For years I have enjoyed Dick Yarbrough’s writing, but his latest column “Why isn’t anyone talking about for-profit charter schools?” deserves a response.
To answer his question in brief, no one is talking about for-profit charter schools because there is no such thing in Georgia.
As required by Georgia law, all charter schools in Georgia are non-profit, public schools. Have you noticed that all the naysayers of charter schools in Georgia are grasping at straws to find some reason to oppose House Resolution 1162? For some reason, they do not want local voters to have the final say about whether the State should be able to approve public charter schools in addition to local school district approval.
Mr. Yarbrough has cited a problem in Florida and takes that as proof positive that our Legislature is up to no good in trying to provide our Georgia children with more options for charter schools. That would be like us deciding that Georgia will no longer vote for President because Florida screwed that up so badly in 2000.
Let’s be clear, non-profit, public charter schools in Georgia can hire a for-profit management company to operate either all or portions of a charter school in Georgia. It’s no different than a school district hiring a for-profit lawn maintenance company or HVAC repair business.
Some of the most respected and successful (existing) public charter schools in Georgia use the services of these for-profit management companies. And it is a good thing! Take, for example, Atlanta Heights Charter School in Atlanta.
The management company selected by the local non-profit board of directors who governs the school provides everything a school needs to be successful: an innovative curriculum, talented staff, textbooks and computers, and a brand new facility. The management company used its own assets to purchase the facility and is “on the hook” for paying for this multi-million dollar investment. If the school fails or closes, the management company alone is responsible for the repayment of that debt—not the taxpayers.
Lest you figure they must make a fortune to motivate them to do this, you also need to know that the management company made a $550,000 contribution to the school to make ends meet in the first year. In the second year, because of the Supreme Court Decision of May 20, 2011, income for the public, non-profit charter school plummeted because local school districts sued the State (and won) so the districts would not have to contribute financially to the education of its own students. So, did this big, “mean” management company pull up stakes and abandon the non-profit, public charter school? No, it is still there.
The support that many legislators have shown for public charter schools in Georgia is a reflection of the frustration they feel for the status quo. The number of traditional public schools that are failing our children is 369 (number of schools in Needs Improvement status in 2011). Those schools serve (or fail) 297,011 students.
No one is suggesting that public charter schools are a guaranteed, silver bullet solution. But certainly we can agree that keeping the status quo should not be an option.