When I started homeschooling ten years ago there were few “school at home” public charter schools. The one I was most of aware of was CAVA. You enrolled and they sent you a computer and boxes of the curriculum. And I mean BOXES! I received seven big boxes on my doorstep when I enrolled my son in the first grade. When I started pulling stuff out, I was instantly overwhelmed. There was one box of very fun stuff that the boys gravitated to immediately and were very excited about. It was filled with cheap toys, art supplies, and science experiments. When I began to pull out the books, teacher guides, and workbooks I began to think maybe this wasn’t a good idea. The stack of books would have been almost as tall as I was! Couldn’t I just buy the “toys” and not have to go through all these books? My husband and I talked about it and decided the answer was YES! I boxed it all up the next day and sent it back after calling the school and telling them we had changed our minds and were going to enroll him in a private school. That private school was very exclusive, only boys with the same last name! It was liberating and exciting. We’ve never looked back at public school at home.
But now charters are a lot different. CAVA is still around but there are several more with varying degrees of involvement. Some are very much school at home, much like a school district’s independent study program. And some of them are very hands off. They offer an account that parents can use to purchase curriculum and classes through approved vendors with a certified teacher to check in with each month for guidance. It all sounds so great and I’d love to fall in love with this new style of public education. It has a multitude of advantages over the old style, that’s for sure. So why do I feel so uneasy about it? What is bothering me? I think I found my problem.
To me, the old style of public education, i.e. taxes are taken by force from everyone to fund schools run by the state and all the area’s children are forced by law to attend, seems a bit communistic. The system is slow to adapt and change to the people that attend it. If I find that the school in my neighborhood isn’t doing what I think is best for my kids, I’m generally not allowed to choose another one. And even if I could, the schools are all very much the same anyway. You are allowed to choose a private option, but you must pay extra for that and because of the “free” school in the market, those other options have become pretty expensive. Mind you, they aren’t more expensive than the public schools. The public schools are paid for through taxes on everyone, so it seems they are free. Free to use, but not free to the state.
A private company providing an education for a child usually charges around $6K a year. The state schools get an average of $9K a year. I can’t find a chart that tells me how much California spends on schools exactly. The information isn’t readily available in a form anyone but a trained bureaucrat can understand. I’d like to know how much money each school really gets per child and how much money do these charter schools get but I can’t find the information online and my emails asking about it go unanswered. There are charts for how much they spend on several different aspects and charts about who gets what, but none of it is definite or a complete picture. If I had months to spend on figuring it out, I might try. And I’ll certainly keep looking but right now I just don’t know. Most people would agree that private schools typically do a better job of providing an education and it seems it costs less. Where does that extra money for the public schools go?
This new way of doing public school is very interesting. A company forms and makes a contract (a charter) with the state to offer education to students for free. The company gets a certain amount of money from the state and spends that on its program. Whatever it doesn’t spend is its profit. That just doesn’t sound right. It sounds like “crony capitalism”.
Think of this example for another product everyone “needs”. What if the government decided how much the average family should spend on household goods, then took that money by force in the form of taxes and decided to grant Walmart and Target the privilege of providing those items to each family. Each store would receive those taxes each month according to how many people were coming into their store and receiving goods at no cost to them. Walmart and Target would not charge the patrons, they would give each patron a certain amount of money in the form of vouchers that they were allowed to spend in the store. Whatever the store didn’t spend on products or business expenses they were allowed to keep as profit. There would be some things this store isn’t willing or able to provide, so they would contract with “vendors” in the area that you are allowed to use the stores vouchers at. For instance, maybe Walmart doesn’t want to carry furniture anymore because it costs them too much in overhead, so they go out to a couple local furniture stores and contract with them to provide the items. You would be allowed to buy the products elsewhere if you want to spend your own money. But how many companies would be able to compete with the “free stores” and how many companies would be able to get those government charters? If this happened with this market people would lose their minds, why is ok for it to happen in education?
The biggest red flag I’ve seen is that there is no readily available data about who these companies are. How much exactly are they getting from the state? How much profit are they making? How much do regular school’s get? All of this I wouldn’t care about if it were a regular private school but since I, and the rest of the state, are being charged for it every year, I believe we have a right to know how our money is being spent. I feel like I’m supposed to be an investor in a company reaping the profits of their mission, but I feel like I’m being robbed and then told to relax about it because “it’s for the children”. I’m still searching the internet for information about these schools and our old ones as well. I realize I’m not making groundbreaking progress. I’m hoping someone out there has already researched this and has made some kind of report I can read and trust!