by Diane Ravitch, Huffington Post, 05/17/2014
Congress is considering new charter legislation, awarding more money to the charter sector, which will operate with minimal accountability or transparency.
The bill has already passed the House of Representatives with a bipartisan majority and now moves to the Senate.
Make no mistake: on the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board decision, Congress is set to expand a dual school system. One sector, privately managed, may choose its students, exclude those who might pull down its test scores, and kick out those it doesn’t want. The other sector — the public schools — must take in all students, even those kicked out by the charters.
One sector — the charter sector — may enroll no students with profound disabilities, while the public schools are required by federal law to accept them all. The charter sector may accept only half as many English language learners, while the public schools are required to accept them all. Some charter schools push out children who are behavior problems, the public schools must take them all.
This is a dual school system, one bound by laws, the other deregulated. One free to select the “winners, ” the other bound to accept all.
Will federally-funded charters be allowed to operate for profit, as many charters do? Will they pay their executives exorbitant salaries, of more than $400,000, as some charters do? Will they be exempt from nepotism laws, as many charters are? Will charter leaders be allowed to hire their relatives or give them contracts? Will they be exempt from conflict of interest and self-dealing laws, as they are in some states? Will members of the board be permitted to win profitable contracts from the board?
The growth of the charter sector has been driven by a strange coalition. Charters are supported by wealthy hedge fund managers who give generously to individual charters and to charter chains; they fund political candidates who support charters. Charters are supported enthusiastically by the Obama administration, which endorses the privatization of public schools. Charters are a favorite of conservative groups like ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) and right-wing governors. Charters receive millions from some of the nation’s wealthiest foundations, including the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.
This odd coalition doesn’t seem to care that it is reversing the Brown decision of 1954. The fact that charters are highly segregated does not trouble them. The fact that charters undermine public education, an institution that is basic to our democracy, does not trouble them. …
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