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AFT Creates New Website to Track For-Profit Charter Networks

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This post, by Michele Molnar, originally appeared in the Marketplace K-12 blog.

For-profit education is being put under the microscope in the new 'Cashing in on Kids' website, a collaboration between the American Federation of Teachers and In the Public Interest that takes on the five largest for-profit charter school organizations in the country.

The site curates news and information about five charter-school operators: K12 Inc., Imagine Schools, White Hat Management, Academica, and Charter Schools USA.

"It's a way of calling the question: Is the rapid expansion of charter schools about helping kids learn, or about enabling for-profit operators to rake in millions in tax dollars?" said Randi Weingarten, AFT president, in the announcement.

Research from 2011-12 shows that about 65 percent of charters are independent, according to Alex Medler, vice president for policy and advocacy for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. "The remainder are split roughly 50/50 among for-profit and non-profit networks," he indicated. In recent years, charter management organizations, which are non-profit, are growing faster than the education management organizations, which are for-profit.

Kara Kerwin, president of The Center for Education Reform, a Washington organization that advocates for charters and school choice, issued a strong response to the launch today.

"[T]his latest campaign against education reform irresponsibly suggests that profit and student success are mutually exclusive, ignoring the fact that K-12 education in the U.S. is a $607 billion enterprise annually," Kerwin indicated.

Taking the "anti-charter" view, Donald Cohen, the executive director of Washington-based In the Public Interest, said, "for-profit charter schools that operate in the dark without basic public transparency and without strong public control too often put their bottom line ahead of the public interest and high-quality public education." The focus of Cohen's organization is to be a "resource center on privatization and responsible contracting," according to its website.

But Kerwin argued that for-profit charter management firms' "entire business model is predicated on student outcomes." Their bottom line "is for the greater public interest," she said. "If it's not, they will lose business."

What do you think?


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