At the core of Mitt Romney’s plan for education is a concept that he’s had plenty of experience with in the business world: Outsourcing. Mitt Romney wants to reduce federal funding for public school systems, while at the same time draining money out of school districts by promoting the creation of charter schools – redundant schools operated by independent organizations with reduced public accountability.
Unlike the leaders of public school districts, who are chosen by residents in public elections, charter school leaders are typically self-appointed, without any reasonable mechanism for being removed from their positions through democratic means. This special protection from democratic accountability can result in corruption at charter schools, and the violation of the legal rights of students and their families.
An example of these problems is found down in Universal City, Texas, a suburb of San Antonio. That’s where the Shekinah Learning Institute, a charter school organization, set up its own schools, taking money away from the public school district in order to do so.
Mitt Romney claims that charter schools will operate with greater efficiency and create greater economic success than public schools, because they are free from many of the government regulations created through democratic community oversight. The schools run by the Shekinah Learning Institute are neither more efficient nor more academically successful, however. Multiple schools operated by the Shekinah Learning Institute have been rated as academically unacceptable.
In spite of that failure, the Shekinah Learning Institute’s leaders are paid enormous salaries. Cheryl Washington, the superintendent of two Shekinah schools, is paid a base salary of $252,498.00 per year. That’s in the ballpark of the salary paid to superintendents of large school districts in Texas with between 50,000 and 100,000 students. The two schools that Cheryl Washington operates have only 1,600 students.
With efficiency and academic success flown out the window at this charter school network, professional ethics appear to have disintegrated as well. Besides being the superintendent of two Shekinah Learning Institute schools, Cheryl Washington is the pastor of Shadrach Temple International, a Christian church. Cheryl Washington was discovered to have arranged for the school to buy a former church and then rent it out to the Shadrach Temple International. Washington represented both Shekinah Learning Institute and Shadrach Temple International in the deal, essentially negotiating with herself, for the financial benefit of her church, and doing so using public money and authority granted to her through the charter school arrangement.
This corrupt self-dealing by the leadership of Shekinah Learning Institute was compounded by the violation of the constitutional rights of the parents, teachers, and taxpayers that were supposed to be served by the charter school organization. The likelihood of trouble should have been plain in the name of the very name Shekinah Learning Institute. Shekinah is a Hebrew term that refers to a place that houses the spirit of the Hebrew divinity Yahweh. In its name, the charter school organization was suggesting that its schools would become centers of religious worship, rather than serious education.
That’s just what appears to have happened at schools run by the Shekinah Learning Institute. The Shekinah Radiance Academy, for example, encouraged its students to attend a weekly Christian religious service and held Bible study courses. The taxpayers who financially support the Shekinah Learning Institute include non-Christians. They shouldn’t be forced to pay for classes at a school that promotes Christian worship, while ignoring all other religions.
The example of the Shekinah Learning Institute illustrates a good number of the serious problems that often come about as a result of the creation of charter schools. Yet, Mitt Romney wants to expand charter schools across the nation. That’s just one more reason to vote against Mitt Romney in this year’s presidential election.