Tom has a fun quiz for all of the charter school defenders out there

In response to some feedback I've received, please allow me to make clear a few things. I DO NOT believe that all of Arizona's charter schools are staffed by right-wing lunatics. I DO believe that some charter schools provide a decent education for some students. Mostly, I DO NOT believe in the excuses given 20 years ago for the creation of charter schools or in the rationalizations made for the secretive expenditures of taxpayer money.

When charters were first created in the 1990s, they appeared to be a solution in search of a problem. Backers claimed that they were designed to help those in low-income areas, which explains why the successful ones are in the foothills and Oro Valley. (You have to understand that Republicans care about poor people like I care about soccer scores. That would be once every four years, and even then, only maybe.)

Back then, we heard (and, sadly, we continue to hear) about how wonderful it would be to apply free-market principles to education. Sorry, but most of us Americans realize that "free-market principles" don't even work when applied to free markets.

In "honor" of the 20th year of charter-school madness in this state, please take this little quiz. You may not like the answers but, in the spirit of Barry Goldwater, in your heart you know they're right.

1. In the first several years of Arizona's charter-school "experiment," how much money did the state lose due to shoddy bookkeeping, fly-by-night scams, corruption and/or outright grand theft?

a. $10 million; b. $100 million; c. $1billion; d. No one knows

2. True or false: Overall (or on average), charter schools do a better job of educating kids than do the local public schools.

3. In almost all cases, which of these has the highest administrative cost per student?

a. a traditional public high school; b. a Catholic high school; c. a charter high school; d. a nonreligious private school

4. True or false: There is a way that a charter-school operator can use taxpayer money to purchase a building, close down the school and then keep the building.

5. If I told the governor that I would donate $1 billion to the state if she could go somewhere and look up how much individual teachers make at the state's hundreds of charter schools, would she be able to take me up on that deal?

ANSWERS: 1. d. No one knows and no one will ever know. Best guess is in the high tens of millions of dollars, but it could be much higher. When the Legislature careened out of control in its headlong rush to screw over public-school teachers by creating charter schools, it failed to provide any means for financial oversight. I don't know if that happened due to incompetence or on purpose (and I'm not sure which case would have been worse). In the first several years, scam artists flooded into the state, set up phony operations in abandoned Circle K buildings, then skipped town when they got their first check from the state. Many, MANY charter schools had ghost students on their enrollment rolls and stole hundreds of dollars from me and you and the state for every fake name on the list.

2. FALSE. Despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, this has never been the case and still isn't today. In fairness, a couple of recent reports show that while charter schools have closed the gap somewhat, the average charter school does not do as good a job of educating students as does the nearest (traditional) public school.

Now, some knuckleheads might want to engage in a little apples versus oranges and boldly claim that the Oro Valley BASIS is more successful than a school in an economically depressed area of town. I'm not sure that I even agree with that. I think taking a kid from a single-parent family in which maybe English isn't spoken in the home and turning that kid into an average student who has at least a chance at making it is a greater achievement than taking a smart kid from a well-off, two-parent family and making that kid somewhat smarter.

3. c (by a mile!) Official warning: If even one person dares to challenge that, I will drown you in corroborating data that the state tried to bury under an avalanche of minutiae. Fortunately, it was the state of Arizona, so the attempts to bury the truth weren't very successful.

There are things in that report that should shock even the most ardent supporters of charter schools. I'd like to say that it would even make Al Melvin think twice, but in order to think twice, you must have, at some time in the past, already thought once.

4. It's TRUE. This seems absolutely insane but, under certain circumstances, it's possible. And if I know about it, do you really think that charter school people don't?

5. Of course not. The Über-lobbyists at the Goldwater Institute convinced their lackeys in the Legislature that allowing the charters to keep secret the way they spend taxpayer money is somehow more "efficient." Nobody (except a select few administrators to whom the state gleefully hands over the money) knows where the money goes. That should make everybody mad, but for some reason, it doesn't.

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