We have recently heard from political candidates who claim they oppose “for-profit charter schools” but support “non-profit charter schools.”

What they don’t know is that this is a distinction without a difference. Many “non-profit charter schools” are managed by for-profit EMOs (Education Management Organizations). Some are theoretically “non-profit” but pocket big money on their lease agreements (paying exorbitant sums to lease their space from a real estate company who is owned by the charter owner).

Peter Greene explains here how non-profits make a profit. It is legal graft, in which entrepreneurs figure out how to profit from taxpayers’ money intended for students and teachers.

His article originally appeared in Forbes.

He writes:

There is such a thing as a business that specializes in charter schools and real estate. In some states, the government will help finance a real estate development if it’s a charter school, and in general developers have noted an abundance of cash. Though, as one charter real estate loan bond financier told the Wall Street Journal, “There’s a ton of capital coming into the industry. The question is: Does it know what it’s doing?” Many states have found a problem with charters that lease their buildings from their own owners as well.

Why such interest in charter real estate? One reason: the Clinton-eraCommunity Tax Relief Act of 2000 made it possible for funds that invested in charter schools to double their money in seven years. And the finance side can become so convoluted that, as Bruce Baker lays out here, the taxpayers can end up paying for a building twice– and the building still ends up belonging to the charter company.

Management Companies

Once you’ve set up your nonprofit charter school, hire yourself as a for-profit charter management organization. Over the last decade, there have been numerous examples of this arrangement, sometimes called a “sweeps contract,” where the charter school hands as much as 95% of its revenue off to a for-profit management organization. As with real estate, there have been instances where the school’s assets (books, furniture, computers, etc) have been ruled to be the property of the management company— so even if the school tanks, the organizers walk away with assets they can cash in.