California Educator

May / June 2017

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Page 25 of 59

the real choice is when it comes to who controls public educa- tion. Should districts be governed by communities, teachers, education professionals and democratically elected school boards? Or should public education be left to profiteers who want to make money from educating children? Districts have little control It's not difficult to open a charter school. But it's very difficult to prevent one from opening. Charter management organizations (CMOs) are not required to show there is a need for additional classroom seats in the district — unlike school districts seeking to build new sites. Also, they are not required to prove their school offers a supe- rior education or targets an underserved population to be granted a charter. Many districts have denied charters, only to see them approved by the county or the State Board of Education. Private charter management companies are able to run schools and operate completely separate from the district. When a charter authorizer is outside the district, oversight is not at the local level and is usually infrequent, reports In the Public Interest (ITPI), a comprehensive research and policy center committed to democratic control of public goods and services. A school's charter must be renewed every five years by its authorizing agency. Nonrenewal often leads to a lengthy appeal process. School districts are required by law to provide free space to charter schools, even when it is a hardship for existing schools. Prop. 39, passed in 2000, requires school districts to make "rea- sonably equivalent" facilities available to charter schools upon request. is has sparked battles in some communities. Frequently, charters simply move in and colocate in other schools for free. In districts where space is tight, charter schools operate in malls or warehouses. A former Los Angeles charter teacher now teaching in Lynwood recalls sharing space with a church; students had to walk past coffins on their way to class. At virtual schools, facilities are not an issue, since students rarely if ever see teachers. CMOs are building empires Over the past 15 years, California charter schools have received more than $2.5 billion in tax dollars to lease, build or buy school buildings. A new report by ITPI, "Spending Blind: e Failure of Policy Planning in California Charter School Funding," reveals that a substantial portion of this money — an estimated $1 billion — was spent on charters that performed worse Public Education MONEY TO BE MADE Public education is a $600 billion industry. Profiteers disguised as reformers advocate for school "choice," but contribute huge sums to political action committees with an eye on the prize: privatizing public schools and running them as a business. THEIR AGENDA 1. Divert money from California's neighborhood public schools to fund privately managed charter schools, without accountability or transparency to parents and taxpayers. 2. Cherry-pick students, weeding out those with special needs. 3. Spend millions to influence local legislative and school board elections across California. FOLLOW THE MONEY Backed by billionaires with their own agenda for public education, a new industry around charter schools is growing in California. These taxpayer funded public schools are frequently operated by for profit corporations, and many do not follow the same laws and regulations that traditional public schools are required to follow. The lack of accountability has led to financial gains for corporate charter operators and their investors. 24 FEATURE

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