The corporatization of charter schools -- where, instead of being localized, earnest attempts at creating educational alternatives, charters become statewide/nationwide conglomerates sucking up government money for profit -- is one of the dangers inherent in the charter school movement.
The profit motive and quality education are usually at odds. With charter schools, profit and quality simply don't mix.
And yet, where there is loose money floating around, people are going to form companies whose purpose is to get that money to float their way.
The latest story of abuse by Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) is in a Utah paper. It begins with a "no problem most of the time" statement, but then it gets into the problems -- like, CMOs taking control of the charter school boards, and therefore, control of the school. One of my favorite bad actors in charter school biz, Imagine Schools, is mentioned for its CEO's suggestion that every board member file a letter of resignation which the company can activate if that board member starts causing trouble.
In New York, abuses have been so pervasive that the legislature recently passed a law prohibiting new charter schools from hiring for-profit management companies.
The Utah Association of Public Charter Schools, which used to offer some management assistance to charters, has backed off and let CMOs take over the management angle. Not surprisingly, the change came when people from the CMOs worked their way onto the Association's board.
This problem is one of the many reasons I'm of two minds about charter schools. I very much like the concept in the abstract, but I fear the combination of public funds and privatization is ripe for abuse.
A few people quoted in the argument express similar feelings.
"I don't have anything against charter schools," said Claire Geddes, a long-time government watchdog, "but this is starting to look like a back-door way to use public money for private education."
"It's a rape of charter schools," said Chuck Weber, principal of Soldier Hollow Charter School in Midway. "I think tax dollar money right now comes very, very difficult to people. Each one of those tax dollars should be used wisely. I don't think they should be going to profit some organization that's looking to line their pockets."