One quality that makes charter and private schools effective in educating children is their ability to operate efficiently. Part of that efficiency comes from the freedom charter schools enjoy to pay teachers according to how the school values the teacher – not by some arcane schedule of what teachers should make based on years of experience, academic degrees or what legislators in Raleigh think.
Unfortunately, some public school personnel and their anti-choice allies on the left and the media are looking for some way of stopping the school choice bandwagon. One of the tactics they have hit on is to try and obtain school employees’ salary information from charter schools. While some have complied, others have resisted. I am on the side of the resisters.
Any operator of a private business (and many in government) will tell you that knowledge of other people’s pay can create a toxic and corrosive environment. That is why employers work very hard to keep that information secure and only a few individuals have access to the data.
Advocates for openness say charter – and soon private – schools get “public” money, so both should be subject to the open records law. While I usually would be on their side, this time they are wrong.
Public records laws were put in place as a check on government and so citizens would have a better understanding of what government did with their money.
Many elected officials and bureaucrats prefer to hide their actions from public view. Without laws guaranteeing public access, they will ignore citizens.
So why shouldn’t these laws apply to charter schools? Because unlike government, charter schools have no way of demanding your money!
Government forces you to pay your taxes, then government agencies and schools get your tax money regardless of what kind of job they do.
Charter schools are different. They only get your tax dollars (and less of them than the traditional public schools get) if parents voluntarily choose to send their children to that charter school. Traditional public schools are administered by bureaucracies that tell parents where their children are to be educated and how schools will spend the money.
Charter schools receive public money only when parents voluntarily choose to send their children to the school. If they decide that they are not happy with the school and pull their children out, the money goes with them. In North Carolina, there have been charter schools that have shut their doors because of parental dissatisfaction and declining enrollment.
Traditional public schools are one of the few enterprises where failure is rewarded with more money. Charter schools – by design – operate free of some restraints. But with that freedom comes the freedom to fail. In the case of charter schools, failure is not rewarded with more taxpayer money.
The current check on charter schools operating for the public good is the public. If parents are dissatisfied, they vote with their feet and pull their children out. No bureaucrat or superintendent sitting in a taxpayer-funded building can order them to keep their children in that particular charter school. If enough parents leave, the school closes.
Clearly, there is no need to make charter school teacher salaries public; in fact, it would be counterproductive to do so.
Transparency is a means, not the end itself. Its purpose is to hold institutions accountable to the public, yet charter schools are already held accountable, through parental choice. Making charter school payrolls public would only undermine the schools’ ability to provide a quality education to North Carolina students.
This opinion column by Civitas President Francis X. De Luca first appeared in the (Wilmington) StarNews.