Missed Education

Jaden FlachNovember 11, 2019EducationFeatures

In 2016, leaders in the U.S. began an aggressive campaign for privatized primary education.

The secretary of education has even called public education a “dead end.” Though the push for privatization has been going on for some time, 2016 brought more attention to the very large debate over our education system than in previous years. While acting on this complex issue is no easy task, I believe the charter system is not a solution.

The government's place in education has always been a central debate in the United States. Constitutionally, it is not the government's responsibility to control the education system, and there are many people who believe that privatizing the system would be better. The privatization effort first became more of a possibility with the presidency of Ronald Reagan and the emergence of a new “hands-off” approach to the government known as laissez-faire economics. During this time, countries all over the world began to embrace privatization, like in 1987, when Japan privatized its railways. In the U.S., there was a growing call that the fix to the once-great American education system was to fund schools but not run them. The major thrust of the privatization movement in education was the creation of charter schools, which were first introduced by President Clinton. They are publicly funded (though schools can still receive other private funding) but privately run, often by for-profit companies. These schools can be completely deregulated. In other words, charter schools do not have to follow the same rules that govern public schools.

The influence of money often clouds the desire for good educational outcomes. Given the opportunity, people tend to try to make as much money as they can. Schools like Today’s Fresh Start charter school in California, started by Dr. Jeanette Grattan Parker and Dr. Clark Parker, is one such example. The Parkers were making millions of dollars from their charter schools while the schools’ conditions were horrible. Teachers lacked the funds to provide the most basic needs for students, such as textbooks. Records even show payments made on multiple apartment buildings using funds earmarked for the school. This went undiscovered for years due to the poor regulation of charter schools in California; the state regulators that were supposed to oversee and prevent fraud were themselves accepting campaign money from the Parkers. When they were exposed and faced being shut down in court, the Parkers appealed to the state Board of Education. And won! In fact, in 70% of appeals, the California Board of Education has sided with charter schools rather than public schools. This kind of situation is not uncommon and shows how corrupt this system has become. Today's Fresh Start also found other ways to evade the law by moving schools from district to district. So many schools around California are already facing this kind of corruption, and now officials want to put privatization on steroids.

The federal government will hand out more than $400 million to the charter school system, yet 90% of children go to public schools. This money could be used to help boost public schools, but instead it funds charter schools that are failing. Usually, the average public school receives 5,000 dollars per student, though in more affluent districts this could change. On the other hand, charter school funding can come from a number of sources, such as government money, private donations, and money raised through the sale of bonds. Many charter schools around the country are only open for a short length of time. According to a report from the Education Advocacy Group, these failed schools, along with the schools that couldn't open at all, have wasted up to one billion dollars of federal money. Mismanagement, fraud, poor performance, and lack of enrollment have caused this loss. The Washington Post says that over 1,000 grants were given to schools that failed to open. The truth is, this money is either being poured into the pockets of people like the Parkers or wasted on failing schools.

Even the people in power don’t seem to be doing anything about the problem. If the system keeps expanding, more money will be misspent. The school system will continue to waste millions more federal and taxpayer dollars: the money we should be putting into our public school system to help it flourish once again.

In Michigan, where there was a massive push for the privatization of Detroit's school system, 42% of charter schools never even opened. In Detroit, charter schools have diverted funds away from public schools, causing some to close. Moreover, in the 1990s both Michigan and Massachusetts, starting from similar educational metrics, underwent major reforms. Michigan chose charter schools and school choice whereas Massachusetts better funded its existing public school system. Massachusetts today has the best education system in the country, while Michigan is close to the bottom.

One aspect of the charter school system’s problem is the screening process that decides every new class of students. Screening processes can be important, but can also be used to pick and choose students based on factors other than performance. The design of the system overall exemplifies the risk of segregation by directly targeting certain groups. Even if schools have a lottery system, they can still discourage the enrollment of students with disabilities or of certain ethnic groups. At BASIS Phoenix, a charter school in Arizona and part of the school system I attended, the student body is predominantly made up of white and Asian students even though the school district is poor and mostly Latino. The trend completely contradicts the BASIS message, which states that their schools will help fix discrimination. This pattern is found in many other schools and in communities that have similar poverty rates and show a real problem with charters. After you account for the screening process, you are left with a student body that is made up of upper class, white, and Asian students.

I wonder what would happen if instead of expanding a failing system we put our time and resources into our public school system again. The Massachusetts-Michigan example gives a pretty clear indication that fixing our once great public school system and not abandoning it for for-profit schools is the right way to go. Our public schools mold the children of the future and are a center of culture that we need to embrace. They are also a cornerstone of our democracy; 90 percent of us went to public schools! They are a part of life in the United States, and we should support them.


Bryant, Jeff. "Things Didn’t Go Well When Betsy DeVos Was Confronted with Her Department’s Charter School Fraud." Salon, April 23, 2019. https://www.salon.com/2019/04/23/things-didnt-go-well-when-betsy-devos-was-confronted-with-her-departments-charter-school-fraud_partner/.

Chen, Michelle. "Charter Schools Are Reshaping America’s Education System for the Worse." The Nation, January 4, 2018. https://www.thenation.com/article/charter-schools-are-reshaping-americas-education-system-for-the-worse/.

Phillips, Anna M. "How a Couple Worked Charter School Regulations to Make Millions." Los Angeles Times, March 27, 2019. https://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-edu-charter-schools-20190327-htmlstory.html.

Rotberg, Iris C. "Charter Schools and the Risk of Increased Segregation." Education Week, March 27, 2014. https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/02/01/kappan_rotberg.html.

Strauss, Valerie. "Report: U.S. Government Wasted Up to $1 Billion on Charter Schools and Still Fails to Adequately Monitor Grants." Washington Post, March 25, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2019/03/25/report-us-government-wasted-up-billion-charter-schools-still-fails-adequately-monitor-grants/.

Jaden Flach is 15 years old and lives in Brooklyn, New York. Art might be her favorite thing in this world. Painting is her escape from reality, and she hopes you enjoy her paintings as much as she enjoys creating them.