School Choice

Regulating the Innovation Out of Charter Schools


Arizonans may not be able to spell "red tape," but they know it when they're drowning in the stuff.

Yesterday evening, I spent an hour and a half at my son's charter school, listening to the married couple who founded the place in 1995 explain that they were exhausted and overwhelmed by a steadily growing regulatory burden, and that's why they were turning over the keys to a multi-school management company. EdKey Inc./Sequoia Schools, the company assuming the responsibility, has a decent reputation and a good track record, but the passing of the torch has troubling implications for those of us who see school choice as not just an opportunity for private enterprise, but for a diversity of approaches to maximize the chances of reaching a world of very different kids.

My son's school uses a curriculum developed at Hillsdale College, but this small-town-y area also offers charter Montessori schools, a charter Waldorf school and other privately run, publicly funded options — enough attractive alternatives (without even discussing private schools or the healthy homeschooling community) that the floundering school district started an International Baccalaureate school to compete. Which is as it should be. A fair sprinkling of educational entrepreneurs have effectively enlivened an area not known for its larnin'-friendly culture, in a state where public schools consistently draw a gentleman's C when they're graded on their efforts to teach kids … anything.

But the thing about entrepreneurs is that they have limited resources, and only so much attention to divide up in different directions. Starting up a school is challenging enough, and if you start binding them in red tape, something has to give.

In a 2005 OpEd, Vicki Murray of the Goldwater Institute pointed out that "Until now, parents, teachers, and school personnel have opened roughly 70 percent of all charter schools in Arizona." But, she warned:

At last count, Arizona charter schools have to comply with close to 100 regulations, and there is evidence of an emerging trend that charter schools are converting to private schools in response. … One example of the significant cost of regulatory compliance for Arizona charter schools concerns enrollment. The state requires charter schools to maintain duplicate student enrollment databases, costing thousands of dollars each, and to re-enter estimated enrollment figures from scratch every 10 days for 10 months out of the year. Under current state charter school regulations, simply obtaining a student headcount resembles a NASA space mission in complexity and cost.

Two years later, the Goldwater Institute sued Arizona over the state's attempt to impose a standard curriculum on charter schools that would largely strip them of their innovative edge. The case was settled out of court, so its merits were never addressed in a binding decision. Regulations have only tightened since then, and that's at the state level.

Last year, responding to complaints about the federal regulatory burden on schools, the House Education and Workforce Committee held hearings after acknowledging that a "complex web of mandates and regulations redirects resources from students and reduces local education leaders' abilities to enact targeted reforms that improve student achievement." Subsequently, the committee asked (PDF) the Government Accountability Office to investigate which school-related regulations are the most burdensome, and what is being done to provide relief.

Of course, much of that red tape applies to traditional public schools, too, but as overwhelmed as school districts with dedicated compliance officers and even full staffs are, the ordeal for independent charter schools is much worse.

Which is why my son's school has turned to a professional management company that runs over a dozen schools for rescue from the bureaucracy. More independent schools are likely to do the same, which suggests a future of consolidation and decreased diversity as the small players are squeezed out by an avalanche of rules and requirements, even where that red tape doesn't inherently discourage experimentation.

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  1. Of course, much of that red tape applies to traditional public schools, too, but as overwhelmed as school districts with dedicated compliance officers and even full staffs are, the ordeal for independent charter schools is much worse.

    Yeah, the public schools don't have to worry about customer satisfaction and how its affected by bureaucratic red tape.

  2. OT:

    This is just too sweet. It turns out Obama's author bio for his first book claims he was born in Kenya. He claims he never saw it (an obvious lie). Regardless, where would they have ever even gotten the idea that he was born there, if not from him?

    1. Clicked too soon.

      Between Obama and Warren's fibbing about their past to further their careers, we may be backing into a nice national "discussion" about affirmative action

      1. Either he lied about being Kenyan to get a book contract or he lied about being born in the US. Which is it?

        1. Yes, he is lying. Next question.

        2. Yes, he lies a lot.

        3. I'm going to feel really stupid for falling for those multiple Hawaiian newspaper birth announcements if it turns out Obama really was born in Kenya. Not to mention having to apologize to all those birther-cranks.

