The “Student Success Act” Isn't About Student Success: Charter Schools
The “Student Success Act” is a sham. I detail why in Part 1 of a series of posts analyzing the impacts and implications of the bill.
The “Student Success Act” (H.R. 5), sponsored by Republican Representative John Kline (MN-2) and co-sponsored by Republican Representative Todd Rokita (IN-4) passed through the House Education and Workforce Committee last week on a party line vote, and is expected to move to the floor of the House within the next week or two. Kline, who is the chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, has tried this bill in the past — it passed the entire House by a voice vote in 2013 — but it has failed to gain traction in the Senate, which is producing its own bipartisan bill, and has earned itself a presidential veto threat. This comes as the discussion over national educational policy heats up after Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s January comments about rewriting the No Child Left Behind Act.
Most critics of the bill argue that it isn't bipartisan enough. As U.S. News and World Report noted last week, Kline refused to allow Democratic amendments to the bill, even though some had bipartisan support. (Education Week offers a fantastic analysis of certain aspects of the bill and describes every amendment proposed here.) Unfortunately, many fail to focus on certain aspects of the bill that could have large implications for educational policy nationwide. Throughout the coming weeks, I will be providing my own analysis of the bill through posts about specific parts of the bill (which can be read in its entirety here). Today’s post focuses on the impact of the Student Success Act on charter schools.
Section 112 of the bill, which details requirements for state education plans, punts to the states on accountability for charter schools. Specifically, the bill states that “accountability provisions under this Act shall be overseen for charter schools in accordance with State charter school law.” This lack of accountability standards in the bill comes when study after study shows a culture of misuse, waste and fraud, and an absence of accountability in charter schools throughout the country. If Representatives Kline and Rokita truly want to “reform” our education system, they should include steps to hold charter schools accountable. If they plan on expanding federal funding to charter schools, they should at the very least hold them accountable to the same standards as they plan to hold traditional public schools.
The bill would also expand charter schools’ influence over state and local educational agency plans. Sections 112 and 113, which describe requirements for state and local education plans respectively, require the input of charter school representatives, private sector employers, and entrepreneurs in the development of these plans.
Another part of the bill details how the charter school program is to work, from applications and selection criteria to reporting requirements and uses of funds. This section (Title III S A Section 301) also allows for charter school operators to apply for waivers to federal statutes and regulations “that the State entity believes are necessary for the successful operation of the charter schools.” This broad section of the bill opens to the door to allowing charter schools to exempt themselves from any federal rules that they deem “necessary” to operate.
The “Student Success Act” not only refuses to hold charter schools accountable to the same standards as traditional public schools, but expands charter schools’ and private sector influence over public schools and even provides a way for charter schools to avoid any and all federal regulations and accountability measures. This clear attempt to promote private sector influence over public schools seems at odds with the bill’s commitment to “student success.”
As a December 2014 ProPublica report detailed, for-profit and even non-profit charter schools from New York to Michigan have an evident yearning for cash. Many charter schools and chains of charter schools (or as the Student Success Act refers to them, “charter management organizations) outsource their management operations, finance and accounting operations, and even the job of hiring teachers. (It’s also worth mentioning that the bill completely repeals federal qualification requirements for teachers and paraprofessionals. I’ll probably delve further into this in a later post.) As Marian Wang of ProPublica explains, “the contracts are an example of how the charter schools sometimes cede control of public dollars to private companies that have no legal obligation to act in the best interests of the schools or taxpayers. When the agreement is with a for-profit firm like National Heritage Academies, it’s also a chance for such firms to turn taxpayer money into tidy profits.”
The charter school industry is also donating heavily to political campaigns. For example, according to a PennLive analysis, “charter school advocates have donated more than $10 million to Pennsylvania politicians over the past nine years.”
The “Student Success Act” isn't about student success. It’s a sham to help charter schools and the private sector make money off of our children’s education and our tax dollars. In helping this happen, politicians are making off with huge campaign contributions. It’s fair to ask, then — is the Student Success Act a ploy to get more cash for politicians, charter schools, and the private sector at the expense of students and taxpayers?