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Charter Schools Are Not Public Schools Or Superior To Them

Shawgi Tell

Like most private operators of charter schools, Miller repeats unwarranted claims about charter schools, including the assertion that charter schools are public schools.


For starters, not only are charter schools operated by unelected private persons, so too are the charter authorizers Miller mentions in his article.


Second, many charter school promoters do not mention or realize that the performance-based contractual nature of charter schools that Miller embraces is what actually makes charter schools private. In the U.S., contract law is specifically part of private law, not public law. As contract schools, charter schools lie in the private sector, embracing consumerism, individualism, competition, and the survival-of-the-fittest ethos. This is why charter school promoters correctly describe charter schools as “free market” schools.


Further, under U.S. law, something does not become public just because it is called “public” 50 times a day. Simply calling something a particular thing over and over again does not automatically and spontaneously make it that particular thing. Not only can labels be incorrect, but something may be “public” on paper but the opposite in reality.


Moreover, an entity does not become public just because it receives public funds. This is not what makes an entity public. Millions of private entities in the U.S., for example, receive some sort of public money but they do not suddenly stop being private. These private entities, like charter schools, are not political subdivisions of the state.


State Action Doctrine and different court and legal rulings over the years maintain that other criteria must be met for an entity to be considered public in the proper sense of the word. Just two months ago, for instance, Kentucky circuit court judge Phillip Shepherd ruled that charter schools are “private entities” that do not meet the Kentucky Constitution’s definition of “public schools” or “common schools.” Thus, they have no legitimate claim to public funds (that belong to public schools proper). Many other examples could be given (see here, here, and here).

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash


The article, 40 Differences Between Public Schools And Charter Schools, provides an annotated list of profound differences between public schools and privately-operated charter schools, showing that privately-operated charter schools have little in common with public schools. Charter schools lack many of the functions, structures, services, programs, and authorities of charter schools. They are different legal entities, which is why certain constitutional provisions do not apply to them.


Privatizers and their political representatives pass laws that say charter schools are public so that they can justify siphoning billions of dollars a year from mostly urban public schools that enroll many poor and low-income minority kids. This is self-serving to the extreme. Ironically, privately-operated charter schools suspend and expel black and brown students at very high rates, thereby fueling the school-to-prison pipeline (see here, here, and here).


As for the claim that charter school students perform better on unpopular high-stakes standardized tests produced by for-profit corporations than public school students, the recent billionaire-funded CREDO “study” mentioned by Miller has already been exposed and refuted (see here, here, and here). Interestingly, Margaret Raymond, head of CREDO, publicly admitted in December 2014 that “free market” education is a disaster. The fact is that hundreds of charter schools fail and close every year, abandoning and violating thousands of families and education workers. Privatizers call this “free market accountability.”


Last but not least, for many recent and old reports on widespread fraud, waste, and corruption in the charter school sector, as well as the billionaires behind these privatized schools, see the Network for Public Education. Transparency and accountability have always been low in the crisis-prone charter school sector. Other damning and indicting reports and articles on privately-operated charter schools can be found at Tultican, In The Public Interest, Common Dreams, and Truthout, just to list a few other sources. Hundreds of scholarly peer-reviewed articles and books also expose many serious problems with school privatization.


 Shawgi Tell is professor of education at Nazareth University.


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