The good news for charter school chains such as Green Dot, Alliance Public Schools or any one of the new charter retail chains that are bubbling up like Pay Day Loans in the face of the destruction of public education through over thirty years of economic and social neglect, has just recently been signed into law under the nose of the corporate sock puppet press. Senate Bill (SB) 592 was amended on April 16, 2009 and then scheduled for a hearing thirteen days later in the Education Committee. It passed unanimously there. The Governor then signed the bill on October 12, 2009 under the pallor of putrid reporting and deteriorating and squalid economic and social conditions in California. The bill was introduced to the Senate Committee on Education by Gloria Romero, Chair of the Committee. Romero caved into pressure from the big boys for the bill is a direct giveaway of public titles to charter chains, their investors and their vendors and promises that: This bill authorizes a local government entity, including but not limited to, a county board of education, a city or a county, and authorizes a charter school to hold title to a facility constructed with state bond funds under the School Facility Program. The bill also requires a district currently holding title to such facilities to transfer title to these entities upon the request of the charter school, unless the school district has contributed at least 50 percent of the local matching share or provided the land for the project (http://www.aroundthecapitol.com/Bills/SB_592/). What does this all mean?
It’s really pretty simple: the plan calls for a transfer of the public title of public schools from the public sector to the private or non-profit sector. The entity who pays or paid for the public school title is of course the public, and through our taxes all this can be transferred now to the burgeoning retail charter chains like Green Dot and others — retail educational chains promoted and backed by philanthro-capitalists like Bill Gates, the Walton ‘family’, and Eli Broad: outfits like Alliance Public Schools that is seeking approval for eight new charters in Los Angeles as we speak. Furthermore, there is nothing in the bill that states the charter chains must be non-profit or publicly run; on the contrary, they can trade on the New York Stock Exchange and still participate in the land grab. That’s good news for shareholders and CEO’s of these schools; a direct investment of public funds in their profiting schemes. This bill’s passage is a direct legal maneuver that calls for the transfer of public funds and title to charter chains, be they non-profit or for-profit. What the Senate Bill does is transfer taxpayer owned title of public schools to non-profit or profit charter school chains. Think about it. Millions and millions of dollars worth of real estate is simply titled over to the charter chain companies with the flash of a pen. Why? The answer is simple: the chains need to get their hands on plenty of public monies and a lot of it, and fast. The philanthropists are running out of philanthropic funds and they need to get matching taxpayer funds to make their new scheme work. The passage into law of this bill gives them access over $900 million in voter-approved California Propositions 44, 55 and 1D funds for construction projects and simplifies the funding formula for charter schools so they can get their cash right way. The role of government under neo-liberalism is to transfer not just control to the new entrepreneurs, but the tax funding and public title to ‘for-profit’ or ‘non-profit’ charter school chains.
Money, money, money: MONEY!
Here was the problem for the charter chains and why the bill was introduced and signed into law. Under current California law, there is the establishment of what is known as the School Facility Program (SFP). It is a program whereby: the state provides general obligation bond funding for various school new construction and modernization projects. In 2002, Proposition 47 authorized $11.4 billion dollars in general obligation bonds. Among other things, it created the Charter Schools Facilities Program (CSFP) and provided $100 million in funding for this purpose. In 2004, Proposition 55 authorized $10 billion in general obligation bonds and provided an additional $300 million for the new construction of facilities for charter schools. Most recently, Proposition 1D made several changes and further expanded the CSFP, providing an additional $500 million for charter school facilities. But here’s the hitch: the taxpayer funds can’t be released for the private charter school construction projects unless a school district holds the property’s title; that’s the law.
