Tom digs up some fun facts about charter schools, with the help of the Grand Canyon Institute

For all the uncounted taxpayer money that gets shoveled their way and for all the unwarranted praise that vomits out of the mouths of the kid-haters in the State Legislature, the fact remains that the average charter school is still crappier than the average real public school.

That's the way it's been since charter schools were first dumped on Arizona 20 years ago. And, while the gap might be closing a bit, it's the way it's always going to be for a couple reasons.

One is that the charter schools at the bottom are way, way, WAY worse than anything that even a bumbling public-school district would allow to happen.

The second is that the charter schools at the top (and, quite honestly, there are a few) are few and far between because there are just so many well-off white kids from two-parent families to go around.

For those of you who weren't around in the 1990s (or weren't paying attention), the public-school opponents in the Legislature were in such a headlong rush to try out the latest right-wing crackpot idea that they rushed charter schools into existence without providing an apparatus to see how much taxpayer money was being thrown at a solution to a problem that didn't exist or how that money was being spent.

This is not an exaggeration: People would literally rent an abandoned convenience store and set up a "school," preferably one with "Excellence" and/or "Academy" in its name. Then they would compile a list of students, some real, some not; some who actually lived in Arizona at the time, some who didn't.

The operator/scammer would present the list to the state of Arizona, which would promptly (and without any oversight whatsoever) cut a check for tens of thousands of dollars. The check would be cashed and the scammer would be gone.

This absolutely happened and do you know how many times it happened?

Well, neither do I, because nobody kept track of anything. How much taxpayer money was stolen as those in the Legislature winked and nodded? Ten million dollars? Almost certainly. A hundred million dollars? Possibly, but there's no way of knowing.

What we do know is that the number of fake charter-school operators who blatantly stole taxpayer money and went to jail for it is the same number of people named Joe Arpaio who will spend time behind bars for their crimes.

To be fair, the fly-by-nights aren't that prevalent anymore (not because the Legislature cracked down on them; there still isn't any oversight to speak of).

Over the past decade or so, the charter-school cheerleaders in Phoenix have codified the scamming into law. The ones at the bottom who used to split at the first opportunity now wait a year or two, and it's legal. Meanwhile, the ones at the top (the BASISes of the world) have so much cover provided them by lawmakers that they can basically get away with just about anything—over and over!—so why would they want to stop? A scam that's written into law is no longer a scam...so much.

Nevertheless, we taxpayers—conservatives and liberals alike—should be shocked at what some (most?) charter-school operators have been getting away with. A recent report by the Grand Canyon Institute details charter-school practices that are stunning in their scope and audacity.

Among the findings:

• Three-fourths of Arizona's charter school holders engage in related-party transactions that did not fit the definition of "saving money" or "efficiency," an oft-cited reason given for allowing charters to engage in this practice. Think about that. Three out of every four operators use your money to buy books or software—at wildly inflated prices—from companies owned by their wives or brothers or cousins or mistresses. If a public-school employee did that, he'd go to prison. If a charter-school operator does that, he gets an award from the hypocrites at the Goldwater Institute.

• In 2013-14, 48 percent of Arizona's charter school expenditures for contracts, leases and rents were owed (committed) to for-profit companies that employed or were owned by the charter holder or a related party.

• Here's my favorite: Numerous cases were found where charter administrators' salaries are shockingly high for the number of students they oversee. They found one case where a guy who was in charge of 90 students at one location got paid as much as a public-school superintendent in charge of a district with 23,000 students. Wouldn't it be nice to set your own salary?

And, oh yeah, the guy's school received failing marks from the Arizona Board of Charter Schools. And if you can't satisfy that fake-ass board, that's like getting a D-minus from your mom when you're home-schooled.

One last thing: For those who point to the handful of charter schools that are doing well, I have two things to say.

It's about damn time and how hard can that be? Getting motivated kids (with motivated parents) to succeed in school is like making an uncontested lay-up on an eight-foot basket. Getting that kid from the broken home who has to dodge drug dealers on the way home to even show up to school tomorrow is hitting the last-second three-pointer with multiple hands in your face.

Despite what our legislators think, kids aren't a commodity and education should be a sacred public trust.

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