Sep 27, 2004
In August, school boards in California closed the 60 charter schools run by the California Charter Academy, one of the country's largest charter school operators. Faced with financial problems, C. Steven Cox, the company's owner, had simply walked away from his business, leaving thousands of students without a school and hundreds of employees without a job.
With the school year less than a month away, parents had to look for new schools for their children – not an easy task, as most public schools were already full. Even the California Charter School Association admits that 20%, or 6000, of the students had still not found a school to enroll in two weeks into the school year.
Politicians have been promoting charter schools as a remedy to the problems of public education. Diverting money from public schools to these privately run schools, they argue that private enterprise would run the schools more efficiently and improve the quality of education. That's how someone like Cox, a former insurance executive whose only experience in education was a brief stint on a local school board, was handed 100 million dollars in taxpayer money to start 60 schools, mostly in working-class neighborhoods. Subsequently, he got $5000 from the state for every pupil he claimed was enrolled, plus money from the parents in all sorts of indirect charges, plus money from the public school systems from which his students came.
The fate of Cox's schools alone shows why privatizing education is just a bad idea. But it's also a lie that charter schools provide a better education – as test results prove year after year.
None of this should come as a surprise. How can anyone expect that education – or, for that matter, any public service – could be improved by privatization, that is, by subtracting a sizeable chunk of the available funds and handing it over to some businessmen as profit?
It's true that the public school system provides a poor education for children in this country, especially in working-class neighborhoods. But politicians and businessmen are simply lying when they tell workers that their children will be better off in schools run privately but funded with taxpayer money. They are only interested in putting their hands on some of that money.
What's needed is to put all the money into the public school system and then add enough more money so that every school can provide the books and equipment required; enough money so every student gets the attention needed from qualified teachers.