When the Olympics ended on Sunday so did a multi-million dollar assault on democracy. From the start of the games in Rio to the closing ceremony, television viewers in Massachusetts had been bombarded with a $2.3 million ad campaign funded by Wall Street.
What does Wall Street want in Massachusetts? Not the normal stuff, like financial deregulation or lower taxes. They want more charter schools.
November's election is pivotal for public education in Massachusetts. That's because the state's residents will decide whether to add more charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated. And a coalition of organizations backed by hedge fund investors and billionaires just spent millions during the Olympics to convince them to say "yes."
Why charter schools? Because there's big money at stake. Billionaire Rupert Murdoch, who has given money to one of the organizations that funded the Olympics ad campaign, once told reporters, "When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone."
But Wall Street can't buy facts.
Allowing more charter schools without serious planning and strong oversight is threatening public school districts across the country, most notably in Los Angeles and Detroit. In Massachusetts, neighborhood schools are projected to lose over $450 million in funding to charter schools this school year alone. Adding more would further destabilize school districts across the state.
And a new study of one of the states with the most charter schools, Texas, just found that while the best performing charter schools improve test scores, they don't seem to help kids get better jobs or earn more money in the long run.
But there's hope. In Nashville earlier this month, we shut out Wall Street. The pro-charter organization Stand for Children, which has received money from private equity investors including Mitt Romney's Bain Capital, spent $750,000 to back four pro-charter school board candidates. All four lost.
More and more people are starting to wake up to the problems with unregulated charter schools. On Sunday, HBO's John Oliver, who's gone after Big Tobacco and Donald Trump, took on the charter school industry. In a searing 18-minute segment, he highlighted the waste, fraud, and abuse far too common in charter schools.
Charter school planning must take into account all children in a school district, and the schools themselves should be held to the standards we expect of any publicly funded institution.
But most of all, public education must be centered on the needs of students, not Wall Street.