Charter School Grow Amid Questions

By Seth Sandronsky

Traditional public school students and their teachers are facing a shortfall of tax support across the US. But things are brighter for tuition-free public charter schools, which operate with a contract (charter) from a public entity.

There were over 2 million students enrolled in about 5,600 public charter schools around the US in 2011, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a Washington, DC-based, non-profit advocacy group. A recent NAPCS statement said that total student enrollment represents a 13% increase in one year.

According to the federal Department of Education, 4% of US public school students, pre-kindergarten through grade 12, attend public charter schools. In 2010, California led the nation in public charter schools with 983, according to the NAPCS, serving over 412,000 students (7% of the over-all enrollment of 6 million pupils statewide).

Asked why California has the most public charter schools, NAPCS spokesperson Sephanie Grisham noted the state’s 1992 law establishing public charter schools with 31 in 1993, biggest state populace nationwide and a “great” California Charter Schools Association (a private firm). “CCSA actively advocates for the promotion and access of public charter schools, academic achievement, and increased accountability,” according to its website (

Kathy Carroll, an attorney for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing from October 2006 to November 2010, is a whistleblower who claims that her employer fired her for speaking out on misconduct such as violations of statutory mandates (providing for fair and impartial decision-making).

Carroll also has a critical view of public charter schools, education policy and policy-makers. She has appealed her firing to the California state personnel board and expects a decision in June.

For her, officials who serve the public interest and a private enterprise at the same time create a situation that fosters the potential for financial and political conflicts of interest.

In her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, education scholar Diane Ravitch unravels the sometimes hazy role of private money in public education policy, and follows a trail that brings her to “The Billionaire Boys’ Club.”

This club includes the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation (Wal-Mart Inc.).

Both foundations fund the CCSA and the NAPCS.

In Sacramento, funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2003 helped the non-profit St. Hope Foundation under current city mayor Kevin Johnson, a Democrat and past NBA all-star guard for the Phoenix Suns, to obtain a charter permission to operate the formerly public Sacramento High School.

The Gates Foundation is also a donor to Capitol Impact, LLC, a “Sacramento-based consulting firm dedicated to improving policy and practice in California, with a particular emphasis on public education,” according to its website (

Asked what what’s next for the US public charter schools movement in 2012, Grisham said the NAPCS will work to change the law in states where there are no or weak public school charter laws to continue the movement’s growth.

Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento. Email

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2012

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