That’s all over now. Neo-liberal changes in the law took care of that. Now the charters can hold the title which puts them on the road to public and private pillage. Charter schools lobbied for the new law, SB 92; they complained that the process to get their hands on taxpayer funds was excessive, resulting in delays in initiating projects or acquiring land. In addition, they argued that school districts placed “onerous” conditions upon the charter chains and that the districts extracted unreasonable concessions such as parking rights and use rights for adult school programs and other non-charter programs. Further, they went on to claim that they have been irresponsibly required to waive all rights to request any other property from the within the district within which they wish to operate for the term of the lease. Their hands are tied, they claim; they can’t get to your wallet quickly or expeditously enough – too many regulations. Can someone please make a call? Sure. And that is what was done. In their wisdom and with the help of their paid legal courtesans what they needed to do was to get the coin-operated politicians on board to draft a legal bill that the Governor could then sign that would turn over actual legal title of public school buildings over to them so they could then more expeditiously pick-pocket the public treasury to get their hands on the ‘loot’. It is called the public subsidization of charter chains or neo-liberal economics and this bill, SB 92, attempts to address the charter school chains’ teary-eyed claims and handwringing over their inability to get their hands on the public money quickly enough by authorizing both local government entities and charter schools to now be eligible to hold title to the facilities they have not even paid for. Can you imagine the public gift, the giddiness and fist bumping that went on in the management backrooms? All for the kids, of course, or at least that is what Arnold Schwarzenegger said when he signed the bill into law on October 12, 2009: I am committed to ensuring California’s kids have the opportunity for a quality education and charter schools are proving that their innovative approaches can provide it,” said Schwarzenegger. That is why I am signing these bills to cut red tape and simplify funding formulas to allow charter schools the chance to thrive here in our state. (http://lakeconews.com/content/view/10774/775/)
As I wrote in an article for Counterpunch the WalMartization of education is taking place at lightening speed in LA, funded by philanthro-capitalists and now an additional $900 million in available bond funds due to changes in the law. Why? It is one of the great right wing experiments in “portfolio” schools, an idea put forth by Paul T. Hill and which can be witnessed as a crime scene in New Orleans, albeit under another name (http://www.nwrel.org/nwedu/09-02/hill.asp). There they call it the “diverse strategy model”. Whatever they call it, the wordsmithing is obviously being done to confuse the public and sugar coat the whole move as an act of sincerity, when in actuality it is part and parcel of the policies of disaster capitalism, truly on a grand scale. If you think about it, what it really represents is the wholesale theft of public lands. The parasites have found a host: ‘Charter’ as a Verb ‘Charter school’ is no longer even an ‘adjective’ in the English vocabulary of the new market makers when they refer to schools; to passive, they need a verb. According to them: “Charter” will no longer be seen as an adjective, a way to describe a type of school, but as a verb, an orderly and sensible process for developing, replicating, operating, overseeing, and closing schools. The system would be fluid, self-improving, and driven by parents and public authority, ensuring the system uses the best of market and government forces. Schools that couldn’t attract families would close, as would those that ran afoul of authorizers for academic, financial, or management failures. School start-ups, both the number and their characteristics, would reflect the needs of communities and the interests of students, but would also be tightly regulated to generate a high probability of school success (Wave of the Future, Andy Smarack, http://educationnext.org/wave-of-the-future/ Winter 2008 Vol. 8, No. 1)
Whether ‘choice’ in education, and a private choice at that, is looked at as an opportunity or as a disaster, the most commonly held rationale behind the choice argument, public or private, is that competition provides the best or most efficient motor for change and reform of the decaying educational system in Los Angeles and other urban areas. Notice these same voices also argue against public choice in health care? The premise of the contention is similar to the private voucher argument, that traditional public schools (TPS) can be best improved by competitive market mechanisms, and as we can see above, it is more rhetoric than reality, more deception than conception. Like private choice, the public choice rationale maintains that all public schools as well as all student-learning improve when the public schools have to compete for students and students and their parents have the right to choose. It is truly a Hobbsian world. Historically, according to its staunchest advocates of private choice, public school choice is not simply about one particular charter school or another as much as it is about raising the educational standards of all public schools. However as the charter chains begin to consolidate and gain momentum, as we know, the large players in the charter school movement have little or no interest in competition as they seek to suck up the charter market in as many states and urban areas as they possibly can. And their claims to innovation can be found bankrupt in both the lack of a public exchange for supposed innovative techniques, their tight lipped curriculum rules and non-disclosure clauses, not to mention the fact they have no interest in improving any public schools; they really want to replace them. With the new mayoral control, the unitary executive of cities, and the lack of fundamental participatory democracy we can catch a glimpse and the aromatic future of the grandiose outhouse plan being put forth by the self elected “leaders” under the Secretary of Education’s Arne Duncan’s urging and right under the noses of California’s constituency. Take a look at the real charter school plan, charter schools as a ‘verb’ as is told by right wing think tanks:
“Here, in short, is one roadmap for chartering’s way forward: First, commit to drastically increasing the charter market share in a few select communities until it is the dominant system and the district is reduced to a secondary provider. The target should be 75 percent. Second, choose the target communities wisely. Each should begin with a solid charter base (at least 5 percent market share), a policy environment that will enable growth (fair funding, nondistrict authorizers, and no legislated caps), and a favorable political environment (friendly elected officials and editorial boards, a positive experience with charters to date, and unorganized opposition)”.
