Why 2020 Dems Should Target the Nonprofit Charter School Industry

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      Charter schools, once the darling of politicians on the right and left, have become a hot potato in the Democratic Party 2020 presidential primary with nearly every candidate voicing some level of disapproval of the industry. A common refrain among the candidates is to express opposition to “for-profit charter schools.” Charter school proponents counter these pronouncements by pointing to industry data indicating only 12 percent of charter schools are run by overtly profit-minded entities, and that most charter schools are overseen by outfits that have a nonprofit, tax-exempt status.

      But the singling out of for-profit charter schools is somewhat beside the point as residents of a St. Paul, Minnesota, neighborhood learned this summer when a treasured local landmark was threatened by an expanding charter school. The charter was decidedly nonprofit, but as families and preservation advocates would learn from their tenacious, but ultimately unsuccessful, battle to save a beloved, historic church, charter schools, regardless of their tax status, have become powerful players in a lucrative real estate market in urban areas where land values are high and empty lots or school-ready buildings are hard to find.

      In the tiny Warrendale neighborhood of St. Paul, St. Andrew’s Catholic Church has stood as a community centerpiece for nearly 100 years. In 1927, St. Andrew’s was designed in the Romanesque revival style by Charles Hauser, the son of German immigrants who became the first city architect of St. Paul at the age of 25.

      Today, it’s gone. In 2013, the St. Andrew’s site, which included the church building, a rectory and a small, two-story school, was sold to Kathleen Padian, a charter school real estate developer based in New Orleans. At the time, Padian purchased the site for over $2 million through a nonprofit organization, Educational Properties, Inc., which then leased the buildings to the Twin Cities German Immersion School (TCGIS), a charter school with a focus on German language and culture. (In Minnesota, charter schools cannot own their own property—at least not directly.)

      Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

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