Betsy DeVos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates want your kid’s school to close


The phone rings and a cold, automated voice says your kid’s school is closed tomorrow. A sign hangs on the school’s door saying there are “repair issues.”

That’s all parents of students at Florida’s Unity Charter School received. No word of the K-8 school closing for good. No mention that its building was just foreclosed on and will be auctioned off by the end of the year.

Luckily, the local public school district is ready to help. “If Unity Charter School is foreclosed, we’re happy to welcome students into our classrooms,” says its superintendent.

Turns out, it’s a common story. Students at charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, are two and a half times more likely to have their school close than those at traditional, neighborhood schools.

Between 2001 and 2013, nearly 2,500 charter schools closed nationwide, many because of low academic performance or because the private group in charge committed fraud or wasted public money.

Like Unity Charter School, they often have closed abruptly. A charter school in Sacramento, California, handed out letters at the end of the school day informing students that their school was shuttering that night. A Delaware charter school folded with a notice posted on its website, leaving parents and students confused. “Right now, I have no idea where my future is and that’s really heartbreaking to say for myself,” a student said in the aftermath.

Oh, and you guessed it, schools — neighborhood and charter — serving a larger share of students of color and students from low-income families are more likely to be shut down than schools with fewer students of color and similar education achievement.

But charter school closures aren’t just shockingly routine. They’re also a selling point for the deep-pocketed voices aiming to privatize public education.

Like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who once compared choosing a school to choosing which food truck you want to go to for lunch. “We must open up the education industry — and let’s not kid ourselves that it isn’t an industry,” she said.

And Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, whose infamous $100 million donation to Newark, New Jersey, in 2010 went to $1,000-a-day consultants who did little to improve education for the city’s students but closed neighborhood schools, replacing many with charter schools, some of which are now closing themselves.

And Bill Gates, who has spent millions pushing charter schools. The founder of Microsoft once said, “The freedom to perform in new ways means that if [charter schools] don’t perform, things are shut down after you are given a chance.”

It goes without saying that closing a school is disruptive to students. When charter schools close, many students return to their neighborhood schools and struggle to catch up. Dislocated students are less likely to graduate. A 2013 study found that school closures have contributed to Chicago’s high rate of youth incarceration.

But disruption is exactly what the likes of DeVos, Zuckerberg, and Gates want. They want public education to be like a marketplace, where private boards can decide whether they listen to parents or not, large corporate-like chains like KIPP and Rocketship dominate, and schools open and close overnight in a constant churn of “innovation.”


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Jeremy Mohler is a writer and communications strategist for In the Public Interest, a nonprofit that studies public goods and services. He’d love to hear from you: jmohler@inthepublicinterest.org