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.