Established; the left hates, and wants to extinguish, charter schools.
Charter schools – invented about twenty years ago in Minnesota, and given life by a 1991 law that allowed schools, run by sponsoring organizations and elected boards of parents, teachers, sponsors and other interested parties, to use the money that would have been allocated to the student at a public school – have been a lightning rod ever since.
For the teachers’ union and the educational/industrial complex,anyway.
For parents – especially parents underserved by the decaying inner city schools with their sub-50% graduation rates, violence and miserable achievement – the word I’m looking for is “lifelines”. City parents – especially the Afro-American parents that have the most to gripe about with urban schools – are leaving the city schools in droves; 1/8 of Saint Paul’s kids have left the system, with even more in Minneapolis, as of two years ago.
Charter schools offer what public schools not only lack, but actively squelch; parental involvement; beyond that, parental control; staff whose jobs are intimately tied to their success with the kids, since the board that hires them administers only the school they’re in; perhaps most important, immediate accountability – not to some politicized, “elected” school board (which is in the bag for the teachers union, not the parents) and careerist administration, but to them via a decision loop that is a microscopic fraction of what it is at a public school. If a charter school screws up with a kid, they know it right away; the board hears it and must respond immediately, or the kids, and the money, go away.
The accountability, in other words, is immediate.
Which the teachers union and the educational-industrial complex hates. They’ve been working for almost two decades to extinguish the charter school experiment. They’ve tittered about “academic achievement” rates that, in the cases of some schools, is a tiny hair below that of public schools, in press releases that carefully ignore two inconvenient truths:
- Charter schools are often where parents go after kids have “checked out” of the public system, developed atrocious study skills, and lost interest in education. Call it educational recovery; it’s where many parents – myself included – go to salvage the mess our inept public schools create.
- When a kid in a public school is performing poorly enough to blow the school’s rates for purposes of “No Child Left Behind”, they’re shunted off to an “Alternative Learning Center” (ALC), which, being explicitly for kids with academic problems, is “off the books”. Charter schools don’t have this; there’s just one Grade Point Average for a charter school!
But more than anything, it’s about the money. Since the per-student money from the states follows each charter student, every family that decamps for the charters takes tens of thousands of dollars away from the factory school system. It’s adding up fast.
They want it back.
John Fitzgerald came out yesterday with a hit piece on charters’ “Financial Accountability”. for “Minnesota 2020”, the “non-partisan” think tank founded by former DFL Representative Matt Entenza and employing, as far as I can see, nothing but partisans.
Seventeen years after the first charter school opened in Minnesota, this examination of fiscal year 2007 charter school financial audits shows that the vast majority of charter schools do not follow basic financial guidelines or, in some cases, state law. Since this analysis agrees with a recent report by the Office of the Legislative Auditor and audit examinations written in 2001, 2002 and 2003, we conclude that these financial problems are not being adequately addressed by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and, further, are endemic of the charter school system.
Well, that sounds pretty damning. Of course, the damnation is in the details -which we’ll look into later.
Efforts by the 2009 Legislature to provide more accountability to charter schools was welcome, but shorthanded. The charter school program is financially flawed and basic concepts about charter schools – such as unelected school boards and under informed business management – need to be changed.
Let’s clarify a few things about the language in this paragraph, since they obfuscate a few things that, for the charter advocate, are better re-clarified.
Some charters do have unelected boards. Most of them do elect their boards.
And any parent that’s ever been involved in a charter school knows that most of them are run by teachers, not managers or accountants. At some charters – schools with excellent academic records – the staff freely admit they work hard to keep the regulatory hogs’ troughs slopped with the pails of paperwork that attend the spending of any public money. It’s not an unfair charge – although to try to turn that charge into a conviction, as Fitzgerald does later in this piece, is laughably misleading.
Fitzgerald cuts to the chase
In November and December, 2008 and January, 2009, Minnesota 2020 combed through the financial audits of 145 charter schools for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2007 – reports that were filed with MDE by December 31, 2007. Our research found several trends in charter school financial management:
- 83 percent were found to have at least one financial irregularity in their audit – five years earlier, that figure was 73 percent;
- 51 percent of those schools with problems identified on their 2007 financial audits had the same problems identified on their 2008 audits, according to the MDE;
- 29 percent did not respond to a request for board minutes – five years earlier, that figure was 33 percent;
- 55 percent were found to have “limited segregation of duties,” a requirement that ensures no single charter school official has control of the school’s funds;
- 26 percent didn’t have proper collateral for deposit insurance, a requirement that ensures the charter school can pay its bills.
Well, that sure sounds bad. And those are the numbers that MN2020 will splash all about the state’s media (the media that so many of MN2020’s staff used to work for).
But what’s behind those numbers? You have to do some reading for that. We’ll look into the numbers tomorrow.
But Fitzgerald reaches a conclusion:
If charter schools can’t run their schools in a financially competent manner, Minnesota should reconsider whether charter schools are worthy of public funding at all.
Which brings up a slew of interesting questions.
Why should charter schools be the only ones required to be “financially competent”? Can we have the same debate about “worthiness” with our union-strangled, factory school system?
We’ll be back to look at Fitzgerald’s numbers tomorrow.
UPDATE: Yep, it’s John, not Peter Fitzgerald. I hadn’t had coffee yet; I’m lucky I didn’t write “Edmund”.
And I guess I don’t keep up with my “progressive” non-profit trivia like I used to: Entenza isn’t with MN2020 anymore.
(Part II, Part III and Part IV of this series)