Charter schools? Nests of corruption

These stories are so commonplace, I barely notice them anymore:

Since 2008, Akron-based White Hat Management, has collected around $230 million to run charter schools in Ohio. The company has grown into a national chain and reports that it has about 20,000 students across the country.

But now 10 of its own schools and the state of Ohio are suing, complaining that many White Hat students are failing, and that the company has refused to account for how it has spent the money.

The dispute between White Hat and Ohio, which is unfolding in court in Franklin County, provides a glimpse of a larger trend: the growing role of private management companies in publicly funded charter schools.

Contrary to the idea of charters as small, locally run schools, around a third of the schools now pay management companies — which can be either for-profit or nonprofit — to perform many of the most fundamental school services, like hiring and firing staff, developing curricula and disciplining students.

But while the shortcomings of traditional public schools have received much attention in recent years, a look at the private sector’s efforts to run schools in Ohio, Florida and New York shows that turning things over to a company has created its own set of problems.

Maybe it’s because I see so many stories like this in my local paper:

A federal grand jury has indicted two former top officials at a charter school in Northwest Philadelphia on charges of stealing $522,000 in taxpayer funds.

The 27-count indictment charges Hugh C. Clark, 64, and Ina M. Walker, 58, with conspiracy, wire fraud, and theft from a federally funded program, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger announced Thursday.

The pair, both from Philadelphia, allegedly used the money slated for New Media charter school to pay expenses at Lotus Academy, a small private school they controlled; to fund personal businesses, including the Black Olive health-food store and the Black Olive restaurant in Mount Airy; and for personal expenses, including meals and credit-card bills, Memeger said.

The indictments, which were unsealed Thursday, came nearly two years after The Inquirer first reported allegations of fiscal mismanagement and conflicts of interest at the school, which has campuses in the Stenton and Germantown neighborhoods.

And that was just this week. We have problems going back to the beginning of the charter school movement in Philadelphia, and I’d guess this is going on all over the country: the management contracts are handed out as patronage plums to incompetent, unethical, or outright fraudulent management.

Why, we even have one school that was doubling as a nightclub, and selling booze on the weekends. (I wish I was kidding.)

But we’re “saving the inner city schools,” and it makes Hollywood stars and rich CEOs feel like they’re helping, so it’s all good!

3 thoughts on “Charter schools? Nests of corruption

  1. If anything, you’re being too charitable in your assessment of some of the “rich CEOs” who supposedly support charters to “feel like they’re helping.”

    For example, the three rich CEOs of Susquehanna Intl. Group LLP – Joel Greenberg, Arthur Dantchik, and Jeff Yass – who funded the Anthony Williams primary campaign for governor in PA last year to the tune of about $3 million. The Williams campagn was centered around 1 issue – “school choice” via vouchers to fund charter schools – with Williams functioning basically as a paid mouthpiece for his backers “Students First” PAC. But the money guys weren’t really about making things better for kids – at heart, they were pursuing a radical-right Libertarian political goal to take “public” out of public education. Ultimately, those who back charters and vouchers know that these programs will further erode the public school system, and that, in turn, will move them further along to Grover Norquist’s end game of making government small enough to “drown in a bathtub.”

  2. You have corruption and incompetence in public institutions too, but the difference is that in a public entity you have at least have an opening for accountability: elections, public hearings, demonstrations, etc. The corporations want the money without accountability, which is what corporations are all about, “limited liability”, the corporate veil and so on.

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