Aaahhh! Did you see that?! A headless — er, heartless — for-profit company just jumped out of nowhere and made off with millions of taxpayer dollars!
But now the sun is up, and those frightening tales are turning out to be no truer than your favorite ghost story.
After renewing the charters of 15 previously approved schools in the spring, the state commission just wrapped up its first application cycle since coming back to life. There were 16 applications for new schools to open in autumn 2014, and those scary commissioners approved — brace yourself — exactly …
… one of them. In majority-minority Riverdale.
One of the other 15 ended up being approved by a local school board. Three applicants withdrew from the process, and four were deemed ineligible. Commissioners rejected the other seven.
“Our commissioners are very focused on quality, because of all the scrutiny … in the weeks and months leading up to the referendum vote,” says Bonnie Holliday, the agency’s executive director.
“I think we had a charge off the bat to only approve schools that would offer better educational opportunities than students in those areas were already receiving.”
Rather than seven rejections, amendment opponent and state schools superintendent John Barge predicted an average of seven new approvals in each of the next five years, draining more than $430 million from state coffers during that time.
After just one year, his budgetary trend line already looks to be off by some $70 million.
Not that Holliday expects to have just one approval each year: “Everyone wanted to approve more than one school this year. It’s just when we did a gut check, only one was ready to go. … If we set up a school we don’t truly believe will be successful, it’s not doing anyone any good: the students, the schools or the commission.”
What about those frightening for-profit management companies with which some charter holders (which must be non-profits) work?
Holliday says there are good and bad for-profit managers, just as with their non-profit competitors. “At the end of the day, we really care less about the partnerships the schools enter into than the results those partnerships produce,” she says.
OK, but surely the giant zombie bureaucracy predicted for the new state agency has started spreading across downtown Atlanta, right?
“We have five employees,” Holliday says, “and we’re fully staffed.”
State charter schools bear watching: The whole point of having charter schools is to demand more from them and hold them accountable. But so far, there’s nothing spooky about them.