Home > Uncategorized > Privatized Schools are Plagued With Scandal and Public Shrugs. Why? Because Tax Bills Aren’t Increasing

Privatized Schools are Plagued With Scandal and Public Shrugs. Why? Because Tax Bills Aren’t Increasing

March 4, 2018

On Tuesday, voters in the community where I live will go to the polls to vote on the school budgets for the coming fiscal year. During the seven years I was Superintendent in the community, the school budgets passed five times. Following one of the defeats, our administrative team gathered for a post mortem and to begin the arduous process of trimming the budget further in order to gain passage of the budget at a subsequent vote. One of the veteran administrators in the district observed that our budget missed the “sweet spot”: our percentage increase was slightly larger than that of neighboring communities and, as a result, we received negative attention that, in turn, yielded a higher turnout of the public who opposed the budget. In examining voting results from years past, I found his observation to be accurate. There was a core of voters who opposed every budget and a core of voters who supported every budget… and there was a 20% “swing” group that made the difference when budgets failed. The key to getting the budget passed was to make certain that the “swing” group was not motivated to vote against the budget on the basis that our district was asking for “too much”. In developing our budgets subsequent to that defeat, we applied what we called “The Law of the Sweet Spot”… making certain that we presented a budget that was not too high, not too low, but just right.

This analysis of the “Law of the Sweet Spot” theory was evoked when I read a post by Diane Ravitch with a link to an article by E.J. Montini of AzCentral website lamenting the fact that voters seemed to be indifferent to the scandals plaguing privatized charter schools in the state. Mr. Montini wrote:

Turning a blind eye while charter schools rip-off taxpayers, spurn state laws and screw innocent public school students has been standard operating procedure from the moment the Legislature decided to allow the number of charter schools to explode without providing any serious oversight…

None of this is new.

A few years back the Grand Canyon Institute found: “Arizona’s approximately 600 charter schools spent $128 million more on administrative costs during the 2014-15 school year than traditional public districts would spend on the same number of students.”

The institute’s Dave Wells told me at the time, “They don’t have the accountability that other public schools have. We think taxpayers have a right to know where their money is going.”

Actually, we know exactly where our money is going.

Down the drain.

But Mr. Montini and Ms. Ravitch should realize that the Law of Sweet Spot is in play in Arizona, a state that is full of retirees who migrated to the state for sunshine and, in some cases, to avoid paying high taxes.

From everything I’ve read and heard about Arizona, the public doesn’t care how their tax dollars get spent as long as it doesn’t require them to pay higher taxes… and the beauty of privatized charter schools is that they can operate at a lower cost. Why?

  • Because the total compensation for their staff is lower than that typically paid by public schools. Whether they are unionized or not, the privatized schools can pay “market value” for teachers and since they generally operate at the elementary level the supply of teachers is plentiful. Better yet, they can hire “teacher-consultants” as 1099 employees thereby sidestepping the need to pay their social security costs.
  • Because they are brand new they have no legacy costs for retirees
  • Because they are not overseen by the state and they are deregulated, they do not have to contribute to state retirement funds or budget anything for retirement.
  • Because they are deregulated, do not have to build schools or operate schools in accordance with state guidelines…. and if the schools are “virtual” they don’t need to budget anything for maintenance, food service, transportation, or utilities.
  • And given all the money a shrewd entrepreneur can save the taxpayers, their high compensation packages are their just rewards for their innovative thinking… and those rewards can be determined without any public oversight!

In the end, the Arizona voters don’t care because most of the voters believe the ALEC-driven notion that public education is a commodity that users should pay for themselves and, as a commodity, it should be subject to market-based competition. That’s why they embrace ideas like “choice” and “deregulation”.

The more I examine the privatization movement, the more convinced I am that derailing it will require a derailing of the public’s perspective on capitalism… and that will be a hard sell given the corporate control of the mainstream media. Until voters are disabused of the Reagan mantra that “government is the problem” they will continue to support deregulated privatization as the best means of lowering taxes… and whether that mantra is explicitly supported through “choice” mechanisms or implicitly supported by “reinventing government” the results are the same: teachers wages are suppressed and equity is disregarded.

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