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Scandals in charters bound to bind them in red tape, diminishing their autonomy

A_Man_Stuck_In_Red_Tape_Royalty_Free_Clipart_Picture_091110-053150-778042Incidents of nepotism and conflict of interest recently have been uncovered in some New York City charter schools. Meanwhile, a Philadelphia investigation has found questionable financial practices among some of that city’s charters.

Doesn’t worry me.

Why not? One reason is that such nonsense just happens. There are more than 4,600 charter schools in the nation, so it’s inevitable that some charter organizers are going to be inexperienced, incompetent, or even dishonest in their handling of school finances.

The more cynical reason for my indifference is that charters are doomed.

Oh, I’m not predicting that charter schools are going away. Not a chance. A few financial horror stories are not going to diminish the momentum of the charter school movement or undermine the bipartisan political support that charters enjoy today.

No, I’m saying that charter schools are doomed to lose their independence and flexibility. Their promise of innovation is doomed to slow strangulation in bureaucratic red tape.

As I see it, this is inevitable. A few more years, a few more headlines about financial irregularities, and you’ll see state and federal lawmakers begin to push forward legislation to ensure that tax dollars aren’t misspent.

You’ll see state and federal regulators announce a host of rules on how they handle their money and what they can spend it on.

It’ll all seem reasonable at the time. But this intervention won’t stop. No matter what rules and laws are put in place, there will always be some financial irregularities—and there will always be government officials ready to implement yet more mandates to protect public tax dollars.

Where will it end? Well, when NSBA launched its Voucher Strategy Center to keep tabs on the school voucher movement, I used to joke with its staff that its efforts were unnecessary.

You see, I said, some schools that accept vouchers are going to misuse some of that money. And how will government lawmakers and bureaucrats respond? They’ll pass more laws and adopt more regulations.

Eventually, I predicted, private and parochial schools that accept vouchers will be as regulated and tied up in red tape as traditional public schools. In short, there won’t really be any difference among them.

As it turned out, the voucher movement stalled—and charter schools are today’s panacea for the ills of American education.

But, for lawmakers and bureaucrats, that just centers a big red bull’s eye on the charter school movement.

It may take a decade or two, but eventually the independence and flexibility of charter schools will be entangled in bureaucracy and red tape. You just wait and see.

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|April 22nd, 2010|Categories: Governance, School Reform, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |

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