Accountability Charter Schools For-Profit Funding

House Democrats Want to Bar Federal Funding of For-Profit Charter Schools, and Charter Lobby Goes Wild

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The federal government has handed out billions of dollars to start new charter schools. The federal Charter Schools Program program started small, in 1994, with less than $10 million. At that time, based on hope, not evidence, charter schools, it was believed, would be more innovative, more accountable, and better than district public schools. Twenty-six years later, we know more, and we know that many charters fail, few are accountable, and precious little innovation has come from them. But the funding for the program has grown and grown. The federal government is now the biggest funder of new charters. Under Betsy DeVos, most of the annual appropriation of $440 million was doled out to charter chains, like KIPP and IDEA, not to teacher-led schools or mom-and-pop schools.

In 2019, the Network for Public Education issued reports based on federal data, showing that one of every three federally-funded charters closed soon after opening or never opened at all. (See here and here.) NPE also issued a report recently about the for-profit management companies that enrich themselves and their shareholders with public money intended for instruction.

The House Appropriations Committee approved a proposal to bar federal funding of charters operated or managed by for-profit companies and to cut the program by $40 million. Existing charters won’t be affected since the program funds new charters. The charter lobby screamed bloody murder and claimed that all charter students would be hurt by banning for-profit managers. They also falsely claimed that charter schools would not be allowed to buy anything from a for-profit company, like plumbing, food, and books. And they claimed that children of color would suffer if for-profits were banned.

Carol Burris wrote the following to me. She was the primary author of the NPE reports cited here.

“This is what came out of the House Education and Labor Committee for the 2022 budget. Pg. 271 –


Pg. 165 ––AP–AP00-FY2022LHHSSubcommitteeAppropriationsBill.pdf

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“The Charter lobby led by Nina Rees is going wild over this. Fernando Zulueta, the owner of the largest for-profit management company was on the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools board for many years. Read this article and the spin Rees is putting on the legislation. Then read Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro’s response (in the same article).”

Fernando Zulueta is CEO of Academica, a Florida-based charter chain that manages nearly 200 charter schools. It is a very profitable business. Zulueta was the lead speaker at the annual conference of the National Alliance for Public Schools in 2016. He was honored by the charter industry in 2019 when he was inducted into its “Hall of Fame.” The very profitable Academica charter chain has received many millions from the federal Charter Schools Program. It is not surprising that the NAPCS would defend for-profit management of charter schools.

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