Charter Schools Put Profit Over Student Learning

MYTH:

Tom Wolf believes that certain PA Cyber Charter Schools are “for-profit” schools and that some “charter school administrators are prioritizing profits over student learning.” http://wolfforpa.com/sections/page/charter-school-reform


TRUTH:

There are currently 14 Pennsylvania Cyber Charter Schools.  All of these schools are non-profit organization, as required by law and their charters.  All cyber schools have an independent board of trustees who oversee school operations.

Three Cyber Charters were started by School Districts.  Four utilize national management companies to assist in school management.

All 14 schools partner with “for-profit” organizations to fulfill their missions.  In fact, all public schools throughout the country partner with “for-profit” organizations in order to educate their students.  These organizations include curriculum companies, bus companies, construction companies, food service companies, janitorial companies, accounting firms and the like.

The only difference between charter schools and non-charter schools in this regard is the broad flexibility given to charter schools to partner with for-profit organizations to fulfill a broader range of school functions.  At all times, however, the school’s administrators are directly responsible and accountable to the school’s board of trustees and must operate the school as a non-profit entity.

The Tom Wolf website states:

“The commonwealth needs a leader who is committed to holding these schools — many of which are for-profit — accountable.

In order to ensure that every student receives a quality education and taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately, Tom Wolf will set new cyber charter oversight requirements, including:

Developing new guidelines to ensure that cyber charter school administrators are not prioritizing profits over student learning.”

This election rhetoric is misleading because:

  1. Cyber Charter Schools are all non-profit entities. Any money left over is placed in a designated fund or a general fund for the school’s use in future years.
  2. Since there is no “profit” to be pocketed at the end of the year, there is no incentive to keep this money from the students.
  3. If a school were to create a bonus structure, it would not award bonuses based on how much money was left over at the end of the year but rather on how well the money was spent on enhancing student performance.
  4. Incentives already exist to “prioritize (profits?) over student learning.” Charter School advocates are not drawn to this vocation for the money but rather for the students.  Charter Schools have Boards of Trustees, parents, the PA Department of Education, the Auditor General, the U.S. Department of Education, the local IU units, the U.S. Attorney, the Governor’s office, the press, the political parties and other charter schools all working together to “ensure that student learning” is the top priority.
  5. Because these accountability structures already exist, four PA Cyber Charter Schools have begun and closed, and one has been restructured.

The bottom line is that there is no need for additional, “new cyber charter oversight requirements,” in order to keep “profit” from corrupting the system.  The current system is working well.

Aside from distorting the reality of charter school performance and oversight, another question needs to be asked.  Why is Tom Wolf trying to demonize the profit motive?  On his own website, Tom Wolf extols the virtues of the “profit motive.”  His own company was failing.  He saved it by, in his words…

“We turned it around by investing in our workers and encouraging them to help us think about the future differently.

It wasn’t easy, but by working together we changed the business from a wholesale distributor to a company that sources our own American-made products that compete directly with foreign imports.

That’s why my company pays its workers a living wage, provides good healthcare and retirement benefits, and shares 20-30% of its profits with the workers who help make the business successful.”*

Tom Wolf wants us to vote for him because he understands how America works.  He understands capitalism and wants to bring his experience to government.  Yet, with education he wants to have nothing to do with “for-profit” entities.  I suppose this could have something to do with the fact that his strongest supporters are the teachers’ unions and the public employees’ unions, not because Pennsylvania Charter Schools are somehow abusing tax dollars because they utilize for-profit companies to support their educational efforts.

MYTH / TRUTH prepared by:

Dr. James Hanak, CEO, PA Leadership (Cyber) Charter School