Just in time for School Choice Week, the National School Boards Association published an article in its journal entitled “Money Talks,” which is critical of charter schools. “Despite the widespread financial and community support charters receive—as well as billions in public funding—research shows most are not outperforming traditional public schools on state tests and their long-term effect on academic achievement remains in question,” Del Stover writes in the February 2012 issue of American School Board Journal.
Three pages later, he lists “37” as the “percentage of charter schools that perform worse than traditional public schools on standardized tests.” Of course, he never mentions New Orleans, where the public school system was rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina with mostly charter institutions and test scores went up.
Clearly, the growth of charter schools alarms the school boards. “So, 20 years after the first charter school—City Academy—opened in St. Paul, Minn., it’s really astonishing to look at the momentum of the charter movement,” Stover avers. “In recent years, the number of charters nationwide has climbed by 400 to 500 annually; today approximately 5,300 of these schools of choice serve more than 2 million students.”
Ironically, what Stover and the school boards are most concerned about is not the billions in taxpayer funds that go to charter schools but the millions spent on promoting and operating them donated voluntarily by citizens, foundations and corporations. “Did you know that the Walton Family Foundation alone handed out nearly $75 million in school choice and charter-related grants in 2010?” Stover asks. “Or that wealthy out-of-state campaign contributors gave $233,000 in recent years to help charter-friendly Democrats run for office in Florida?”
“Or that a single company, which earns a sizable share of its revenue from virtual charters, has spent nearly $5000,000 in state-level contributions since 2004?” This windfall, Stover posits, rather than the actual record of the charters, may help to explain their explosive growth.
“That money must have made a difference,” Stover alleges. “To some degree, this investment in advocacy efforts, political campaigning, marketing, public policy papers, and research must have played some role in creating the 70 percent approval rating that charters currently enjoy with the American public—a reality reflected in the growing bipartisan support that’s seen in state legislatures and Congress.”
It never occurs to him that the abysmal record of traditional public schools may have had something to do with it.
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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