Morgan Smith of the Texas Tribune (published in thr New York Times) wrote about the secrecy that surrounds the finances of private corporations that manage schools and claim to be “public.”

They are “public” when it is time to get the money but their finances are private when asked to account for taxpayer money.

Basis, an Arizona charter chain, submitted an application to open a charter in San Antonio and this is what happened:

“On a recently approved Texas charter school application, blacked-out paragraphs appear on almost 100 of its 393 pages.

“Redactions on the publicly available online version of the application often extend for pages at a time. They include sections on the school’s plan to support students’ academic success, its extracurricular activities and the “extent to which any private entity, including any management company” will be involved in the school’s operation. The “shaded material,” according to footnotes, is confidential proprietary or financial information.”

Smith writes:

“In Texas, commercial entities cannot run public schools. But when a school’s management — including accounting, marketing and hiring decisions — is contracted out to a private company, the distinction can become artificial. Such an arrangement raises questions about how to ensure financial accountability when the boundary between public and private is blurred, and the rules of public disclosure governing expenditures of taxpayer money do not apply.”

Some of the most secretive companies run virtual schools, paid for with public money:

“When The Texas Tribune made an open-records request for employee salary records and marketing expenses at the state’s full-time virtual schools, it received responses from all but one of those connected with for-profit entities indicating either that the records were not available or were not subject to public information laws.

“The Huntsville Independent School District, which went into partnership with K12 Inc. to open a virtual academy this year, said the district did not have documents responding to the request at the virtual campus as “it contracts with a private company to handle all employment of personnel and staffing-related data.”

“In other instances, The Tribune was directed to make a request to the private company. A lawyer for Responsive Ed Solutions, a charter school that also contracts with K12 Inc., wrote that most employees of its virtual school were hired by the company and provided the email address of a K12 lawyer. A K12 Inc. spokesman then told The Tribune that “confidential information about K12’s employees” could not be disclosed.”