For example, in New York a concerted effort could be made to site in Albany or Buffalo a large percentage of the 100 new charters allowed under the raised cap. Other potentially fertile districts include Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Oakland, and Washington, D.C (ibid). The argument for school choice, as you can see above, is rubbish, always has been; what happened in California is a private choice, part of an outright seizure by the charter chains; this is hardly a public choice and California will certainly not be alone. The argument that charters will oxygenate the practices of Traditional Public Schools with new and promising educational innovations and best practices thereby raising all boats is more propaganda than fact. Charters are really not doing anything that has not been done somewhere else at one time or another. Furthermore, many public school teachers find little in common with experimental charters, nor do they have any form of institutional support or mechanisms in place for learning about what the charters might be doing. It’s a hoax.
The problem is capitalism
Politicians, business interests along with Departments of Education throughout the states that have legislated charter schools are really playing a shell game with the American people and not broaching the real problem that plagues society and schools. As I argue in my new book, charter schools cannot not solve the problem of failing schools, instead they serve to stratify citizens along racial, ethnic, and social class – they are dis-associative. The real answer is full funding for all public schools for the decades of proven methods of educational reform: smaller class size, smaller schools, comprehensive pre-school for three- and four-year-olds, after-school and in-school tutoring and enrichment programs and mentoring for those who need them, state-of-the-art school buildings equipped with updated books, materials, equipment, technology and caring, well-trained educators who have the needed experience for the job are also needed. Furthermore societal poverty, not to mention the fact that one out of every fifty children in the US is homeless, simply does not support the academic development of children and thus issues of economic equity and economic policies that encourage the eradication of social poverty must be faced when confronting public education reform (Kozol, 2006).
The real problem is the elephant in the room within which we all live: capitalism. According to Elena Aguilar, a writer for Edutopia: All the failing schools in Los Angeles are in low-income neighborhoods. We don’t want to acknowledge that we live in highly segregated cities and that especially in California our taxation system has produced major inequities in how schools are funded. The blame our schools are receiving is justified; it is morally reprehensible that they fail millions of children, but it is capitalism and our corrupt system of taxation and that should also be condemned. I fear that until we start having that discussion, we aren’t really going to get to the root of things and create an equitable education system for all children (Public Schools Changing into Charters: Should We Worry?http://www.edutopia.org/spiralnotebook/anthony-cody).
Fantasy, deception, violence, poverty and fear are driving the new school reformers. As the White House tries to tackle youth violence, since 2005 under Arne Duncan’s regime in Illinois, dozens of Chicago public schools have been closed and within the last twelve months 398 youth have been murdered. With closed schools, students are reassigned outside their neighborhoods, often across entrenched gang lines where they then have to travel to their new ’charter’ school. The real root of the educational crisis is poverty, spawned by a system of capitalism that serves the elite in favor of the working class. For many urban youth, there is simply no mechanism to live like human beings in their cities and urban environments. For many young people, all that is left is to prey upon each other. More than thirty years of trickle down economics has left the public with the Steve Barr’s, the Green Dots of the world, the Arne Duncans and the rest of the charter courtesans. For the American people, it has left a wake of deracinated citizens and economic and moral decline. The widening income gap under capitalism along with thirty years of trickle down econiomics has left cities devastated without the ability for their citizens to sustain productive and sustainable lives, let alone get an education. This is the problem; this is the education that the public needs to have, the knowledge they need to possess. It is now time to stand up to the mendacity and economic inequality caused by these same elites that now say they want to save our schools.
Dr. Danny is a public interest attorney and an educational writer and writer on international affairs. He has published several books including Towards a Critical Multicultural Literacy, School Vouchers and Privatization, Charter Schools, 1st edition, and his new book, Charter Schools, 2nd edition, Charter School Movement: History, Politics, Policies, Economics & Effectiveness He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org This article could not have been done without the relentless research by author Kenneth Libby. He can be reached at email@example.com.