October 12, 2023

Jef Rouner: Charter Schools And Vouchers: How They Raid Public Funds To Enrich Private Individuals

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Jef Rouner, a freelance journalist based in Houston, warns of the threat of vouchers in Texas.

Under the guise of “school choice,” a small group of individuals are using charter schools to funnel taxpayer funds into their pockets. If a widespread school voucher program passes, it will do the same.

A charter school is a tuition-free learning institution that is privately owned but funded by public money from the Education Agency. While the TEA can approve which schools become charter schools, the agency does not oversee them the way they do with public schools. Nor are charter schools beholden to publicly elected board members. Much of their spending is not public knowledge.

What has been learned from dedicated reporting is that they are often more real estate investment forms with a school tacked on. A stunning investigation by Hearst papers, particularly Edward McKinley and Eric Dexheimer at The San Antonio Express-News, shows that the owners of the charter schools make flashy land purchases that are only tenuously connected to the school and use them to enrich themselves.

The most egregious comes from the non-profit that runs the Universal Academy in Dallas. They purchased a luxury horse ranch previously owned by Rex Tillerson, an ExxonMobile Chairman and Secretary of Energy under former president Donald Trump. The site featured a 120,000 sq ft viewing arena with climate control and viewing facilities. The school says it will use the facility to offer riding lessons to students for $9,600.

In other cases, owners of charter schools use the campuses to turn land into money makers. At Houston’s  Diversity, Roots and Wings (DRAW) Academy, the owner leases four spaces to the school for profit. The same is true of ComQuest Academy and Accelerated Learning Academy.

This results in millions of dollars being sent out of the state’s public education budget and into the hands of landlords.

Read the full op-ed here. 

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