One of the Truths of the modern conservative movement is this: The private sector can do it better.

That is, if we minimize how much the government involves itself in our economic lives, the private sector will perform better. In fact, according to these conservatives, the private sector will always perform better than the public one.

One result of that is the privatization of prisons across the country, including here in Arizona.

The school choice movement is another part of that philosophy. So we see Arizona with one of the largest charter school systems in the nation. And its advocates would like nothing more than to privatize schools. One of those proponents, former state senator Tom Patterson, wrote a recent column arguing to end school districts, to make schools stand alone. And the next step using Patterson’s logic? Privatize schools.

The charter schools movement in Arizona has had mixed results, with a handful of outstanding schools and a large number of mediocre or worse ones. Equally significant, the competition these schools create has not led to improvement in student achievement for Arizona’s kids predicted by the movement’s supporters.

How to change that? Move towards privatization, advocates say.

Before we come close to that next step, we should look at the one educational piece already subject to privatization: for-profit private colleges.

They’ve sprung up everywhere, and are often Internet-based. They make a number of promises to their students, but the promise they seem to best keep is this one: make money for the company running the school. As to the students, well, they don’t seem to fare quite as well.

A recent Senate subcommittee headed by Iowa Senator Tom Harkins looked into the for-profit private colleges, and the picture created by that investigation is ugly.

Here are some of its findings, as reported in a recent Rolling Stone article:

More than half of the for-profit students drop out without a degree, and half of those stay in school for only four months.

Thirteen percent of all students receiving student loans attend these schools, yet they account for almost half of all loan defaults.

The schools get 86 percent of their funding from those loans, getting more than $30 billion a year from the government.

While the schools are recipients of $563 million of funding for veterans, the vast majority of those students drop out.

For every career placement officer, these schools have 10 recruiters, spending almost 24 percent on marketing but only 17 percent on instruction.

Compensation for the heads of these for-profit schools is seven times higher than what Ivy League presidents earn.

To sum up: These for-profit private colleges -- and their leaders -- make a nice living off the largesse of American taxpayers, with less than stellar results. Advocates of privatization clearly won’t point to these schools as models.

Yet here in Arizona, we have a mini version of these schools -- for-profit charter schools.

That’s right, in Arizona it’s perfectly legal to be a for-profit charter school. In fact, we have chains of those schools.

Has there been a published evaluation of how those schools spend our money? Not that I know of. And don’t expect the state Department of Education to take a hard look at how the for-profit charter elementary and high schools perform and spend taxpayer dollars; Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal has been one of the most vocal supporters of a wider system of school choice.

But while Mr. Huppenthal might not want to cast a critical eye towards Arizona’s for-profit schools, we the taxpayers can certainly encourage him to measure those schools’ behavior.

If, as Mr. Huppenthal and others similar to him like to claim, Republicans are good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, they should be among the first to call for better oversight of for-profit schools, both nationally and in Arizona. Their silence on the subject speaks loudly, however.

Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.

(25) comments

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The title of this article is ' charter schools not good for taxpayers '.

That is almost undoubtedly true -- but the real question we should be asking is: Are charter schools good for students?

Taxpayers can, more or less, take care of themselves. We can vote poor elected officials out ( although we seldom do ) or we can move to another state if we don't like the tax situation here ( although we seldom do ).

The kids, however, usually don't get a choice.

From the comments here, it would appear that unless the parents put their kids in a " high dollar " school with tuition in the tens of thousands ... the kid is going to get a less than stellar education. Like most " for profit " enterprises == the emphasis is on PROFIT.

Some things should NOT be profit centers.

Health care and education are at the top of the list.

JMJ

...by and large...

not

by enlarge

that would be supersizing...as in...by enlarge the delusion of charters being better in Arizona, the Appalachia of American education...but I digress

mrconservative

I went to Redbird in first grade, back in the 91-92 school year. I've always thought that it is a charter school. I don't remember much about it. Though I do remember the name of the principal - Mark Bankhead.

You don't forget a name like that, especially when you have a picture of him and the entire staff in a min-yearbook, like I have.

And frankly, I don't even know if it is still a school.

mrconservative

What's your point Mike? Are you for or against school choice? Or school vouchers?

Mike McClellan

Once again, someone should do some research before commenting.

Chat, you write, " Charter schools by enlarge are proving to be a better option over many of our public schools."

No.

