Linda Blackford, a writer for the Lexington, Kentucky, Herald Leader asks whether Kentucky can somehow manage to avoid the charter scandals that have occurred with startling frequency in other states.

The Kentucky legislature authorized charters but has not yet funded them. The parents in SOS Kentucky have thus far stopped the funding of charters, because the money will defund the public schools that most students attend.

Blackford writes:

In 2016, Jeff Yass, the billionaire founder of a Pennsylvania global trading company donated $100,000 to a political action committee called Kentuckians for Strong Leadership.

The PAC, according to its website, is dedicated to preserving the political fortunes of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and in 2016, ensuring Republican victory in the Kentucky House. [Diane’s note: Yass also contributed $2.3 million to a super PAC supporting the campaign of libertarian Senator Rand Paul, according to his Wikipedia bio, and is a member of the board of the rightwing Cato Institute.]

All kinds of people donate to McConnell, of course, but Yass is interesting because he’s most well known for his passionate advocacy of charter schools and vouchers, including a plan torevolutionize the Philadelphia schools with school choice (as well as cutting teacher pay and benefits).

Yass, along with his business partners, Joel Greenberg and Arthur Dantchik, are major players in political circles in Pennsylvania, donating to pro-school choice candidates. He obviously thought $100,000 was a good investment here, and while it might be pocket change to him, it’s a pretty big donation by Kentucky standards.

I bring this up because in the past two or three years of incessant discussion about charter schools, and Kentucky’s legislation to approve them, we’ve heard a lot about the pros and cons of charter schools, but we haven’t heard that much about what other states have discovered: the vast potential that charter school management has for making money off public tax dollars.

Our charter school legislation, passed in 2017, allows interested parties to start nonprofit charter schools. Less discussed is that the law also allows for-profit management companies to operate them. This is the model around the country, and it’s caused plenty of problems. ProPublica has also detailed numerous examples of management companies that make millions because they rent space and equipment to charter schools, with little oversight or competitive bidding…

Right now, of course, any potential Kentucky charter schools are on hold because the General Assembly hasn’t been able to agree on just how much money they should be allowed to take out of public schools. That’s in part due to the work of Save Our Schools Kentucky, a group of feisty teachers and moms who have followed the money and the politics of Gov. Matt Bevin and wanna-be governor Hal Heiner as they stacked the state Board of Education with pro-charter candidates, then dumped the commissioner for a pro-charter academic with sincere beliefs about charter schools but no experience in running a statewide education system. They’ve met often with legislators to explain how much public schools have to lose from charters.

“This is really all about financial gain,” said Tiffany Dunn, a life-long Republican and teacher. “The public school system and pension system in their mind represents money and they’re all about the free market, competition will take care of everything and we know in education that competition does not improve education.”

Read more here:
I have two points to add to Blackford’s article. One of Jeff Yass’s hedge fund partners is billionaire Joel Greenblatt, who lives in New York City and is a major donor to Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter chain.
The other point is that competition creates a few winners and many losers. Which children will be the winners, and which will be the losers? The Kentucky legislature should debate that question too. Given the high rate of charter school failure every year, the legislation may create losers and losers, with no winners at all.