In this post, Jeff Bryant reviews the current backlash that is blocking the path of the charter industry.

For most of the past 20 years, we have been fed a steady diet of propaganda about charter schools and their magical power to “save poor kids from failing public schools.” The original founders of the charter movement wanted charter schools to collaborate with public schools, to help solve problems that public schools couldn’t solve, and to be partners. They are no longer collaborators or partners; instead they see themselves as competitors, trying to seize “market share” and drive public schools out of business. The founders did not dream that their idea would give birth to an avaricious industry that would generate for-profit schools, schools with draconian discipline, and schools that fought against any accountability.

One thing is now clear: charter schools do not have a secret formula to “save poor kids from failing public schools.” When they accept the same students, they do no better and often do much worse (on standardized tests) as compared to their “failing schools.” Many circumvent this problem by choosing the students they want and excluding those they don’t want. In some states and cities, the charters are failing far worse than the public schools they replaced. Hardly a day goes by without another story of a scandal, financial or academic, in the charter industry. This is not surprising when there is so little oversight, accountability or transparency associated with the charter schools. You need not look far to find examples of nepotism, conflicts of interest, graft, fraud, misappropriation of funds, and self-dealing.

For years, the public has been unaware of what the charter industry was up to. But as the industry became more ambitious, more aggressive, and more avaricious, the public is catching on. That is why Question 2 in Massachusetts, funded by out-of-state billionaires, is in trouble; that is why Amendment 1 in Georgia, which would allow the state to take control of struggling public schools, is in trouble. The billionaires are pumping in more money to deceive the public, but school boards, PTAs, school committees, teachers’ groups, and parents are spreading the word, door to door, without the billionaires’ help.

The loss of taxpayer money on schools of unknown quality is bad enough. What is far worse is allowing the profiteers and free-market ideologues to privatize an essential democratic institution.