Another important report on problems with charter schools has been released, although attention to it has been diverted by the continuing controversy over reopening schools during a deadly pandemic.
This study by the Network for Public Education found that more than one-fourth of the charter schools that opened around the country between 1999 and 2017 had closed after operating for only five years and about half had closed after 15 years, displacing more than 867,000 students.
As reported in the Washington Post, the study, which drew on information from the U.S. Department of Education, also found that in three of the poorest cities in the country – Detroit, Tucson and Milwaukee – more charters closed in areas with higher rates of poverty than in areas with less poverty.
An earlier study by the same organization, a nonprofit co-founded by public education activist Diane Ravitch, found that the federal government had wasted as much as $1 billion on charters that had never opened or opened and then closed because of mismanagement and other reasons.
Remember, charters receive tax dollars but are operated like private schools, with boards that are unaccountable to the public and may not even be located in the same state as the schools they control. Overall, in terms of academic performance, charters are no better than traditional public schools, and many are much worse.
The Network for Public Education also has determined that the federal government’s regulation of public spending on charters has been lax and that the state with the most charters to receive federal funding but never open is Michigan, home to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who promotes charters as part of her school privatization agenda.
In Texas, charters received almost $3 billion in state revenue in 2019, and much of that went to charters operated by for-profit management organizations. Every tax dollar they receive is a state tax dollar taken away from an under-funded, neighborhood public school. And those under-funded public schools are where the vast majority of Texas school children will continue to be educated, including during health crises, such as this one, which stretch school budgets even thinner.
Not surprisingly, the new report concluded that this is no time to continue spending tax dollars on new charters.
“Federal, state and local governments should implement a moratorium on the opening of new charter schools,” the report said. “The high odds of charter school failure, combined with the fiscal constraints we face due to an economic downturn and the novel coronavirus pandemic, mean it is too risky for tax dollars to continue to flow into the charter sector.”