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I like this post by Peter Greene a lot because it clears up confusion about what defines a public school. Many people think that charter schools are public schools because most state laws define them as “public charter schools.” The charter industry wrote the state laws, and they desperately wanted to be considered “public schools” so they could qualify for the same funding as public schools (in Texas, they get even more funding than real public schools). The proliferation of corporate charter chains make it even harder to see charter schools as public schools, since nowhere in the history of public schools were multiple schools managed by a corporation.
Greene asks the questions that define what a real public school is.
Here are a few of them:
Is the school and its resources owned by the public?
Who owns the building? If the school closed tomorrow, who would take possession of the building, the desks, the chairs, the books, the music stands, etc etc etc. If the physical resources of the building are owned by the public, it’s probably a public school.
Is the school run by local elected officials?
When we get to the very top level of management, do we find a board of local people elected by local taxpayers? If so, it’s probably a public school. We’re in a fuzzy grey area in districts under mayoral control, but not at all fuzzy when discussing upper management that is not elected by anybody at all.
Did those local officials open the school?
Who decided this school should exist, and that local taxpayers should pay for it? If that decision was made by a board of local citizens elected by local taxpayers, it’s probably a public school.
Are those local official required by law to meet only ever in public?
Can the board of local citizens elected by the local taxpayers meet in secret? Or must their meetings be announced and in public, with exceptions only for times when the group must adjourn for privacy regarding, say, personnel or student issues? Public school boards don’t get to meet unannounced, privately.
Are all financial records available upon request, and subject to state audit?
If you’ve gone to court to block the state from auditing your school financial records, you are not a public school. It’s simple, really– you’re spending taxpayer money, and the taxpayers are entitled to an accounting of it. Any taxpayer should be able to access your financials. The state should audit you regularly.
If your school doesn’t meet these minimal requirements, it is not a public school.