A collaboration between the group In the Public Interest and the American Federation of Teachers offers progressive education activists a new resource for pushing back against efforts to turn public schools into private profit centers.
The “Cashing In On Kids” website was unveiled today by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and In The Public Interest director Donald Cohen. It is a response in particular to the burgeoning charter school movement, which has been increasingly dominated by for-profit corporations and whose growth has been promoted heavily by anti-public-education conservatives.
“There needs to be a lot more accountability, a lot more transparency and a lot more discussion about the impact” that the growth of privately run charter schools have on public education, Weingarten said during a media conference call.
Weingarten described herself as an early supporter of the charter school concept when it was first put forward as an incubator for innovative teaching techniques or as places for children with special needs or talents. But, with the help of conservatives hostile to teachers’ unions in particular and to public schools in general, charter schools have been allowed to morph into a network that includes lightly regulated, highly unaccountable corporations that often deliver worse education results than the public schools they vilify and seek to replace.
The companies singled out in the “Cashing In On Kids” website include school privatization leader K12, Imagine Schools, White Hat Management, Charter Schools USA and Academica. White Hat, according to the site, has revenues of almost $1 billion in Ohio alone.
Too often, Weingarten said, policymakers have advocated charter school expansions “in an evidence-free zone,” and that has set the stage for a series of financial and academic scandals that would likely not have taken place in a well-run and politically accountable public school. When it comes to the corporations behind these charter schools, “people should know [if] the stockholders and the stock price are more important than what happens to the children,” Weingarten said.
She suggested that for models of how charter schools can more appropriately coexist with public schools, look to states such as Maryland, Alaska and Iowa, where state officials “made sure that governance structures are in place” to hold these schools accountable for their performance and management, and where the goal is to complement, not undermine, traditional public schools.