The largest study on this, done by Stanford, in fact suggests just the opposite of what you write. With the exception of a couple of grade levels, in reading and writing, traditional public schools in Arizona outperform charter schools, and outperform for-profit charter schools by a large margin.

Here's the study -- http://credo.stanford.edu/reports/MULTIPLE_CHOICE_CREDO.pdf

chatmandu002

Mike,
You refer to two different situations in your letter. First, charter schools vs public schools and second, for profit colleges.
First, the public school system is not giving us the results we have been promised after years and years of teaching to the lowest level. School vouchers has enabled those parents of disadvantaged or poorer students to attend charter schools giving them a chance at a better education vs public schools. Charter schools by enlarge are proving to be a better option over many of our public schools. Since charter schools are not encumbered with as many state and union rules they can apply more resources to the student.
Second, for profit college and trade schools have become a necessary vehicle to provide students places for education and training to accommodate the massive amounts of scholarship dollars the government is loaning. My solution is to get the federal government out of the education business. After 40+ years the federal government has proven it can't teach our children. Eliminate the Department of Education and return authority for education to the states and local boards. Stop all federal student loans except for veterans.

JMJ

Whenever you put Arizona and Louisiana in the same sentence, it CANNOT be good. Arizona and Louisiana lead the "school choice" movement, birthing the charter idea probably twenty years ago. If this grand experiment had, indeed, "worked", Arizona would probably be at the forefront of an educated populace, leading the nation in college-bound and, more importantly, college-successful students.

Does anyone see us as the leaders in educating our young?

If anything, the charter movement has been the calliope-driven hurdy gurdy medicine show, especially in our state. It has siphoned off students whose parents are thinking they're caring and making a good, sound educational "choice" for their children, falling flat and failing to deliver what the snake oil salesmen of the ADE [most notably its head charlatan, Huppenthal] could not deliver.

In the meantime, public education has been sacked and pillaged under this guise of "school choice". Who has lost? Our state's kids--the ones whose parents were duped, in the first place, into thinking that "school choice" meant good choice.

How many charter-school wonders do we have working the Burger Kings, now? And, look at MPS: Mesa Counts on College. DOH. Our Homer Simpson moment, the "school choice" mantra of the past two decades, is now a festering, open wound.

People do not relocate here to Arizona in droves because of our "stellar" educational choices. Time to wake up and smell the coffee. The "school choice" medicine show needs to have an FDA-approved makeover--we are selling a false product that cures no one. The few charters, like BASIS, which lead the charge over public schools have "choice", too. They only choose the students whom they think will succeed.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, MPS and other districts are sinking like the Titanic.

School choice, my Aunt Fanny.

Mike McClellan

oops -- A. should read "for-profit charter schools, " not "private schools"

Mike McClellan

Suelee, having taught students who attended Tempe Prep, I know how good a school that is. In fact, the Great Heart Academies (of which Tempe Prep is one) are one of the charter school systems -- along with BASIS and Horizon Community -- that are consistently outstanding academically,

However, as a PhD in education, don't you wonder why there has been no study of

A. the quality of for-profit private schools, like the ones run by the Leona Group or the Primavera company? Both groups of schools -- which, by the way, "educate" many more students than do Great Hearts or BASIS -- have consistently low scores and low graduation rates?

B. the success of public schools students in AZ who attend private schools on the vouchers the state's set up? Of course, the state requires no tracking of those students, so their success/achievement can't be studied unless the parents volunteer that information. As a PhD, you know that kind of anecdotal study is basically worthless. Wouldn't you want to see a more systematic study of how our taxpayer money is being used at private schools?

C. At the university level, however, the studies have been made, and we know that for-profit private universities provide an inferior product to either non-profit private or public universities.

Suelee

Here is my family's experience with various forms of education in the East Valley:
Older daughter (now a doctoral candidate and high school teacher):
Christian elementary, Christian Jr. high, and Christian high school=A+

Younger daughter:
Christian elementary school=A+
Charter school Jr. High (Tempe Prep Academy)=A+
Tempe public high school=D

Compared to her charter school Jr. High experience, she considered her Tempe public high school experience as a form of teenage day care (her words, not mine).
I have a PhD in education and agree that someone needs to conduct an in-depth study of the quality and cost effectiveness of private versus public education. Mr. McClellan's assertions are premature since these studies have not yet been done.

