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Report Gauges "Potential Threat" of Charter-School Growth to Public Schools

Of the nation's 6,700 charter schools, 40 percent are affiliated with corporate chains or franchises. (Jared and Colin/Wikimedia Commons)
Of the nation's 6,700 charter schools, 40 percent are affiliated with corporate chains or franchises. (Jared and Colin/Wikimedia Commons)
October 31, 2016

AUGUSTA, Maine -- What began as an experiment to create innovation in education through charter schools has become a movement to privatize public education, a new report contends.

Stan Salett, president at the Foundation for the Future of Youth and the study's co-author, spent more than four decades in public education and helped launch the nation's Head Start and Upward Bound programs. He said that in the past two decades, a small group of billionaires - including News Corporation's Rupert Murdoch, who once called public schools an "untapped $500 billion sector" - have worked to assert private control over public education to make money.

"And that's what's at play now,” Salett said. "You've got a lot of money on one side going in to create a privatized school system that becomes part of the new marketplace for hedge funds and Wall Street investors."

The Independent Media Institute study found that 40 percent of the nation's 6,700 charter schools are part of corporate chains or franchises. Salett said many charters do good work, and are operated by and accountable to their communities. But the report recommended a national moratorium on the rapid expansion of charter schools until the industry's governing structures and business models can be assessed and improved.

The study outlined how public tax dollars follow students who enroll in charters, taking money away from already struggling public systems. Salett said most major U.S. cities are now divided into private and public tracks, and he argued that the future of one of the nation's few institutions where people from diverse backgrounds come together is at risk.

"Different language backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, racial backgrounds,” he said; “the aim of public schools has always been to create a place where the so-called 'melting pot' can occur."

According to Salett, companies frequently mix nonprofit and for-profit wings to win taxpayer subsidies, further boosting profits. Some charters have even successfully lobbied to eliminate democratically-elected boards, public oversight and accountability.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - ME