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At a recent Democratic town hall Presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders, was asked about charter schools.  His answer set off a flurry of press releases, statements, and op-eds from charter school leaders across the country trying to set the record straight. Senator Sanders said:

“I believe in public in public education, and I believe in public charter schools.  I do not believe in private – privately controlled charter schools.”

Writing in U.S. News & World Report, Sara Mead said that Senator Sanders’ comment “provoked umbrage from charter school advocates, glee from charter critics, perplexity from journalists, and indifference from people who don’t closely follow education debates.”

Nina Rees with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools said she was “disappointed that Senator Sanders continues to be confused about the tax status of charter schools since it is legally impossible to run a for-profit charter school in this country.” (A statement that itself is not entirely accurate.  California, for example, has some charter schools that operate as LLCs.)

Nonetheless, Sanders comments and the firestorm it created, shows how important it is to get the facts right about charter schools, their tax statuses, and the legal and structural differences between governance and management.  Nonprofit charter schools may contract with vendors just as school districts regularly contract with private, for-profit providers; however contracting with private providers does not change a school’s nonprofit tax status, nor does it mean they are no longer public schools.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to correct reporters and policymakers after they made inaccurate statements about K12 and its relationship to its nonprofit charter school partners.  K12 is an educational services provider to charter schools and school districts.  The charter schools are overseen and governed by independent, nonprofit boards of directors who are granted charters to operate schools by state-approved authorizers. Whether the charter school governing bodies chose to use K12’s curriculum, academic programs, technology, teachers, school management services (or a subset or combination of all) does not change the fact that the charter schools are nonprofit and public schools.  It is not a question of interpretation; it is a matter of fact.  Unfortunately, it won’t mean we’re done correcting the record.

About The Author

Jeff Kwitowski

Jeff Kwitowski is Senior Vice President of Public Affairs & Policy Communications at K12 Inc. Since 2003, he has been a central part of K12’s public affairs team with a special focus on public policy and advocacy. Additionally, he has supported K12’s state and federal government affairs efforts, working with policymakers and education leaders to develop and advocate for policy frameworks that expand school options, digital learning, and parent choice in education. He served as a member of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning’s Issues and Advocacy Committee, and participated in the national Digital Learning Now Initiative in developing policy frameworks and goals for advancement of digital learning. Prior to K12, he served as communications director and advisor to former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett and former U.S. Congressman and HUD Secretary Jack Kemp at Empower America, a Washington, DC-based public policy organization. He graduated with a B.A. in Political Science and History from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY.

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