Dale Whiting

Guys,

In case you didn't know or somehow forgot, it's not so much what you know as who you know. And there are tiers of "who you know" schools. The highest tier is the Ivy League schools. They are private, almost like private clubs. The absolute lowest tier is "for profit" schools, the sorts Michael describes. And these "work" only because of the factors Michael describes. They are a pox on their students and the public.

Thanks, Mike, for telling the obvious truth to power.

fae4now

Excellent piece Mr. McClellan. And I appreciate your willingness to add follow up commentary and clarifications to your work through this forum though I sympathize with how difficult it must be at times.
Cerulean, downtownresident and Bluepoet - thank you for your thoughtful insights as well.

I share some of your grave concerns regarding the privatization of both our schools and our prisons. Seems to me that privatization muddies the waters of accountability and sets the taxpayers up for a good soaking!

Oh and Chuckles, Rolling Stone is all grown up now and publishes some very credible and well respected work, in this case the findings of a Senate subcommittee. You really should have a look sometime.....

samkat

VOR: If charter schools are so good why do the conservative legislators not apply the same criteria to them as they do public schools? Better yet, why are they not required to be audited to account for the tax payer money they receive? I think I can answer that. We have too many of our conservative legislators with their hands in the till.

Mike McClellan

Some of these folks should do some reading before they post. For example, a couple of the posters claim that government loans prop up Ivy League schools.

Really? Apparently Chuckles and Hardyboy have never heard of endowments. All Ivy League schools have millions in endowments -- Harvard's is almost $27 billion and Yale's is close to $23 billion.

As a result, very few kids at those schools have to take loans. Had Hardyboy and Chuckles done some research first, they would've found, for example, that at Harvard and Yale, any kid whose family makes less than $60,000 a year pays no tuition. And until a family reaches more than $120,000 a year, the tuition is at most $12,000 a year. Princeton doesn't allow kids to get loans, instead providing grants to make up the costs of school.

In fact, among the Ivy League schools, only 20% take out any kind of loan.

Good try, Chuckles and Hardyboy.

Second, VofReason mistakenly claims charter schools get less per pupil aid than do traditional schools. Wrong again.

In fact, charter schools get a higher per pupil funding from the state, about $2,000 more per student. Charters, however, cannot pass overrides or bonds, nor do they get the capital funding that traditional schools receive (or used to, since the legislature's eliminated that over the last few years).

Third, hardyboy makes the claim that private schools charge less? Really? Looked at the cost of private schools in AZ? Try to find a good private high school for under $10,000 a year.

Oh, and his claim that these schools provide "more services"? Wrong again. For example, very few offer special education as part of their schools. Most do not offer any vocational training at all.

Finally, as to VofReason's confusion as to why parents choose inferior charter schools -- at least at the secondary level, many of the larger charter schools make promises about graduation for parents of kids who are marginal students. Take a look at those schools' graduation rates -- shockingly low. And many of those same schools are for-profit. Desperate parents (or students) sometimes resort to the desperate measure of attending these diploma mills.

Bluepoet

Mr McClellan brings up a good point, near the end of his article. Namely, questioning if there is any oversight to this charter school industry. Or, is it simply that we go by the brochure, and roll the dice?

I think it's more than rational and prudent, to call for at least a baseline proof that a charter school is not simply a scheme to milk money from taxpayers, in order to line the pockets of corporate board members, who simply invest in a storefront operation, for a few years, then move on to other, more diverse investments, like influence peddling.

After all, it's our future on the line, in the form of our kids, right?

And, before some of you point to the shortcomings of the public school system, which is easy enough to do, ask yourselves who really benefits the most, from privatization; the children, or the money changers? And then, who would benefit the most from a well-run public school system?

That's right, our children and us!

hardyboy1704

Mr McClellan's heart is in the right spot but his analysis of the situation is completely backwards. Mr McClellan should stick to English; I'll take care of the Economics. Comparing private colleges against private/charter schools is the same as comparing apples against oranges. Here is why. Private colleges can charge their students exorbitant amounts because private colleges recognize their students can pay said amounts BECAUSE the federal government guarantees the students' loans. Its simple "supply and demand." The demand for college is rising because the supply of funds---thanks to the federal govt---is always increasing. Conversely, private/charter schools don't (and can't) charge high amounts because they know they only receive X amount of dollars from the state per each student. Therefore, they keep their costs down (and their services high) in order to not only attract students but to make profit at the same time. Case in point, privatizing and encouraging competition in the education industry is a good thing. Subsidizing education through student loans (backed by the federal government) is a terrible thing. Apples and Oranges.

