documents shows, calling into question their financial viability.
On Monday, Chicago Public Schools released a bare-bones budget that included a cut of about 6 percent in per-pupil financing for charter schools — to $5,771 from $6,117 per pupil for elementary school students and to $7,213 from $7,647 per pupil for high school students. The cuts are a result of shrinking tax revenue and lagging support from the strapped state government. The city’s 71 charter schools, which enrolled 33,000 students last year and expect to enroll another 10,000 in the 2010-11 school year, stand to lose $15 million under the cuts.
It is difficult to compare the cuts with those that are being made at traditional schools because those schools do not receive money on a per-pupil basis, but district officials said they tried to make the amount of cuts comparable to those being made at traditional schools.
As a result, charters will become more dependent on private donors to provide the extras — more counselors, smaller classes, longer school days and up-to-date technology — that charter operators say set their schools apart from traditional public schools.
But even though Chicago’s charter schools brought in $21 million in private money from foundations, corporations and wealthy individuals in 2007 — the last year for which complete information is available — half have run an average of $700,000 in deficits in recent years, with some of the shortfalls reaching $4 million, according to an analysis of Chicago Public Schools data by Catalyst Chicago, an independent magazine on urban education.
The data showed that two-thirds of the schools could not cover core expenses, like salaries, facilities and overhead, without private money. A third needed private money to fill more than 20 percent of their budgets. A recent study by Ball State University found that Chicago’s charter schools depend far more on private financing than those in other big cities, including Boston, Miami and New York.
Robert Runcie, chief administrative officer for Chicago Public Schools, said the district needed to take a “serious look” at the fiscal health of charters and was developing a system for stricter oversight. Four Chicago charters have been shut down since the 1990s largely because of financial problems.
Charters DO need stricter oversight.
But President Accountability and Secretary Arne say if states try and "restrict innovation" at charters or regulate them unduly, they will risk losing federal education funds:
President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a former Chicago schools chief, view charter schools as a way to spur innovation in public school systems that they say are too resistant to change. States that do not allow charters or restrict their replication jeopardize their chance to receive federal financing, Mr. Duncan said last year. “We want real autonomy for charters,” he said.
And "real autonomy" of course means little to no oversight,
Which for many charters means financial problems and/or financial improprieties by management.
The Charter School Scandals blog does a great job of collecting stories about all the charters plagued with financial problems, financial improprieties and other concerns.
Here are some I have chronicled here in the last few months:
Politically Connected, Scandal-Plagued NYC Charter Fires Teachers For Union Activity
Charter School Operates As Nightclub on Weekends
13 Philadelphia Charter Schools Cited For Excessive Board Salaries, Rampant Rents and Conflicts of Interest
Charter Schools Connected To Malcolm Smith, Michael Bloomberg Get Perks For Their Schools
And let's not forget the NY Times article from back in April that took a look at how for-profit operator Imagine Schools runs things:
Regulators in some states have found that Imagine has elbowed the charter holders out of virtually all school decision making — hiring and firing principals and staff members, controlling and profiting from school real estate, and retaining fees under contracts that often guarantee Imagine’s management in perpetuity.
The arrangements, they say, allow Imagine to use public money with little oversight. “Under either charter law or traditional nonprofit law, there really is no way an entity should end up on both sides of business transactions,” said Marc Dean Millot, publisher of the report K-12 Leads and a former president of the National Charter Schools Alliance, a trade association, now defunct, for the charter school movement.
“Imagine works to dominate the board of the charter holder, and then it does a deal with the board it dominates — and that cannot be an arm’s length transaction,” he said.
And just does Imagine Schools profit from these arrangements?
Imagine is a private for-profit company that calls itself non-profit and runs schools with public money - making millions in the process.
Imagine charges exorbitant rates to its schools for "rent" - according to the Times article, a charter school in Nevada called 100 Academy pays 40% of the $3.6 million it receives from the state to Imagine Schools for rent.
That's an awful lot of rent money, isn't it?
In addition, they charge a fee to "manage" the school, leaving very little left over to actual run the school and educate the children.
How's that for leaving no for-profit charter school management company behind?
Gee - I wish I could declare myself a "non-profit," then run my business for-profit with little to no outside oversight.
Then I could charge rent and a management fee and take over 60% of the money I am given by the state to run my school just for rent and fees!
Gotta love education reform!
And as the NY Times reported earlier this week, financial scandal and impropriety is not just relegated to the charter school world. Almost all of the reforms being pushed by President Accountability and Secretary Arne are encouraging lots of and lots of problems.
Take the "school turnaround" program:
With the Obama administration pouring billions into its nationwide campaign to overhaul failing schools, dozens of companies with little or no experience are portraying themselves as school-turnaround experts as they compete for the money.
A husband-and-wife team that has specialized in teaching communication skills but never led a single school overhaul is seeking contracts in Ohio and Virginia. A corporation that has run into trouble with parents or the authorities in several states in its charter school management business has now opened a school-turnaround subsidiary. Other companies seeking federal money include offshoots of textbook conglomerates and classroom technology vendors.
Many of the new companies seem unprepared for the challenge of making over a public school, yet neither the federal government nor many state governments are organized to offer effective oversight, said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a nonprofit group in Washington.
“Many of these companies clearly just smell the money,” Mr. Jennings said.
Rudy Crew, a former New York City schools chancellor who has formed his own consulting company, said he was astonished to see so many untested groups peddling strategies to improve schools.
“This is like the aftermath of the Civil War, with all the carpetbaggers and charlatans,” Dr. Crew said.
Indeed, the education reform movement is littered with carpetbaggers and charlatans smelling profit and little to no oversight or accountability from the people running things in Washington or the states.
Given all the problems we have ALREADY seen with charter schools and education reform groups, shouldn't the federal government encourage STRICTER oversight and accountability of them then we currently have?
The answer is of course yes - if the government officials running things actually cared about the problems.
But they do not.
Their agenda is to close traditional public schools, bust the unions, open the public school system to for-profit companies, and deprofessionalize the teacher corps into a bunch of McTeachers who work for five years before moving on to their "real jobs" (i.e., just like at Teach for America.)
They are succeeding.
But sooner or later, they will be exposed for being the carpetbaggers, charlatans and criminals they are.
That includes many (though not all) of the charter operators and education reform groups.
But it also means Bloomberg, Klein, Obama, Duncan, Rhee, Gates, et al.
You can lie and cheat and deceive for a long time and get away with it.
But eventually people catch on.
It happened to Bush after Katrina.
It will happen to them too.
Unfortunately there won't be much left of the public school system by then.
And that, of course, is ultimately the point.