- The claim “for profit” charter school management companies pose conflicts for charter schools ignores how intertwined “for profit” companies are with traditional public schools.
- Accountability has more than one form. Private schools that receive funding for Opportunity Scholarship are accountable to the state and ultimately parents.
In Part I of our two-part response to Keith Poston’s column, I showed how budget data does not support the claim that state government is disinvesting in the public schools and how some of the budget issues Poston references derive from local – not state – decisions or priorities. In Part II I will respond to Poston’s claims that many of the private schools which receive public funding lack accountability and that a “for profit” motive clouds the operation of many charter school management companies.
Let’s first discuss the author’s concerns about “for profit” companies. Poston claims “for profit” charter school management companies divert tax dollars away from the public schools. For starters, it’s not accurate to accuse charters of diverting funding away from the public schools. Charter schools ARE public schools. While they have a separate governing structure, different rules and funding streams, they are public schools. Funding may go through different accounts, but when the funding stays within the system it’s hard to argue funds are being diverted.
Poston raises concerns about “for profit” management companies because they have interests or incentives that are in conflict with the schools that they operate. Of course, that is to imply that no such conflicts currently exist.
The problem with Poston’s claim is that it is selective. Many businesses and companies profit financially from our public schools. Yet, Poston has said nothing about them. Computer companies sell computers and software to schools. Do Apple and Microsoft have the same interests as the Wake County Public Schools?
Textbook publishers view schools as their niche market. Manufacturers of athletic equipment and uniforms market heavily to schools. Food services and school bus companies are dependent on contracts with schools and school districts. The list is endless.
Last I checked, these companies all existed to make money and had large educational accounts. The desire to provide a valuable product or service at a reasonable price – that also includes a profit for the business – is present in all these companies. Poston fails to understand that companies that have the profit motive at the exclusion of providing a quality product or service won’t be in business very long. Minus the reward of profit, who would take risks? What businesses would have been built? What economies developed? Such realities show Poston’s claim to be ill-conceived and at odds with the facts.
Finally, Poston claims private schools that receive taxpayer money are not accountable. Moreover, he insists these schools aren’t even required to tell the public if they are doing a good job of educating students.
This is simply false. Parental choice advocates have strong reasons to support accountability efforts. But let’s remember: there are several different types of accountability. To progressives and those on the left, accountability is a top-down endeavor. Schools or organizations receive money and support from the government; therefore, the government needs to ensure schools are performing and using money wisely.
These actions are necessary because public schools are not directly accountable to parents. The truth is parents and taxpayers hold little influence over traditional public schools. Principals and school boards receive their marching orders from where they get their money: local, state and federal government. Generally speaking, government seeks to ensure accountability through creation of bureaucracies and regulations.
Has this type of accountability worked? A quick review of relevant data says no. Only 49 percent of students who took all EOG/EOC tests met college and career readiness standards. Only 31 percent of ACT test-takers met benchmark goals in all subject areas.[i] Only 35 percent of students who took EOG tests met college and career readiness standards in both math and reading.
Yes, it’s true North Carolina’s high school graduation rate has increased for twelve consecutive years, but are they learning? Are they prepared for college? Are students learning what they need to know? Ask a college professor or someone responsible for hiring new graduates. Decades of failed plans have only spurred more plans and more federal involvement in efforts to raise student achievement or eliminate the achievement gap. Remember Goals 2000, No Child Left Behind, Common Core State Standards and Race to the Top? The failure of one prompts the creation of another. The lack of progress has – in part — helped to spur the parental choice movement.
Poston says private schools that receive public money lack accountability. He says that because the accountability structures for private schools in North Carolina are largely different than public schools. Yes, some aspects are the same. Private Schools that receive funding for Opportunity Scholarship or Special Needs Scholarship are subject to the same anti-discrimination codes and safety regulations as public schools.
However, there are other requirements. Schools who enroll recipients of the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) must report data to parents and lawmakers showing how students are performing academically. In addition, schools that enroll a certain percentage of OSP recipients must conduct a financial audit to ensure funding is spent as the program intended. Other forms of private school accountability are voluntary.
Many private schools are members of accrediting organizations that help to ensure academic quality and demonstrate adherence to professional standards. Advocates of parental choice welcome the chance to demonstrate accountability – in all its various forms. What shouldn’t be lost from this discussion is that in private schools, parents are the ultimate form of accountability. Since tuition is such a significant part of the budget of a private school, the school and school leadership are wired to be sensitive to the concerns of parents. Their survival depends on it. If parents are dissatisfied with a school or policy, the family leaves and they take their dollars with them. It’s an accountability system that does not exist in the public schools.
Keith Poston says parental choice programs shortchange public schools. Poston and others perceive a problem and they point a figure at parental choice programs. Their focus is on inputs and systems. They fail to ask important questions; why are our students not performing better academically? Why are students leaving public schools? Why is it OK to have choice for pre-K and college students but not for K-12 students?
This isn’t about bashing the public schools. There are many fine public schools. We all know however, there are schools that are not performing as well as they should. We should help schools improve, but where schools aren’t improving families must also have choices. Charter school expansion, the Opportunity Scholarship Program, Special Needs Scholarships and the newly-approved Personal Education Savings Accounts empower parents to give their children access to an education that is best for them.
In recent years North Carolina has probably done more than any other state to expand educational options. When given the choice parents are choosing charter, private and home schools at higher percentages than ever. The migration of students has the attention of educators – as it should. I don’t expect public school advocates to like parental choice programs. But please don’t say parental choice programs lack accountability and contribute to public school budget problems. It simply isn’t true.
[i] Accountability and Testing Results, 2016-17 State, District and School Level Drilldown Performance Data, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Available online at: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/accountability/reporting/