Private Schools Respond: Steve Hicks of Center Academy

Private School Leaders Respond to Critics: Steve Hicks of Center Academy

In our first installment, Center Academy’s Vice President of Operations Steve Hicks responds to common criticisms of school choice and private schools. Center Academy is a small private school in Florida for students with unique needs who were falling behind academically or just through the cracks at their previous schools. The academy has been educating kids with special needs since 1968.

Private schools cherry pick the best students and reject those who are behind academically or who have special needs.

“Ninety-nine percent of our students have some type of learning difference or disability. Almost all of our students come from public school, so I am not sure where the idea that private schools don’t serve this population is originating. Moreover, to participate in Florida’s scholarship program, students must attend a public school the prior year. Therefore, all of our scholarship students leave the public school to attend ours because the public school did not meet their academic needs. We recognize that not every student is successful in the public setting and so we offer an opportunity for students to try something that is better suited for their unique needs.”

Private schools are just owned by people who want to profit off our nation’s vulnerable children.

“The assumption that there are ‘huge’ profits in private education frankly is just not true. The years we do make a profit we reinvest it in expanding the program to serve more students. If most people realized the average private school shows very little profit, they would not go into our sector to get wealthy.

“We are a family of schools and, with small profits from all of our schools, we are able to do more for our students and staff as well as open new schools to serve more learning disabled students. Our staff is paid a fair wage, but it does not compare with the benefits or salaries of public school teachers. Our principals are also paid a wage that is less than what their public school counterparts receive.

We are responsible to our parents to ensure they and their students are happy. Otherwise, we go out of business. We are constantly improving our program so that we are more attractive to parents than the other private schools they have to choose from. That’s accountability.

“To our private pay parents, we offer a ‘sliding fee discount,’ meaning we provide scholarships to students from low-income families to make private education affordable for them. We have done this for 40 years as a for-profit business.

“But it is amazing to me that while in every other business in America ‘profits’ are the measuring stick for success, in education profits are somehow looked upon with disdain. The fact is, profit means we are providing a quality product that people are willing to pay for. It means an organization is utilizing fiscally responsible procedures to ensure they do not close their doors on their customers. And it means the customers believe the end result of their financial investment is worth the sacrifice they are making for their family.

“The truth is every enterprise is for-profit, because the day they stop making enough money to pay their bills and the employees that work for them, they cease to exist. Whether it is a church, the Red Cross, or the United Way, if they don’t bring in more than they spend they go out of business. Every school in America needs money to operate, and, if the money runs out, they close the school.

“The difference for us is we set the price for our product and then we budget to ensure we don’t have to go back to our parents and ask for more.”

Private schools aren’t as accountable as public schools in such areas as finances and academic outcomes.

“Research proves that private schools, on average, produce a better product than public schools, which have an inordinate amount of accountability and regulations. So why do we feel the need to shackle private schools with the same amount of regulations that are crushing public schools? If private schools, for-profit or nonprofit, are not fiscally responsible, they close their doors.

“As for academics, if parents are not happy with a private school they can leave and go to another school of their choice. Absent school choice, if their public school is not meeting their needs, they have no other option.

“If ‘accountability’ means we take the same state exam that every public school teacher in America hates because it forces them to teach to the test instead of providing a well-rounded education, then the answer is no we are not accountable. And, by the way, we do complete the Stanford 10 on our students every year and our parents receive a copy of the results.

“We are responsible to our parents to ensure they and their students are happy. Otherwise, we go out of business. We are constantly improving our program so that we are more attractive to parents than the other private schools they have to choose from. That’s accountability.”

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