Donald Cohen, executive director of the nonprofit group In the Public Interest, wrote the following (co-posted in Huffington Post):

Conservatives seem to have a thing for fast food.

The founder of what would eventually become the country’s largest private prison corporation, CoreCivic (formerly CCA), once declared, “You just sell [private prisons] like you were selling cars or real estate or hamburgers.” More recently, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an organization founded by Jeb Bush that has lobbied for its corporate funders, including the world’s largest education corporation, Pearson, wrote that public schools should be thought of as fast food restaurants.

But providing public goods and services is nothing like selling hamburgers. In a democracy, human beings should control the public schools, infrastructure, and social services in their communities. Fast food customers vote individually with their wallets, which means they really have very little say. Does anyone really want a handful of corporations, the likes of McDonalds and Burger King, teaching children and locking people up in prison?

This point is especially true of public education, and is driven home by a report we released last week authored by Gordon Lafer, an associate professor at the University of Oregon. Lafer found that taxpayers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on charter school buildings in California, yet the state has little to show for it.

In the past 15 years, charter schools, which are privately operated, have received $2.5 billion in tax dollars or taxpayer subsidized financing to lease, build, or buy facilities. Yet much of this investment has gone to schools built in neighborhoods that don’t need them and schools that perform worse—according to charter industry standards—than nearby traditional public schools. Taxpayers have provided California’s underperforming charter schools—an astounding three-quarters of all the state’s charter schools!—with an estimated $750 million in direct funding.

Public support has even gone to California charter schools that discriminate against students with poor academic records, limited English-speaking skills, or disabilities. Taxpayers have given a collective $195 million to the 253 schools found by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU) in August 2016 to have discriminatory enrollment policies.

Most alarming is the fact that much of the funding has gone to a handful of large charter school chains, and some have used the money to purchase private property. In Los Angeles, for example, the Alliance College-Ready Public Schools network of charter schools has used subsidiary corporations to build a growing empire of privately owned real estate now worth in excess of $200 million. State and federal taxpayers have given Alliance more than $110 million in support, yet, because of a loophole, the schools built with these funds will never belong to the public.

Simply put, California’s leaders are treating schools like fast food restaurants. Local school boards, who are democratically elected, have little say in whether a new charter school is good for their community’s students. The boards charged with authorizing new charters aren’t allowed to consider the impacts on existing public schools—or whether a school is even needed. On top of that, state and federal taxpayers are subsidizing failing and discriminatory charter schools to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

California needs common sense regulation that returns decisions about charter schools to local school districts. Short of that, the state is slowly handing the keys to its public education system over to the charter school industry and the likes of Donald Trump and new education secretary Betsy DeVos, who are pushing the “school choice” narrative.