On Thursday Jan. 31, John Kosinski, the Government Relations Director for Maine’s Education Association (MEA) gave a talk about the current state of “malarkey” in Maine regarding charter schools. His talk in particular focused on the need to recognize that charter schools are in fact private rather than public and that for them to be considered public, they need to be held to the same standards of transparency and accountability as public schools.
Before discussing the controversies surrounding charter schools, Kosinski deemed it important to provide a definition: “I’m going to start out with a definition of what a charter school is, I just pulled this off of Google, but it’s a publicly funded independent school established by teachers, parents, or community groups under the terms of a charter with a local or national authority.” Although the state of Maine defines charter schools to be public, The MEA believes they are private schools, having to do with “transparency, the oversight, the governing boards of these organizations,” said Kosinski.
One of the primary concerns of charter schools is the rather high percentage of for-profit charter schools whose number continues to grow in the state and country. Kosinski estimates that the percentage of for-profit charters could be as low as 32% or as high as 45%. When it comes to virtual charter schools, the percentage of for-profits increases. The two in Maine, K-12 inc. and Connections Academy are listed on the New York stock exchange. As Kosinski says, “I think educators by and large would say…that education is something that we all benefit from, and that the resources that are dedicated to education in this state and in this country already are insufficient, let alone to introduce a market dynamic of someone who is trying to make a profit out of educating children.”
Another concern Kosinski raised in his talk is the lack of transparency common to charter schools and their relatively low standards of accountability. In public schools, school boards are elected by citizens to oversee the school and to make the school system as best they can using the resources. Charter schools, on the other hand, do not face this amount of scrutiny or community involvement. In Maine, there is a board of seven people: three are on the state board of education and are appointed by the governor, and the remaining four members are chosen by the appointed three. For Kosinski, “That doesn’t sound right. That’s a lack of accountability, some would say, and certainly a lack of transparency, because then that charter commission get to decide which charters they’re going to approve, how many students they can take on, how many grades, etc.”
Another monkey wrench that compounds the problems with charter schools is the amount of funding they receive. Given that they are not submitted to the same standards of accountability that public schools are held to, it is much easier for charter schools to misappropriate tax dollars for personal enrichment:“The Center for Popular Democracy has a pretty extensive analysis that you can look up where they account for $223 million dollars of waste fraud in charter schools in 15 states,” stated Kosinski. “Some of this is definitely segregated to the for-profit element of charter schools, where we’re seeing personal enrichment in-for-profit entity as they’re using these tax dollars, and again without transparency, accountability, and oversight, these problems are propping up.”
This misappropriation of funds is even more devastating given how much more money charter schools receive than their chronically underfunded counterparts. Charter schools in Maine receive $30 million dollars. According to Kosinski, this is not “chump change.” He further added, “And this money, important to note, comes right off the top. Not one public school in this state gets a penny, the way this it’s structured, before the charter schools get a 100% of their state aid, and only after that happens, does the money flow to every other public schools in the state. I describe it as charter schools sitting on top of public schools.”
The good news is that it’s a whole new day for Maine after the most recent election. With a new legislature, Kosinski hopes to pass a ballot initiative to tax the wealthy to get to the 2003 goal that voters agreed on to fund 55% of the cost of education. In addition, he hopes to tackle the charter school cap in the state, and evaluate the current nine’s overall performance. Another thing he hopes for Maine is a greater accountability of both brick-and-mortar charter schools and especially virtual charter schools. He also hopes to change the way charter commissions are formed, as the appointing system is “malarkey”. Overall, with these changes in place, Kosinski hopes to make sure that there are people holding the charter commissions accountable and pulling their charters if needed.