Hi, Hoppy,

A friend sent me the column you wrote about the stalemate in West Virginia over school choice. 

I would like to help you out.

The first thing you should know is that charter schools are NOT public schools. They call themselves public schools to get public money, but that doesn’t make them public schools. Might as well call Princeton University a public college or Boeing a public utility just because they get public money. Charter schools are private contractors with private boards of trustees that do not hold public meetings. Public schools have an elected school board or a board composed of people appointed by an elected official.

As this study shows, when charter schools open, the money to pay for them is deducted from public schools. The public schools lose not only the tuition for each student, but are left with “stranded costs.” If 10% of the students leave, you can’t stop heating or cooling the building by 10%, you can’t cut back on transportation or other expenses or the principal’s salary by 10%. What the public schools must do is lay off teachers, eliminate programs, cut the arts, and increase class sizes. So the vast majority of students pay a high price so 10% can choose to attend a charter that may be a fraud or may close in a year or two.

You suggested that Ohio charter schools are an example of success.

Actually, two-thirds of the charter schools in Ohio were rated either D or F by the State Department of Education. And their enrollment is declining as parents realize that they are not better than real public schools.

1. Decline in number of charters. See Fig 3, p. 9. 2013-2014 base year (395). See 2017-2018 academic year 340. http://education.ohio.gov/getattachment/Topics/Community-Schools/Annual-Reports-on-Ohio-Community-Schools/2017-2018-Community-Schools-Annual-Report.pdf.aspx?lang=en-US
2. Number of charters closed – At this page, click on the third section under Schools heading for link – Schools that Have Suspended Operations (no separate URL for this Excel sheet) http://education.ohio.gov/Topics/Community-Schools  Last line = 293. Subtract heading line = 292 schools closed.
3. Decline in Charter Enrollments – 2017-2018 Annual Report, Fig 2, p. 8. 2013-2014 Base year = 120, 893 compared to 2017-2018 – 104,380. Diff = 16,513
Ohio also had a spectacular failure of its biggest cyber charter last year. It was called ECOT, or the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow. It had the lowest graduation rate of any high school in the nation and very low test scores. Its owner collected $1 billion from the taxpayers of Ohio before he declared bankruptcy; that was after a court ordered him to return $67 million for one year of inflated enrollments.
I hope you will do some more research into charter performance and charter frauds and scandals. You might start by going to Twitter and looking at the list under the hashtag #AnotherDayAnotherCharterScandal.
Or look at the report by the Network for Public Education about the federal Charter Schools Program, called “Asleep at the Wheel,” which found that between the years 2006 and 2014 (Obama administration), the federal government wasted $1 billion on charter schools that never opened or closed shortly after opening.
Here are a few more readings for you:
That’s only Ohio. If I had more time, I would give you even more hair-raising stories from Michigan and Arizona and California.
Think twice before you encourage diversion of funding your your public schools to entrepreneurs, corporate chains, and grifters.
I hope this helps.
Diane Ravitch