Saturday, February 2, 2013

Schools and for Profit Managers Don't Mix by Sarah Carr

Schools and for-profit managers don't mix, skeptics say

By Sarah Carr and Annie Gilbertson, The Hechinger Report

JACKSON, Miss. -- When state officials here tried last year to recruit a for-profit company to manage schools in rural Tate County, the community outcry was swift. Concerned residents spoke out in the media, argued their case to lawmakers and circulated a petition against the “privatization” of Tate County Schools.

Patricia Johnson, whose son attends a public high school in the county, described the proposal as “crazy.” For-profit companies, she said, shouldn’t be “getting paid” to run things when parents are having to buy copy paper for teachers in cash-strapped schools.

At first glance, Mississippi would seem an unlikely source of resistance to school privatization. But this year, a coalition of lawmakers and community groups is fighting vigorously against the prospect of for-profit companies opening up charter schools.

“I think people have been astounded that anyone can make money off of public education,” said Nancy Loome, executive director of The Parents’ Campaign, which lobbies for public education in Mississippi. “Our schools struggle to make it on the resources they are provided. If (for-profit management is) trying to make a profit and pay shareholders, they aren’t going to be investing very much in educating children.”

This fierce resistance in Mississippi is but the latest example of waning interest in for-profit school managers across the country. Charter schools of all types continue to spread rapidly. But schools managed by for-profit companies make up a smaller share than they did just a few years ago.

In Mississippi, the debate comes as lawmakers are poised to approve a major expansion of charter schools later this month. At the same time, renewed attention to the state’s lagging test scores and overall woeful performance in education is fueling debate about alternative ways of running schools.
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