VofReason

Hmmm, this as many liberal commentators assume that people are stupid in general and if not for the Government people cannot make valid decisions on their own. Parent must make an active decision to put their child in a Charter school- no? Presumeable they choose a specific Charter Scholl becuase they believe it to be the best for their child- not becuase it happens to be the public school in their neighborhood. Same with Colleges except in that case it is likely the adult who will be attending that makes the choice. If all that McC says is correct, why would people make these choices. Charter schools get less per student funding then Public, how in the world would they be able to make (gulp) profit when as we here the public schools cannot afford school supplies. Something doesn't add up here.

chuckles3

I wasn't clear in my second paragraph...I was referring to the diploma mills, not the Ivy League.

chuckles3

What a joke. According to you libs, the 'best' schools are private schools.... Haavard, Yale, Columbia...you think they don't pay their administrations a "pretty penny?"

And what do you think funds these colleges... the federal student loan program. Below average students are sold a bill of goods and handed a check for a loan they never have to repay. Sounds the federal student loan program is not a good deal for taxpayers.

And Mike, you are quoting ROLLING STONE!!!???? LOL LOL.

By all means, lets evaluate HOW the schools spend their money rather than the results they produce.

At my Kids BASIS school, I do not care how they spend their money. I care that my son took his first AP test at 15 and scored a "5." And that colleges are visiting his campus rather than vice-versa. And they have a rally every grading period to recognize the "A" students, not the football team. I could go on, but it would not matter. You all would still be upset a private enterprise is succeeding where Mother Government fails miserably.

deportthemall

nobama in 2012! [sad][sad][sad] GO MITT AND PAUL! [smile][smile][smile][smile]

deportthemall

what is scary is that our public school system has been in decline for over forty (40) years and nobody has done anything to improve it. THATS SCARY!! i would not want to send my child to a public school if given another choice. so i say give back the tax payers money that was taken from my wages in the form of a "school tax" and let me give it to a family that really wants their child to have a better education. i do not want my tax dollars going into a system that feeds the teachers unions or anyother union fed public job/position. unions belong in the privet sector, not in the government! yes i do know something about unionized government workers, as i am retired from a state government job and the only thing i ever saw was less take home pay and higher taxes and union dues. [sad][sad]

Cerulean

This is an excellent column, Mike. The goal to privatize education is – scary.

Arizona Republicans told us that private industry can do it better, cheaper, more efficient. Where prisons are concerned, Republicans stipulated by law that if private prisons did not provide the same service at a lower cost Arizona will not continue to fund the over charge. When private prisons could not outperform public facilities, when private prisons actually cost taxpayers more with less security than a public facility, Arizona Republicans changed the rules. There is no standard anymore for how much a private prison can charge we tax payers. Not only that, a good percent of the money Arizona pays for prison operations leaves the state and ends up in the pockets of executives outside of Arizona. Not one of the private prison corporations that Arizona contracts to has corporate headquarters in Arizona. This is true for private education as well. So – not only do we PAY more we LOSE more.

Meanwhile, Republicans protest that it is SIN to tax corporate profit to pay down the debt. It is SIN to request an ante-up from those who benefit most from ‘shock and awe’ in Baghdad.

downtownresident

Agreed!!!!
Anybody who claims to have children's best interest as their primary concern would not be trying to dismantle the present public school system to make a buck.
And it is all about money, make no mistake about that.
Oh yes, they can claim that it's about choice, but it's all about money.
They can claim that thier methods and subject matter is better for the kids, but it's all about money. Or religious beliefs that run counter to the public schools separation of church and state. Or, money.
Who owns the land and facility? Not the taxpayers. And guess where much of the money came from to purchase these facilities? Now, tell me it's not all about money.
If we, as a caring group, put this much effort into improving the present public school system, instead of trying to make a profit on the kids, we could have a showcase school system, right here in Ariaona.

Just as the private. for profit, colleges are being exposed as cash cows that put the almighty dollar ABOVE ALL ELSE, local charter schools are sliding down that same slippery slope to maximizing profits, at all costs. Those costs will ultimately deprive these charter school kids of an adequate education so that the principals can make a killing at the kid's expense.
It's all about the money!!!

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