IDEA charters: Where students become customers

This may sound strange, but I want to give Rolando Posada, a regional director for the IDEA charter chain, a little credit, but not for trying to shutter untold numbers of neighborhood public schools in San Antonio and a growing number of other cities.

Posada doesn’t deserve credit for undermining the promise of a free public education for every Texas child, regardless of family circumstances, classroom behavior, academic record or ability to win a lottery. He does deserve some credit, though, for being candid, although it probably was unintentional.

Posada recently was interviewed by Texas Public Radio about IDEA’s plan to double its San Antonio enrollment to nearly 24,000 students, aided and abetted by a $117 million taxpayer grant from U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the country’s top cheerleader for school privatization.

Posada said publicity was good for IDEA because “it draws all sorts of customers.”

Customers? I thought we still called them students. You know, the boys and girls who come to school every day. They are students, and with their parents and educators they form a school community.

To IDEA and other corporate-style charter chains, though, students and their families are customers who feed the bottom line – with our tax dollars. And these tax dollars — $2.2 billion in 2017 alone — are being diverted from under-funded traditional public schools.

Oh sure, charters are technically public schools. But there are distinct differences between charters and the public schools that most of us grew up in and graduated from.

Charters are mainly considered “public” schools because they get tax money. Aside from that, corporate charter chains, such as IDEA, operate like private schools.

They may be organized as non-profits, but many are operated by for-profit management companies, and they love the smell of money that their “customers” bring with them.

They get paid for each student, just like regular public schools do. But your neighborhood public school is operated by a local school board accountable to voters. The people who run corporate charters don’t answer to taxpayers, and some charters are operated by private boards headquartered in other states.

Unlike traditional public schools, which enroll every school-age child who lives in the district and applies, charters can polish their reputations by cherry-picking their “customers.” They don’t have to accept children with disciplinary problems – IDEA tries to avoid them – and they often find ways to exclude children with poor grades and special needs. Just 5 percent of IDEA’s students receive special education services.

And many charter schools require a lottery for admission.

Traditional public schools don’t have lotteries. They just seek waivers from class-size limits or haul in more portable classrooms when demand exceeds capacity.

Charters, overall, don’t perform any better than traditional public schools. Many perform worse. According to Texas Education Agency data from 2012-17, charters in Texas had an overall dropout rate three times that of traditional public schools and overall poorer performance records.

Posada has said his goal is to have an IDEA school less than 10 minutes away from every family In San Antonio. This isn’t the pursuit of educational excellence so much as it is greed for tax dollars. And, in IDEA’s view, the customers – with their backpacks full of taxpayer cash — are there for the picking.


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