ARE CHARTER SCHOOLS PRIVATE SCHOOLS?

Charter schools are a form of public schools. Charter schools are also private schools.  However, they are not the kind of private schools one might associate with religious education or an independent institute. Instead, private refers to the entities that manage the charters. A private, for-profit organization provides administrative services to the non-profit charters it sets up. The private organization can make a profit in a variety of ways. 

Charter schools are free due to public, taxpayer dollars that are taken from traditional public schools when a child enrolls in the charter school. Unlike a traditional public school, charter schools are also funded by private companies, individuals, and interests. They are managed by a private entity vs a community elected board where the public has input. And their boards are appointed vs elected. This means that charter board members can have a financial interest in the success of the schools. 

Charter schools are charter schools, not free private schools

For charters, private refers to the funding sources such as private companies and individuals who can make decisions about a child’s education without community or public input. Charter schools operate under a charter, drawn up by a private group or entity.  Charter schools might use the term “free private schools”, while at the same time stating that they are public schools. This can lead to confusion for parents. Charter schools are simply charter schools. They use a mix of public dollars and private funds as their business model, operate under a charter, and are managed by a private entity. The term “free private school”, if referring to a charter school, is not an accurate statement. It suggests that it’s like a private school. 

Private schools can set their own admission and curriculum guidelines because they do not take taxpayer dollars. Religious and independent private schools rely heavily upon student tuition that could range anywhere from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars per year.

Are charter schools private schools?

Charter school investments

What’s important to understand is how charters utilize taxpayer dollars, taken from neighborhood public schools, while allowing private interests to invest in their growth and development. Charters have two funding streams: one is provided by the taxpayer and the other by investments often executed with little public knowledge of intent or interest. Specifically, significant investments from billionaires, foundations, and hedge fund managers enjoy rates and tax advantages that make donating large sums of money to charters schools appealing. 

Charter school and public school funding

The public “free” portion of charter schools’ financial structure are taxpayer dollars and federal funds. This matters because when a child enrolls in a charter school vs a public school, funds are diverted from the public school and flow back to the charter school. The public school never recovers those dollars, which can average around $7K/child.

In essence, the taxpayer funds a charter school without receiving any benefits and provides no input on how it operates. In fact, the taxpayer may not even be aware that their dollars are funding a structure that a private company and/or group of investors could reap rewards or gain tax incentives. Moreover, the taxpayer may start to see their neighborhood school struggling because the funds are flowing into the charter.  This is a double whammy for the taxpayer who believes his or her taxes are going to serve the students in the traditional public school. Instead, the charter school uses those funds and the public school can suffer. The taxpayer receives no financial benefit, students in the charter school may or may not receive all of the benefits and services of the public school, and all the while the school district works harder on less to save the struggling school. Who wins?

High standards of accountability

If Company A has a private interest that’s outside of the state’s required education standards or even procurement of contracts, that could filter down to the child. In other words, Company A may not have the child’s best interests at heart. This could be anything from curriculum, to building safety, to the quality of teachers. With public schools, the public can request open records of a public school to ensure financial accountability and no conflicts of interest.  School districts make their records available, including budgets and payments. Point being, if charter schools are to take public taxpayer dollars, then they should be held to the same high standards of accountability. Private schools are exempt because they do not take public dollars.  

Teacher requirements

In addition to undergraduate and graduate degrees, public school teachers must acquire certification, most undergo student teaching, and take additional course work.  They also receive ongoing professional development throughout the school year. Charter school teachers must have an undergraduate degree but are not required to be certified. Educators like librarians must have a graduate degree in traditional public schools, but this is not a requirement for librarians in charter or private schools. Private school teachers have undergraduate and graduate degrees and their fields of expertise can vary.  They do not have to go through certification.

School choice, where to begin?

Parents and students can choose where their educational pathway starts and ends. Charter schools can be a solution in some communities, but it is important to question why a charter school is opening in a school district that is successfully serving the community. If a traditional public school is struggling, one way to improve it is to invest funds and resources to bring it to the level it needs to be to best serve students. When a charter school opens, funds are pulled out of the struggling school, affecting operations, students, and teachers.  The best place to begin in determining a child’s educational pathway is to consider the following questions:

  1. Who or what is managing my child’s education, safety, and development? 
  2. What guarantees, rules, or laws are in place that ensure my child is protected?
  3. What is the quality of curriculum and does it meet certain standards?
  4. What is the overall quality of teachers?
  5. Is there a screening process for admission to the school even if it says open to all students?

For more resources and information:

RESOURCES

Charter Schools VS.  Public Schools – Niche

https://www.niche.com/blog/charter-schools-vs-public-schools/

Public vs Private vs Charter

https://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/public-private-charter-schools/

What does a school board do

Check out our post, “What does a School Board and why does it Matter?”