March 2, 2022

Arthur Goldstein: With Religious Charters, Privatizers Have Their Cake and Eat It Too

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Arthur Goldstein, one of New York City’s top bloggers, talks about the many rules that charter schools don’t have to follow, and the rules they may soon shed.

There’s a lot of talk about whether charters are public or private schools. Most people I respect suggest they are the latter, in that they take public money but don’t really have to follow public rules.

For example, Eva Moskowitz can allow students to do test prep until they pee their pants, and there’s no chancellor’s regulation suggesting then need to do otherwise. Were I to make students pee their pants, at the very least, I’d be looking at a letter to file. Were I to do it repeatedly, I’d be looking at 3020a charges, and quite possibly the loss of my job.

In public schools, school leaders can’t hire their own children, college kids with no certification, as teachers, but Eva did it and that was just fine. When Bill de Blasio had requirements for a pre-K program, Eva canceled hers rather than comply.

Now, there’s a new thing with charters. Perhaps they can be religious, if Judge Biff and his BFFs on SCOTUS say so. Can this be done?

Garnett, the Notre Dame law professor, has one potential answer.

It’s well established that the government cannot run a religious school, but a private entity can, she said in a recent report for the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. Despite being defined as “public” in state laws, Garnett continues, charter schools are not run by the government; they are run by private, unelected boards, typically organized as nonprofits. 

So charters, if you believe this professor, are NOT public schools. Therefore it’s okay that they be religious. This has, however, ruffled the feathers of some who have been maintaining that charters are public.

Charter school groups have argued that the schools are indeed public for legal purposes and that the recent Supreme Court cases don’t apply to charter schools.

“All charter schools are public schools,” said Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “Charter schools have never been able to, and cannot now, endorse a specific religion.” 

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