In a forgotten time in this country, the “mom and pop” moniker stood for everything that was right about the family owned small business. Urban grocery stores, owned and operated by small families who often lived in the same building, provided an indispensable service to neighborhood residents within walking distance. Qualifying for the nickname had everything to do with the daily responsibilities of running the business falling only to family members; mom, dad, and often the young children. With the rise of Walmart in the mid-twentieth century, true “mom and pop” shops began to vanish and the connotation of the name quickly expanded and consequently lost its original meaning. “Mom and pop” shops represent a time in this country when capitalism had a soul and upward mobility was more than a distant memory.
Ben Felder of The Oklahoman recently reported that a $16 million federal grant is expected to significantly expand the number of “mom and pop” charter schools in Oklahoma. “Mom and pop” is used in this case to refer to those charter schools not operated by corporate Charter Management Organizations or CMOs. There are very few positive things to say about the current Oklahoma education funding crisis, but according to Felder, the relatively low number of charter schools run by CMOs in Oklahoma is directly tied to the low per pupil spending in the funding formula. We spend so little on education that the corporate education machine’s tried and true formula for a quick profit does not make business sense in Oklahoma!
The National Education Association reports that about 4 in 10 charter schools are run by for profit corporations, while 6 in 10 are not for profit and not directly tied to a CMO. The latter group wishes to emphasize their distinctive by taking on the name “mom and pop” as if to say, “we are not corporate.” Nothing could be further from the truth. For instance, Stanley Hupfeld Academy in Oklahoma City would more appropriately be called “Integris Health Elementary.” Urban “mom and pop” charter school, John Rex Charter Elementary School should be called “Devon Energy Elementary.” Naming a charter school after an individual sends a very personal and local message while simultaneously masking massive corporate contribution and influence.
Selective enrollment is a cornerstone of the charter school model. There is nothing “mom and pop” about being essentially a “members only” organization. Even charter schools that claim to be neighborhood schools (serving students in the immediate vicinity of the school) have enrollment caps that consistently turn students away. In keeping with the analogy, it is worth noting that small businesses that refuse to serve particular clientele usually don’t win in court. The charter school way is more like “Sam’s Club” than anything else.
We spend so little on education that the corporate education machine’s tried and true formula for a quick profit does not make business sense in Oklahoma!
I have previously written about how the School Choice Movement, of which charter schools are an essential part, likes to be known as the “little guy” going up against the giant, monolithic, public school system. The “mom and pop” charter schools want to be pitied above all others because they view themselves as the “little guys” of the “little guys.” The truth is that neighborhood public schools pose no threat to charter school upstarts. Great public schools have been the center of activity in communities across this country for generations; without a charter, without a corporate benefactor, and without the “ability” to deny services to students whose education comes with certain challenges. If any school deserves the title “mom and pop,” it is the traditional neighborhood public school that is truly owned and operated by the community and for the community.