          I hope he lied to juice up his biography.

          1. I wish it would come out after he safely leaves office avoiding a constitutional crisis. The birthers turning out to be right would utter and completely destroy any credibility the media has left with anyone. The guy lied about being born in the US and you guys didn't check it out? It would be the kind of spirit shattering thing that might get them to reform a bit.

            1. I am not sure how we would be avoiding a legal crisis. If he is not the legitimate presidente then every executive order and every bill signed into law would be null and void whether his whole term is up or not. It looks like the biggest can of worms in the world to me.

              1. ...and every appointment....and every regulation/rule made by appointees.

                The more I think about it, the better it is starting to look.....

              2. Why wouldn't he be legitimate if he had been born in Kenya? His mother was a citizen.

                1. There are residency requirements (on the part of the parent) when only one parent is a US Citizen.

        4. Shit, he lies about everything. He gets caught doing it all of the time. Not that most of the media will say that, but it's true. That's the one true thing about the jackass.

          Wonder why he lied about it? I'm pretty confident he was born here, but it's looking like he lied about it for some reason.

        5. Maybe it is neither, and he is a Reptilian from the Alpha Draconis system.

    2. I still don't think it matters if he was born in Kenya (to his qualification to be president, that is; this does add further evidence that he is a slimy lying turd).
      No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President;

      Seems to me to say that he must be a US citizen at birth, which would be the case wherever he was born since his mother was a citizen.
      John McCain wasn't born in the US either.

      1. The "natural born citizen" thing is the stick wicket.

        The claim of the birthers, as I understand it, is that natural born citizens are either born in the USA, or born overseas to two American parents.

        If Obama was born in Kenya to a Kenyan father and American mother, he wouldn't qualify, according to the birthers. If I am understanding them correctly.

        1. Sounds like a load of crap to me. He was a citizen when he was born. But I suppose one could argue about the meaning of "natural born".

    3. He claims he never saw it (an obvious lie).

      "it" being the bio that was sent out in a booklet full of author bios that the agency sent out to pimp for their clients, in other words, a bit of promotional ephemera. And you're sure he's obviously lying if he says he never saw it. Don't let the vapors take you.

  3. Sounds like they're selling at the top before the regulatory shitchoke. Good for them.

  4. There's some crisis here about unusually low FCAT results. Naturally, people want to change the scoring. Not, um, teach the kids anything.

    1. In this case, the FCAT scores are worse than expected, but it is in response to an increase in the difficulty of the test, reading specifically. FCAT=bullshit.

      Regarding the article, this is why I am opposed to vouchers (yes, I know that is a different issue from charter school). If public tax money goes to private schools in the form of vouchers, they will be caught up in the same sort of regulatory crap and will lose the advantages that they currently offer over public schools.

      1. I thought we wanted our kids to be smarter and stuff. You know, like foreign kids.

        1. I do. I just do not believe that the FCAT is a meanigful metric for judging that.

          1. Also, since the difficulty of the test was changed, it is not longer the same standard as in the past. In other words, a 3 on the new test is not the same as a 3 on past tests. Since funding of schools is based on change in performance from year to year, a cyncial person might see a reason the government might want schools to perform worse.

          2. Oh, sure, it's bureaucratic bullshit. I just meant that it's telling that a metric for kid performance gets "adjusted", rather than doing anything to improve the children's performance.

            Clearly, education has gotten worse as we've spent more money on it. Therefore, the solution is to stop spending so much. A teacher, some kids, some books (or the Intertubials), and we should be good to go!

            1. Therefore, the solution is to stop spending so much. A teacher, some kids, some books (or the Intertubials), and we should be good to go!

              How is that different that what we have now? Oh, wait! You actually thought the money was going toward technology or improving crumbling facilities as opposed to increasing the salaries of legions of educational administrators and superintendents? LOLZ! You so crazy, Pro L!

              1. States should compete to see who will spend the least on education, thus improving the actual education of our students.

  5. The school problem is a difficult knot to untie. It's enshrined in most (if not all) state constitutions that the states are going to provide public education. Once you have that, it cannot just be a free-for-all on standards, and you frankly have to balance between being so crappy that people want to burn down the schools and taxing the hell out of local property owners - the generally productive members of a given community.

