What the U.S. Constitution Can Teach Us About For-Profit Charter Schools

I’m proud to be a liberal. My blood boils when I read about massive ExxonMobil profits, comically large bonuses for CEOs, and corporate corruption. It follows, then, that I have a strong visceral aversion to for-profit charter charter schools–to handing our tax dollars and the crucial task of education to corporations.

Yet I struggle to think of a real argument against it. Vague anti-corporate sentiment and concerns about potential corruption, though understandable, are not strong reasons for opposition. In fact, for-profit companies have led to incredible innovations in transportation, medicine, agriculture, and many other industries. Like it or not, the opportunity for financial gain is an effective motivator. Why not bring it to education?

The framers of the U.S. Constitution understood this. As it says in Article I, Section 8:

The Congress shall have power to. . . promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.

The purpose of this “exclusive right”–which we today call copyright or patent– is to guarantee financial gain for those who make useful innovations. Without this, the framers imply, the “progress of science and useful arts” would be slowed. Keep in mind that the U.S. Constitution granted very few powers to Congress, and in general the framers were skeptical of a large federal government. But promising financial reward for useful invention was considered crucial enough to be worthy for inclusion.

It is clear that our public education system, especially as funding continues to plummet, is desperate for this type of innovation. We should offer the opportunity for financial gain–an idea literally as old as the U.S. itself–to encourage this. Our country has countless brilliant minds working to improve countless industries; we need more of them in education. And what better way to bring them over than a chance for profit? Visceral discomfort with the idea isn’t a good enough reason to cast aside a potentially great opportunity for our nation’s kids. The framers of our Constitution would have given their blessing.


4 thoughts on “What the U.S. Constitution Can Teach Us About For-Profit Charter Schools

  1. John Foster

    Really? You claim to be a “liberal”? Or are you just saying this in an effort to attract some younger or less savvy “liberals” into your Privatization Camp?

    No real liberal—no smart ones, actually—would have written something this insipid and pointless.

  2. Rebeccah

    Tax-status is something I have thought about a lot as I have worked toward creating a charter school. To me it’s about making the numbers work in whichever way possible (with for-profit or non-profit tax status) to be able to open and run a school that will help as many students as possible. Like you, I felt pretty turned off by the idea of having a for-profit status in the beginning. The bottom line though is how to make it work – can you sustain yourself on ADA and grants/donations? If so, great! If not, there are other paths. I know there are some stories of corruption within the for-profit charter school world. I also know equal stories of corruption in the non-profit world. For the most part, I just don’t believe this movement is about people getting rich off of educating students. It is both evolving and innovative though – just like most other things we love.

    Charter schools are public schools so I can’t say I totally understand John Foster’s comment, though I think he could be getting at something interesting and I’d like to hear more. It has been interesting to hear reactions when I tell people I am developing a charter school. It seems charter schools, both for-profit and non-profit, have a villain’s reputation with a lot of people. I can understand some of the criticism for sure, but many times these schools open in places and within populations where innovative, outside the box ideas are badly needed. My point is we (traditional public schools, charter schools, private schools) are all doing very similar, hard work here and we really do have a shared mission. I think having more options is almost always a better position to be in.

    On another note, I don’t think higher salaries for teachers and school administrators (sometimes made possible at charter schools) is a bad thing. Quite the opposite, I think both roles should be valued quite highly and I hope the charter school movement can help push things in that direction. I’m hopeful.

    Glad to find your blog! I hope you keep it going!

  3. Jacob W Post author

    Rebeccah – I absolutely agree. Generalization is always dangerous. There are bad charters and good ones; the same can be said of traditional public schools. The point is that we are educating kids. Results should be emphasized over labels and ideology. And yes, higher salaries (especially for excellent younger teachers/principals) are essential.

    Thanks for reading! School year is about to start so I’m not going to be posting as much, but hopefully I’ll find some time amidst teacher responsibilities 🙂


    1. Rebeccah

      Thanks Jacob! It’s so nice to have a positive conversation on a blog. I see it so often degrade into all out attacks on…everything about the other person.

      I’m not an educator so I’m learning a lot everyday about it all through creating a school. And I’m very open to learning and realizing I’m wrong. Life is too short, you know? In light of that, I just read your post about calling the – still somewhat new – wave of charter schools a “movement.” Point taken! Something for me to think about.

      Good luck with school and thanks for creating such an educational space online!



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