Sunday, November 13, 2016

NEWS | Report examines private control of public education

By Mary Kuhlman
Ohio News Connection

What began as an experiment to create innovation through charter schools has become a movement to privatize public education, according to a new report.

Stan Salett, the study's co-author, spent more than four decades in public education and helped launch the nation's Head Start and Upward Bound programs. In the past two decades, he said, a small group of billionaires - including News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch, who once called public schools an "untapped $500 billion sector" - have worked to assert private control over public education to make money.

"And that's what's at play now," Salett said. "You've got a lot of money on one side going in to create a privatized school system that becomes part of the new marketplace for hedge funds and Wall Street investors."

The Independent Media Institute study found that 40 percent of the nation's 6,700 charter schools are part of corporate chains or franchises. Salett, president of the Foundation for the Future of Youth, said many charters do good work and are operated by and accountable to their communities. However, the report recommends a national moratorium on their rapid growth until the industry's governing structures and business models can be assessed and improved.

The study outlined how public tax dollars follow students who enroll in charters, taking money away from already struggling public systems. Salett said most major U.S. cities now are divided into private and public tracks, and argued that the future of one of the nation's few institutions where people from diverse backgrounds come together is at risk.

"Different language backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, racial backgrounds," he said. "The aim of public schools has always been to create a place where the so-called 'melting pot' can occur."

Salett said companies frequently mix nonprofit and for-profit wings to win taxpayer subsidies, further boosting profits. Some charters also have successfully lobbied to eliminate democratically elected boards, public oversight and accountability, he said.

Ohio has not been without its fair share of charter-school controversy. The report noted the July 2015 resignation of the state's top official in charge of charters after he was caught upgrading performance records at some failing schools.

The report is online at

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