Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and President Donald Trump claim they want to provide parents “more choice” regarding the schools their children attend.
Sounds appealing, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want more choice? After all, aren’t we theoretically an independent nation where we are supposed to be have ample choices about…well…everything? Who wants a system with no alternatives?
Don’t be fooled. “School choice” is Republican-speak for the systematic deconstruction of America’s public schools. Betsy DeVos is a wealthy Republican donor and proponent of school vouchers, private schools, charter schools, homeschooling, and digital, or online, learning–not public education.
For a glimpse of what we could be in for if DeVos and Trump are successful, let’s take a trip to Nashville, Tenn. (TN), where charter schools are quintessential examples of the special interest ruse festering beneath Trump and the Republican-majority Congress.
Last month, a federal judge certified a class-action lawsuit from Nashville parents who complained charter chain RePublic Schools was engaging in shady recruiting tactics.
RePublic allegedly sent unsolicited text messages to thousands of parents, whose information was obtained from a Metro Nashville Public Schools database, then turned over to an out-of-state vendor that generated the texts.
This is illegal, and parents are seeking damages of up to $1,500 per person.
RePublic claims it is at the forefront of a movement where students are flocking to charter schools. However, there would be no need to illegally solicit business if it were truly as successful as it claims.
California-based Rocketship is another charter chain failing some of Nashville’s most vulnerable kids. Like RePublic, it too is operating in violation of federal law by refusing to offer legally mandated services to students with disabilities and English language learners. A Tennessee Department of Education report even found out that Rocketship is forcing homeless students to purchase uniforms.
To seek state approval for expansion, Rocketship routinely circumvents the local school board. That is possible because student learning growth isn’t based on what benefits students, but what benefits Rocketship’s real-estate deals with Turner-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund, a for-profit investment fund co-managed by tennis star Andre Agassi.
Finances are also in question with LEAD charter schools. Tennessee’s Treasury recently flagged “major issues” in three LEAD charters operating deficits totaling nearly $2.7 million.
After pressure at a January school board meeting, LEAD’s accountants admitted that in addition to public funds it receives, running the chain requires:
“A significant amount of fundraising and grant proceeds.”
Two years ago, a LEAD school was forced to close due to poor performance.
This contradicts the oft-quoted mantra coming from the right that charter schools deliver the same educational services as public schools for the same cost to taxpayers, or cheaper.
Although not perfect, public education provides taxpayers with the most oversight, success, and control over children’s education. It also educates all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, religion, disabilities, gender, or sexual orientation. Removing regulations in favor of placing education in private corporations’ hands eliminates or otherwise sidesteps these protections in addition to those regarding student safety and community needs. It also erases the standards teachers must adhere to through state licensure, fingerprinting, and higher education.
Featured image from YouTube.