Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ohio's Crappy Charter School System, Exhibit 4395

. . . is a story in today's Dispatch that millions in charter school start up money cannot be accounted for. Specifically, $2.55 million in "planning grants" went to schools that were never actually set up.

The Ohio Charter School system was set up to act exactly like a free market. OK, a free market in which the government pays for the "customers" and paid some of the set up costs of the "businesses." That kind of market. An Iraq reconstruction kind of market.

Charter school advocates try not to talk about Ohio. In other states charter schools actually work -- so much so that liberals like the purveyors of EduWonk and Quick and the Ed like them. But in Ohio the system yields one failure after another. That's why an editorial in Minnesota about charter school accountability notes that, "Ohio seems to have more problems than other states, but it is a good reminder that we need charter schools to be accountable."

So what can we learn from this? First, we can learn that the pure free market model does not work. In particular, during late-nineties and early 00's, the guiding philosophy was to let anyone who could fog a mirror set up a charter school and let the market sort them out. That has given us dozens of chronically failing schools that thus far can only be shut down when they run out of money.

And now we have another problem. Ohio apparently gave money out without vetting the recipients. Exactly no one familiar with the history of Ohio charters is surprised.

By the way, a second problem with the free market model is the cost of letting the market do its magic. Businesses in a market don't automatically succeed because they are in a market. A market works by forcing bad businesses to close. That's fine when we are talking about, say, electronics stores. When Fretter and Sun closed up shop, they did little permanent damage to the polity. But when a school closes down, it causes considerable disruption to the families involved and to the public school system that has to absorb children who have not been receiving a decent education. A third is that changing vendor involved considerable transaction costs. And a fourth is the Market for Bad Education.