No more Black celebrity charter school crooks


00_brucedixonCelebrities they say, are people who are famous for being well known. Entrepreneurs, in popular lore, are those with a talent for detecting opportunities to get paid, in much the same way crocodiles and sharks smell blood in distant waters. So the celebrity entrepreneur is all about finding ways to leverage that celebrity to get paid.

In this neoliberal age of privatization, the surest way for the well-connected to get paid is to bribe public officials to help you convert public assets into your private property.

Look at entrepreneur Ervin “Magic” Johnson, who gave Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel a perfectly legal $250,000 campaign donation and received an $80 million contract to replace the formerly unionized janitors in Chicago Public Schools. That’s entrepreneurship. Now principals in some of those schools are buying mops and brooms out of their own pockets to keep the filth at bay.

Different rules
Since the Clinton era, charter school investments get automatic tax credits that allow investors to double their money in as little as seven years. Thanks in part to vigorous lobbying on the state and federal levels by charter schools and their investors and contractors the charter school industry is not subject to the same instructional, operational, fiscal and accounting, or conflict of interest rules as actual public schools.

In most states it’s perfectly legal for a charter school operator to give her brother the maintenance contract, her sister the instructional contract and her cousin the textbook contract, to replace the teachers with computer programs, while her own privately held company rents and subleases the school building at a hefty markup, all with public money, and misleadingly call yourself a “public school.”

So it’s no surprise that Black celebrity entrepreneurs want in on the charter school racket. Magic Johnson’s name is on a profitable charter school diploma mill chain that substitutes computers for human teachers and awards quick high school diplomas not in its own name but in the name of the public school the student dropped out or was pushed out of. If that’s not educational fraud, it’s hard to imagine what is.

Deion Sanders and Jalen Rose have charter school train wrecks named after them, and they’re far from alone. The truth is that Black celebrity charter schools are not about giving back, they’re about cashing in. If Black celebrities cared about education for Black children they’d be siding with parents, students and communities instead of with their investment portfolios.

Diddy’s turn
The latest entries in the charter school feeding frenzy are Sean “Diddy” Combs, with accomplices Steve Perry and Iyanla Vanzant. Together, they’re fronting what’s called the Capital Preparatory Harlem Charter School, apparently part of the chain of Capital Preparatory operated by Steve Perry, who’s not much more of an “educator” than Diddy, and has a history of abusive and threatening public rhetoric, and advocating the mass firing of qualified, experienced teachers – especially Black ones.

Despite PR flourishes like calling its teachers “illuminators,” and occasional references to “social justice,” Diddy’s charter school venture looks a lot more like another parasitic business venture than any kind of real educational institution.

It’s time we looked a lot closer at Black celebs who claim to be “giving back,” and at their kind of Black “success stories” as well. The last thing we really need now is more Black celebrity charter school crooks… I mean entrepreneurs.

Bruce Dixon is managing editor of Contact him at



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