By Addison Wiggin @ Forbes
From an unlikely source comes this scathing look at how charter schools are potential havens for political cronyism and corruption, from contributor Addison Wiggin in Forbes magazine. As he explains, investors and private equity firms are lining up to grab stakes in for-profit education that are positioned to turn property tax money used to support charter schools into profits.
Charter schools have become a big business and there is no indication that the growth is going to slow down as more and more politicians advocate charters as a solution to the failing public schools myth. In almost every state and municipality there is pressure to increase the number of available charter schools.
Wiggin chronicles some outrageous facts from charter operations in Ohio, Florida, Arizona, and elsewhere. In addition to documenting how most charter schools actually underperform against public schools, despite more selective enrollment. As he states, ” About the only thing charters do well is limit the influence of teachers’ unions. And fatten their investors’ portfolios.” Yet, he exposes one key aspect of what is making charter schools so attractive.
In part, it’s the tax code that makes charter schools so lucrative: Under the federal “New Markets Tax Credit” program that became law toward the end of the Clinton presidency, firms that invest in charters and other projects located in “underserved” areas can collect a generous tax credit — up to 39% — to offset their costs.
What is best about this piece is his highlighting the fact that charter schools are not a one party issue. Republicans and Democrats advocate charter schools where it is advantageous to do so. Case in point, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top funding linked with cap removal on charters. With the amount of public money that can potentially be turned to into private profit, this is one issue on which there is a lot of agreement on both sides of the aisle. What’s more, Wiggin also highlights how charter schools can become very attractive as a back door to foreign investment, as well.