Wednesday, January 27, 2016

From the People Who Brought You Walmart: $1 Billion for Charter Schools

Posted By on Wed, Jan 27, 2016 at 4:43 PM

In honor of School Choice Week (yes, that's really a thing), I'll be writing a few posts about charter schools. Today' post: The Walton Family Foundation plans to spend $1 billion on charter schools and other items on the school choice menu over the next five years.

Don't worry about the foundation funded by the Walmart fortune going broke spending all that money. It's already putting out about $200 million a year to promote the privatization/"education reform" agenda. Over the years, about one-quarter of the nation's charter schools have been recipients of Walton Foundation startup money. The foundation may be deciding to focus more of its regular expenditures on the charter sector, or maybe it's planning to pitch in a little more on top of what it's already giving.

The Foundation says it's planning to target low income communities in urban areas like Los Angeles and new Orleans, meaning it has a dual purpose of expanding charters in places like L.A. (the Waltons aren't the only philanthropists working on that, they have company) and tweaking the program in places like New Orleans which are already dominated by charters.

Which makes me wonder. Lots of big-bucks philanthropists along with mid-level players like hedge fund multi-millionaires and billionaires (yes, in today's wonderful world of growing income inequality, just having a billion or two makes you a minor player) are giving lots and lots of money to charters and the groups that support them. Yet one of the original selling points for charter schools was that they can do more than the bloated school districts, with their administrative overload and teacher union bosses, with less money. But if you look at the charters that get press for their accomplishments (some deserved, some not), they all get money beyond their state allotments, sometimes lots of it. Do charters, even successful charters, have any right to claim they're getting more educational bang for the buck, or are they proof that you can't do education on the cheap?

A "No, I Don't Hate Charters" Note: No, I don't hate charter schools. Some do a good job, some do an excellent job, some do a lousy job. But the charter school sector needs to be scrutinized more carefully in the press than is happening at the moment. No stone has been left unturned in criticizing what are usually referred to as "traditional schools," meaning schools run by school districts. There's a multi million dollar industry whose purpose is to portray those schools as failures—probably a multi-billion dollar industry if you start back in the Reagan years—and all too often, the media reads their press releases and "research papers" and reports on them like they're objective truth. And those same dollars are also being used to spread the idea that, "Traditional schools are the disease. Charters and private school vouchers are the cure." There are plenty of problems with charter schools that need to be exposed and explored, but no one is putting millions and billions into the process. So it falls to folks like me to point up some of the things going on in the charter school sector, hoping the national media will become more aware and will report on the entire spectrum of K-12 education more accurately.

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