Network for Public Education Declares Charters Are Not Public Schools, Calling for Moratorium and Legislative Accountability


Network for Public Education President, Diane Ravitch, did far more than criticize the Democrats in her recently published article entitled, Don’t Like Betsy DeVos? Blame the Democrats. She reminded us that privatization did not begin with vouchers and Betsy DeVos. Charter schools, supported by both parties, have played a central role in the process of school privatization.

The bottom line is the rhetoric that charter schools are public schools just does not hold up. Either you believe that taxpayer-funded schools should be nested in democracy, or you believe that private boards should run schools pretty much the way the want with taxpayers footing the bill. In her piece, Diane points out the scandals and the lackluster scores associated with charters. She says it is time for Democrats to defend public schools and demand that charters reform. She concludes by giving some examples of Governors who are keeping charters in line despite the pressure to cave to the powerful money interests that has pushed charters for two decades and a half.

Diane, of course, is correct. Charter are a big part of the privatization portfolio. Betsy DeVos does not oppose charters; she embraces them. In fact, her husband started one of his own.

And so it seemed important that NPE, the organization started by Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody in 2013, issue a strong statement that draws a bright line between what is truly a public school and what is not. It is time to not only explain the problems created by charters, but also propose a course forward for their reform.

The NPE Position Statement on Charter Schools can be found in its entirety here. It begins with a description of what a public school is based on our American tradition: "A common school is a public institution, which nurtures and teaches all who live within its boundaries, regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, sexual preference or learning ability. All may enroll–regardless of when they seek to enter the school or where they were educated before." 

For Ravitch, a key feature of public schools in addition to the above, is their democratic governance, which must be transparent and responsive to the community served. “Public schools, under democratic control, are a basic democratic institution. They are a civic responsibility. We must not outsource them to corporate chains, entrepreneurs, or amateurs,” she said. The NPE statement also identifies the importance of community voice in public schooling, emphasizing the importance of parent and taxpayer ability to elect those who govern their schools.

The NPE statement moves beyond the definition of public schools and continues by explaining why charter schools, which began as a small experiment, now adversely affect the public schools they were designed to support and improve.

Leonie Haimson is the Executive Director of Class Size Matters and a member of the Board of NPE. She has watched how the rapid expansion of charter schools have impacted the public schools of New York City where she lives.  "We have seen charters siphon off funds and subtract space from our public schools – amounting to more than $1.4 billion this year alone.  At the same time, our neighborhood public schools have become increasingly concentrated with the high needs students that charter schools exclude, including English Language Learners and children with special needs, with less space and fewer resources to educate them.  This is unfair, inequitable and unsustainable. We need a moratorium on further charter expansion."

The statement is a call for transforming privately managed charter schools into publicly managed schools which are transparent, judiciously regulated, and open to all. It concludes by urging policymakers to enact 16 principles that make charter schools better learning environments for students as well as more accountable to the taxpayers who fund them.

Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, an NPE board member as well a scholar, has both personal experiences with charter schools and an interest in charter research. He commented on the statement, which he supports. "The important public debate about public education and democracy is ongoing and today NPE clearly elucidated its progressive, research-based concerns with the current market-driven approach to charter schools."

NPE Statement on Charter Schools

The Network for Public Education believes that public education is the pillar of our democracy. We believe in the common school envisioned by Horace Mann. A common school is a public institution, which nurtures and teaches all who live within its boundaries, regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, sexual preference or learning ability. All may enroll--regardless of when they seek to enter the school or where they were educated before.

We believe that taxpayers bear the responsibility for funding those schools and that funding should be ample and equitable to address the needs of the served community. We also believe that taxpayers have the right to examine how schools use tax dollars to educate children.

Most importantly, we believe that such schools should be accountable to the community they serve, and that community residents have the right and responsibility to elect those who govern the school. Citizens also have the right to insist that schooling be done in a manner that best serves the needs of all children.

By definition, a charter school is not a public school. Charter schools are formed when a private organization contracts with a government authorizer to open and run a school. Charters are managed by private boards, often with no connection to the community they serve. The boards of many leading charter chains are populated by billionaires who often live far away from the schools they govern.

Through lotteries, recruitment and restrictive entrance policies, charters do not serve all children. The public cannot review income and expenditures in detail. Many are for profit entities or non-profits that farm out management to for-profit corporations that operate behind a wall of secrecy. This results in scandal, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer funds. The news is replete with stories of self-dealing, conflicts of interest, and theft occurring in charter schools.

We have learned during the 25 years in which charters have been in existence that the overall academic performance of students in charter schools is no better, and often worse, than the performance of students in public schools. And yet charter schools are seen as the remedy when public schools are closed based on unfair letter-based grading schemes.

By means of school closures and failed takeover practices like the Achievement School District, disadvantaged communities lose their public schools to charter schools. Not only do such communities lose the school, but they also lose their voice in school governance.

There is little that is innovative or new that charter schools offer. Because of their “freedom” from regulations, allegedly to promote innovation, scandals involving the finances and governance of charter schools occur on a weekly basis. Charter schools can and have closed at will, leaving families stranded. Profiteers with no educational expertise have seized the opportunity to open charter schools and use those schools for self-enrichment. States with weak charter laws encourage nepotism, profiteering by politicians, and worse.

For all of the reasons above and more, the Network for Public Education regard charter schools as a failed experiment that our organization cannot support. If the strength of charter schools is the freedom to innovate, then that same freedom can be offered to public schools by the district or the state.

At the same time, we recognize that many families have come to depend on charter schools and that many charter school teachers are dedicated professionals who serve their students well. It is also true that some charter schools are successful. We do not, therefore, call for the immediate closure of all charter schools, but rather we advocate for their eventual absorption into the public school system. We look forward to the day when charter schools are governed not by private boards, but by those elected by the community, at the district, city or county level.

Until that time, we support all legislation and regulation that will make charters better learning environments for students and more accountable to the taxpayers who fund them. Such legislation would include the following:

·      An immediate moratorium on the creation of new charter schools, including no replication or expansion of existing charter schools;

·      The transformation of for-profit charters to non-profit charters;

·      The transformation of for-profit management organizations to non-profit management organizations;

·      All due process rights for charter students that are afforded public school students, in all matters of discipline;

·      Required certification of all school teaching and administrative staff;

·      Complete transparency in all expenditures and income;

·      Requirements that student bodies reflect the demographics of the served community;

·      Open meetings of the board of directors, posted at least 2 weeks prior on the charter’s website;

·      Annual audits available to the public;

·      Requirements to following bidding laws and regulations;

·      Requirements that all properties owned by the charter school become the property of the local public school if the charter closes;

·      Requirements that all charter facilities meet building codes;

·      Requirements that charters offer free or reduced priced lunch programs for students;

·      Full compensation from the state for all expenditures incurred when a student leaves the public school to attend a charter;

·      Authorization, oversight and renewal of charters transferred to the local district in which they are located;

·      A rejection of all ALEC legislation regarding charter schools that advocates for less transparency, less accountability, and the removal of requirements for teacher certification.

Until charter schools become true public schools, the Network for Public Education will continue to consider them to be private schools that take public funding.

(For more information about the Network for Public Education’s statement and its research projects around privatization, contact NPE at:

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