Charter Schools - A Primer
In 1988, at the 70th convention of the American Federation of Teachers, its President, Albert Shanker, proposed to reform the public school system through the formation of community-based, teacher-run Charter Schools. In 1991, the first Charter School Law was enacted in Minnesota. California followed with the “1992 Charter School Act.” Today, in California there are approximately 1,200 schools serving half a million students. In 2016-2017, the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) enrolled 4,577 in 11 charter schools; in 2017-2018, charter school enrollment is expected to be around five thousand students or approximately 15% of the District’s student population.
Apparently, progressive teachers and community activists were not the only ones attracted to Shanker’s neoliberal utopia. Only six years after the initial call for reform, academic bureaucrats, philanthropic entrepreneurs and plain corporate scammers took over the popular movement for school reform. To his credit, Shanker was among the first to denounce the corporate-bureaucratic take over. In “Where We Stand”, his weekly column in the New York Times, July 3, 1994, he denounced the Detroit School District for “…giving $4 million—for starters—to a group of people who are eager for public funds but could care less about public education.”
Based on the legal fiction that charters are “public schools”, they receive public funds on a per pupil basis. In 2016-2017, charters received $46 million. In addition, out of the General Fund, Local Control Funding Formula and Title II monies, the WCCUSD paid an additional $48 million for, among other things, the salaries of charter teachers, administrators and staff, instructional materials, and professional development. Thus, in 20116-2017, the subsidy to the charters added to $94 million. If pending petitions for new charters or for the expansion of existing ones are approved by either the district, the county or the state, the subsidy to the corporate charter school “reform” movement could well gobble up more than half of our district’s annual budget.
The hemorrhage must stop!