Choice goes both ways, especially where taxpayer dollars are concerned:
New grant rules proposed by the Biden Administration would require applicants to show that the number of charter schools “does not exceed the number of public schools needed to accommodate the demand in the community.” Other proposed changes to the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) include no longer giving grants to charters run by for-profit companies.
Charter schools are taxpayer-funded schools that are exempt from some of the rules that traditional public schools must follow, such as having 100% licensed teachers and participating in the National School Lunch program. There are more than 200 charter schools in North Carolina. More than 60 charter schools have received a share of the $36.6 million in CSP grant funds given to the state.
Since the cap on charter schools was removed when Republicans took over the NC General Assembly, the number of these schools in the state has doubled. There are also currently 783 private schools in NC, 2/3 of them religious in nature. Combined that's approaching the 1,000 mark. If that were 10 per county, wouldn't be such a big deal. But it isn't. Wake County has 24 charter schools and 87 private schools, pulling students and resources from the 171 traditional public schools. 8 of the 41 new private schools NC added in 2021 are in Wake County. Suffice it to say the "school choice" movement is out of control in North Carolina. Back to the Biden rule change, and the GOP's predictable reaction:
“In addition to being overly prescriptive and overburdensome, the Department proposes foisting such prescriptions and burdens solely upon charter schools which can only be viewed as an attempt by this Administration to disadvantage charter schools over their traditional public school peers,” U.S. Senator Richard Burr wrote in a joint letter to the U.S. Department of Education with five other GOP senators. “Destroying future charter schools harms school choice for parents and students during a time when school choice is more important than ever.”
Why is it more important than ever right now? Because you want to take advantage of the conspiracy-theory-laden anti-mask fervor to ramp-up resegregation? That was a rhetorical question, because we know the answer. Here's another:
“This new requirement would limit the very definition of parental choice, boiling a complex, nuanced, and personal family decision that accounts for school performance, special programs, proximity, cultural affirmation, and many other factors, to one simply based on over-crowding,” State Superintendent Catherine Truitt wrote in her feedback on the changes. “Demand for charter schools is about much more than simply too few seats at traditional public schools.”
Bolding mine, because Truitt is (shamelessly) using an African-American concept of learning to further her segregationist goals, just like it was done in the late 19th Century. They are more comfortable with their own kind. And of course U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd couldn't miss this opportunity to chime in:
The change “represents a backdoor attempt to limit choice for parents and students,” U.S. Rep. Ted Budd wrote in a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. “These sorts of burdensome requirements would never be applied to school systems beholden to powerful teachers unions that organize against the interests of families and students,” Budd added.
Spice that shit up with some anti-union rhetoric, eh? Almost as effective as waving a machine gun around, or sticking a pistol in your belt. Almost.
Another reason Republicans are fighting this so much is because of their donor base:
“We are seeing fewer and fewer home-grown community charter schools and more and more for-profit chains and models,” Poston said. The for-profit charter management company National Heritage Academies has opened 11 schools in North Carolina and has two more coming, giving it a presence in the state second only to Michigan, the company’s home base. Eight of the 13 National Heritage schools opened or were approved in 2012 or later, after a 100-school limit on charters dissolved.
Of course Michigan set off several alarms in my head, and for good reason:
Because NHA is a private company, they have very little accountability or oversight for their actions. The relationship between the charter schools and NHA has been widely criticized (Singer, 2014; Meiksins, 2014). The NHA, at least as of a 2012 audit, was the sole arbiter of how finances were used within the individual charter schools. Studies have shown that nearly all of the public money given to charter schools under the umbrella of the NHA gets funneled back into the NHA itself, largely for “rent” and “management costs” (Meiksins, 2014).
Furthermore, the NHA has been criticized for its connections to high-power political officials. J. C. Huizenga, the founder and chair of the NHA, was a major campaign donor to the presidential campaigns of both George W. Bush and Mitt Romney. (Singer, 2014; Meiksins, 2014). NHA is also politically aligned with controversial Secretary of Education Betsy Devos. Indeed, much of Devos’s advocacy work in Michigan has come at the direct benefit of NHA and Huizenga (Martinez, 2016). In addition, the NHA has pushed for specific policies that benefit it, at the expense of other charter schools: for example, Huizenga successfully pushed through measures that would ensure that EMO’s as large as NHA could expand without direct permission from local and state education commissions (Barnum, 2017).
Betsy DeVos epitomizes the Kakistocracy deployed by Donald Trump, and I had a hunch this story would end up in her lap somehow. The Biden administration is heading in the right direction with this rule change, but more needs to be done (especially on the state level) to shut off the public money pipeline to companies like this. Here's an idea: if you feel the need to hire somebody to run your charter school for you, maybe you're not qualified to even open such a school? Anyone? Bueller?