Charter Schools: Publicly Funded but Accountable Neither to the Public nor to Parents

In the Public Interest supports public education.  It’s website describes the organization as “a comprehensive research and policy center committed to promoting the values, vision, and agenda for the common good and democratic control of public goods and services.”  It is the co-sponsor of Cashing In On Kids, a national campaign to confront the privatization of public education:  “We believe the American public school system should serve all students and prepare them to be good, productive citizens. Our public schools are the essential foundation of a functioning democracy and a healthy economy and require public control and vigilance to protect the common good and advance our broad public interests.”

Last Sunday in an important commentary, Donald Cohen, In the Public Interest’s executive director, wondered: Are Publicly Funded Charter Schools Accountable to Parents and Taxpayers?  Cohen responds to the important NY Times story of Nadya Miranda, the mother whose child was reprimanded by her first-grade teacher at one of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy Charter schools, a situation that was captured in a cellphone video by an assistant teacher and posted in the NY Times.  Personnel at the school showed the video to the mother of the child who was berated by her teacher just prior to its appearance in the newspaper, despite that the event happened well over a year ago.  The mother, who lives with her children in a NYC homeless shelter and who had proudly won a space for her child by winning the school’s lottery, was devastated to learn about the school’s punitive learning policy and angered to discover that the school worried more about its own reputation than the well being of her daughter.

In his recent commentary, Donald Cohen describes the mother’s experience as she tried to hold someone accountable for what the she felt was the betrayal of her child by the school: “The student’s parent went to the NY Department of Education to file a complaint.  She was told that Success was independent from the school district and that she needed to contact the school’s board of trustees.  But the board, chaired by hedge fund CEO Dan Loeb, that gets to spend taxpayer dollars, aren’t elected by nor accountable to New York voters.”

“They are private citizens who get to spend taxpayer dollars to educate children.”  “They are a group of hedge fund and private equity investors, lawyers, public relations professionals, philanthropists and one full-time educator.”  Cohen describes the daytime jobs of seven members of the board, most of them investment bankers who represent Gotham Capital, Morgan Stanley, Herring Creek Capital, Sessa Capital, Penza Investment Manager, Angelo, Gordon David—a real estate and private equity firm, and SPO Partners & Co.  Finally there is Paul Pastorek, the man who helped charterize the public schools of New Orleans and who is now the co-executive director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

Cohen concludes, “The biggest problem with charter schools should be obvious. Charter schools are publicly funded, public schools run by private groups, accountable to neither the public who pay the bills nor the parents of children who deserve to have their voices heard.”

This blog covered the release by the NY Times of the Success Academy video here.