Governments by Open Records: The original purpose of transparency through Open Meetings and Public Records and LEA salary disclosures is that these laws applied to the governments which made the rules and controlled the public’s money– the governments, whether state (the legislature and executive branch and DPI), county, or city. These entities needed transparency in their operations so the public could see what was going on between elections and adjust their votes accordingly. The people in the voting booths were the only check or balance on these government entities. Oversight of government rests with an informed public who elects the government, and who have no choices, otherwise.
Corporations by Contracts: The need for transparency as it may apply to private corporations is quite different. The government has the discretion to make contracts or award grants to private corporations to accomplish certain ends. The government retains the right, through its contracts or grants to terminate the contract or cancel the grant if the ends envisioned are not being achieved. The need for transparency is superfluous because the government can cancel the grant or contract if the resulting performance does not meet the specifications. The public does not vote on the contractor, vendor, or supplier. Oversight of contracts and grants rests with the government which issues these contracts and grants and which has many choices for promoting its ends.
Government Inspection or Public Disclosure: We must be careful to distinguish between unfettered government inspection and unlimited public disclosure. The government, in its role issuing contracts and grants, requires the right to inspect and audit the records of its contractors and grantees. Furthermore, private corporations receiving government grants must make available their annual financial statements and their tax returns for public scrutiny.
So when a politician says that private corporations must be subject to the same public disclosure and transparency as government entities, he is effectively saying that government is not capable of properly exercising its oversight duties. The politician is tacitly admitting that his government is failing in its oversight duties and must abdicate this oversight role to the public – who elected them for that job in the first place.
In a free-market capitalistic society, the quality of results determines success or failure and ensures efficiency in the delivery of goods and services. That principle should stand as the criteria for governmental oversight of its contracts and grants. When the media intrudes into the affairs of private corporations by disrupting meetings, making exhaustive, pointless demands for mountains of records, and demanding the most private personal information of employees, the operations of these corporations become distorted in coping with these demands. The corporation becomes less efficient, less responsive to those it serves, and ultimately may fail in its essential purpose of creating the better ends for which it was striving.
Recently Governor McCrory told a reporter that private corporations operating charter schools of parental choice under contracts with the state should be made to adhere to the same transparency as government-run schools with forced student assignment. Thus, he was effectively saying that he did not trust the government’s oversight body – the well-funded Office of Charter Schools (OCS) in the Department of Public Instruction – to properly fulfill its role in ensuring that the contracts were being complied with. Also is the implication that he felt the parents were too ignorant to properly exercise their choice in selecting a school for their children. So he wants to let the media intrude and spin their agenda and force burdensome disclosures on these private corporations holding contracts for schools of choice. Are politicians too afraid to defend the government’s oversight role in the contracts that it enters into with private corporations?
A Few Differences: Unlike government schools, no child is forced to attend any charter school. Unlike government schools, charter schools can be closed (by the government) if they violate their contracts or do not have “clean” financial government audits. Unlike government schools, the parents can force a charter school shut-down by merely redrawing their children. Unlike government schools, they can be shut down if their test scores on the government tests are too low. Unlike government schools, they are prohibited from seeking additional funding from their county for any reason. Unlike government schools, they do not receive any separate public funding for their facilities. Unlike government schools, they may enact merit-based performance salaries for their teachers.
The North Carolina charter school act states that one purpose for charter schools is to move from a rule-based system to a performance-based system: “Hold the schools established under this Part accountable for meeting measurable student achievement results, and provide the schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems.” Really, Governor McCrory?
Make all Pigs Equal: Governor, you said you want the same transparency in private corporations as in government schools (in spite of extensively funded government oversight)? Then how about the same funding, the same facilities, the same permanence regardless of test scores, the same ability to seek county funds, the same ability to force students to attend? Why not make us all the exactly same so we can all continue the same decades long record of mediocrity and same low achievement and same inefficiencies of the government schools by these charter schools?
Speaking of treating everyone the same: Go to www.NCopenbook.gov and go to Grants and select Wake County. The site will return dozens of pages with hundreds of private nonprofit corporations receiving public funding of hundreds of millions through grants by the General Assembly and agencies of state government; almost none of these corporations receiving public funding are subject to “transparency” such as Open Meetings, Public Records, or Salary Disclosures. Why? Because the GA or the agency has the power to withhold the grant or cancel the contract by exercising its oversight responsibilities.
Three examples out of hundreds may be of interest. The North Carolina Symphony corporation has received over $16 million in public funds. The Autism Society of NC has received over $18M in public funding. The Governors Institute for Substance Abuse, Inc. has received over twelve million in public funding. Why aren’t these private nonprofit corporations subject to the same “transparency” as you are requesting for private nonprofit corporations that control charter schools. They are all NC nonprofits organized under GS 55A. They all receive public funding. Then they should be treated equally. Right, Governor?