AUGUSTA, Maine – Hearing the term “for-profit” in a conversation about public education causes some Americans to feel uncomfortable.
They don’t like the general idea of a company making money by managing a public charter school.
Their disdain has grown to the point where some lawmakers are attempting to ban for-profit charter schools from their states.
That was the case in Maine, where a Democrat-sponsored bill would have required all charter schools in the Pine Tree State to be operated by nonprofit organizations.
Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican and outspoken charter school supporter, vetoed that bill earlier this week. In his veto letter, LePage called the attempt to ban for-profit charter schools “part of a coordinated effort to maintain the educational status quo and prevent students from options that fit their needs,” according to BangorDailyNews.com.
The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives attempted to override the governor’s veto on Wednesday, but fell four votes shy.
Democratic state Rep. Matthea Daughtry, sponsor of the now defunct legislation, said it was “unfortunate that the governor and this chamber decided to side with out-of-state, for-profit interests rather than the future of our children,” reports BangorDailyNews.com.
The average Maine taxpayer is left to wonder about the difference between the reviled for-profit charter schools and their nonprofit counterparts.
Amy Baral, an education analyst with the Roosevelt Institute, explains the differences in a 2012 article.
After a non-profit group is awarded a charter by the state (or a local authorizing body), the group generally “hires out educational services to for-profit or non-profit (educational management organizations).
“While charter school supporters often envision them as non-profits run by a single Board of Directors with an innovative idea for student achievement and curriculum, the reality is that running a charter school is hard work and often requires more dedicated support and management expertise,” Baral writes.
“EMOs can provide anything from occasional reading tutors, to administrative staff, to the full-time teaching staff and organization of a charter school.”
But that reasonable explanation is probably not enough to ease for-profit opponents, who fear that charter school management companies will put profits ahead of student needs.
The “profits over children” concern is a reasonable one, but it overlooks the safeguards that are built into charter school systems.
Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools must meet specific, state-approved outcomes or risk being put out of business. That gives each charter school board a strong incentive to hire a respectable for-profit company that will pull out all the stops to ensure the children are learning.
As for the unease some people have with companies profiting from public education – just take a look at the salaries, benefits and pensions of state and national teacher union leaders. It’s obvious that Big Labor has been profiting from public education for decades, and few people have complained about that.
The only thing that really matters about a charter school is whether its students are learning and growing in academic proficiency. Every other concern is a distraction.
Gov. LePage understands there’s nothing improper about for-profit charter schools.
And, thankfully for Maine’s school children, just enough legislators do, too.
By Ben Velderman at EAGnews.org