STRENGTHENING PUBLIC SCHOOLS
The Texas Freedom Network supports the use of innovative technology and teaching methods that help schoolchildren succeed in our state’s neighborhood public schools. Taking tax dollars away from our public schools to fund for-profit education companies, however, would be too risky for our schoolchildren. Many of those private companies have done a poor job of educating students while at the same time using their political connections to win public funding for their failing schools.
Private, for-profit companies have sought a foothold in the country’s education market in two primary ways: providing private-sector management of public schools through charters or other arrangements and enrolling students in “virtual” schools or courses offered online rather than in a traditional brick-and-mortar building.
Edison Schools, Inc.
Edison Schools,Inc., founded by media entrepreneur Chris Whittle in 1992, has been one of the most prominent private education management companies and one of the industry’s biggest failures. Edison became an early darling of opponents of public schools, who argued that the private sector could do a better job educating students. Edison, in fact, touted its own education model, including longer school days, extended school years and a special curriculum developed by the company.
That model has failed students across the country. Among the company’s first ventures were schools in the Sherman Independent School District in North Texas. Edison later won contracts to manage struggling schools in Dallas, Tyler and San Antonio. Officials in each of these Texas school districts, however, eventually severed ties with Edison because academic performance at the company’s lagged behind performance at district-run schools. In addition, officials found that Edison schools were more expensive to run than projected.
School districts around the country, including states such as Florida and Pennsylvania, have had similar experiences with Edison. In fact, Edison’s poor performance contributed to huge revenue losses and a dramatic drop in the company’s stock price. A controversial buyout by the Florida Retirement System (for public employees, including teachers) saved the company from collapse in 2003.
Texas has so far resisted efforts by for-profit companies such as former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett’s K-12, Inc., to establish “virtual schools” throughout the state. The companies offer classes to students over the Internet. Texas currently has pilot programs for classes offered by local school districts, but a formal study of their effectiveness is not yet available.
Nevertheless, proponents of “virtual” schools have sought legislation to fund such schools and courses offered by private, for-profit companies. One result would be, in essence, a “virtual” voucher program that drained money from our neighborhood brick-and-mortar schools.