    1. A constitutional mandate to provide public education in no way requires the regulation of private schools.

      This is just captured bureaucrats doing what they do, with the connivance of lazy/stupid/evil legislators.

      1. A constitutional mandate to provide public education in no way requires the regulation of private schools.

        No, not required, but it does follow logically, especially if the private options are funded with public funds.

      2. Exactly. It doesnt even mandate having public schools.

        Giving every kid a credit to be applied to the private school of his parents' choice meets that standard of providing public education.

        1. Well, no. Look at some state constitutions and you'll see clear mandates to provide regulation. I don't like it anymore than you do, but it's there.

        2. And this would subject the private schools to the same sort of regulations that are choking the charter schools, meaning the private schools would be brought down to the medicrity of public schools.

        3. While you're prediction is probably 100% accurate, it's pretty fucked up that returning money to people who paid into the system, but didn't use the system, via vouchers or tax credits is considered "public funding."

      3. This is just captured bureaucrats doing what they do, with the connivance of lazy/stupid/evil legislators.

        Most likely at the urging of the pubsec teachers union. After all, the best way to kill off your competition is to strangle them with red-tape.

      4. Charter schools are not the same as fully private schools. They are publicly funded, though privately run. Not surprisingly, this can lead to sort of corruption that typically comes about when private companies have government contracts.

        1. My brother sent his children to a charter school in Richardson, TX. Other than feeling superior about themselves, it is hard to tell how they were given an even passable education.

          See, it's a charter public school which is entirely different.

          Unless you are so poor that you can not feed yourself, sending your children to public school is pathetic. How a person with even moderate intelligence could thin

          1. How a person with even moderate intelligence could think that the parasites that make up public school employees could teach their children anything except how to be parasites is beyond me.

            1. Maybe it's all fallen apart in the past 15 years, but I learned a lot of useful stuff in public school and even had a few really great teachers. And an awful lot of private schools are the same liberal echo-chamber, ivory tower, bullshit as you get at many universities. I'd rather not have any government run schools, but they are not a complete waste, I don't think. And I very much doubt that they are going away anytime soon. As someone pointed out above, most state constitutions require them.

              1. I think parents have a lot more to do with how their kids turn out than schools do. If parents are hardly active in their children's lives then maybe school has a significantly larger role, but good parenting could result in kids getting a lot more out of even public schools.

  6. OT, but this election is just a blast to follow!:


    "I tried to change the subject, but Reggie was on a roll. "I'm telling you, Regina, it was wild. When the maids show up Monday morning, we were all still sitting in the hallway, looking like zombies. Bottles everywhere. Cigarette butts. Newspapers. That spot where Jimmy threw up..." Reggie turned to me and started to laugh, spilling more beer on the rug. "You remember, don't you, man? Shit was so bad, those little old Mexican ladies started to cry. 'Dios Mio,' one of 'em says, and the other one starts patting her on the back. Oh shit, we were crazy..." - Barack Obama
    Dios Mio indeed. Obama, in college, completely trashed his California dorm room and left it for "Mexican" women to clean. It was so beyond the pale, including vomit, it brought the hard-working women, who had no doubt seen messes every day, to tears?in Barack Obama's presence?but he did nothing and let the immigrant women clean up his vandalism and destruction.

    1. I guess if the gay-bashing on Mittens' part is in fair play.

      The most saddening part is that this didn't get out the first time, even though it was RIGHT THERE IN BLACK AND WHITE THE ENTIRE TIME FOR EASY REPRINT. Seriously, media, y u no do ur jobz!

      1. And the McCain campaign didn't do its job either. Their opposition research should have found this. Not that he would have been much better than O.

    2. "You want to cry *now*? Wait until I deport you."

  7. While I can see the appeal of charter schools some sort of noble compromise, this reminds me of a debate between Walter Block and Milton Friedman over this issue. The idea of separating administration and running of schools (into private hands) and the financing (into public hands) still produces a tendency of state involvement. Not just bureaucratic spaghetti but you are also at the mercy of the public as well

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