Public Schools Aren’t Businesses – Don’t Believe Me? Try Running a Business as a Public School

Receiving constructive and “unconstructive” criticism is an inescapable reality when one writes a blog or puts out opinion pieces about public education in various media. But whether that feedback is presented as an argument to inquire, assert, or demean, it does further the conversation.

In many instances it exposes the many myths concerning public education. And those myths need to be debunked or at least exposed because when speculation becomes gospel, students and schools suffer.

One of the more common arguments reformers and critics of public education offer is that schools would function better if they operated more like a business, especially when it comes to fiscal policies and employee retention.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Every one of the assertions about adopting a business model in public schools that I have encountered always places the schools in the scope of a business. Maybe that paradigm needs to be shifted. If you want to truly envision a business model in schools, you might want to view all angles of the argument.


Therefore, I invite you to try and see if you could run a business like a public school. Maybe the differences between a public service and private enterprise might become more apparent because you’re not even comparing apples to oranges. You’re comparing apples to rocks.

Be prepared to open up every book and have everything audited. If you are a public school, then every cent, every resource, and every line item is open to scrutiny by a variety of inspectors. Be prepared to be constantly audited and have those findings be available and open to interpretation to people outside of your business, even when those people may not know how your business operates.

Be prepared to publicize all of the salaries of the people who work for you. ALL OF THEM. Furthermore, there would no negotiating on salaries. In fact they are all set, not by market standards or demand of talent, but by the government. Furthermore, the salaries of all of your employees will be fodder for politicians and the public alike, especially in election years.

You must allow every stockholder to have equal power on how your run your business even if they own just one share. Actually, you won’t have stockholders. You have stakeholders. And everyone is a stakeholder because they pay taxes. And stakeholders have voting rights. You constantly have to answer to these stakeholders except everybody – EVERYBODY – is your stakeholder. In essence, you answer to everybody, even the homeowners and properties owners when they see that the value of their homes and property might be closely tied to the schools that service the area.

Be prepared to abide by protocols and procedures established by people outside of the business. These aren’t the rules and regulations or laws established by governing bodies, but rather curricula and other evaluation systems that are placed on your business by people who really have no background in your field.

You will not get to choose your raw materials. If your business makes a product, you do not get to negotiate how your materials come to you. You do not get to reject materials based on quality. You must take what is given to you and you must produce a product that is of the same quality as a business that may have choice materials. That is unless you are a private school. But they get to charge money. Your business doesn’t.

Be prepared to have everything open to the press. You are front page news, not only for the good, but for the negative, and all things perceived as negative.

You will not get to advertise or market yourself. Unless you are a magnet, charter, religious, or private school, you will not get to target potential students. At least you save on marketing expense.

Even though you are supposedly “fully” funded, you will have to raise funds because you are not really fully funded. If you can name a traditional public school that does not have to raise funds in some way to pay for needed resources, then I will gladly retract this assertion.

Your work hours, schedule, and calendar will be dictated by those who do not even work for your business. In fact, you will only get to have your doors open for 180 days (or equivalent hours). That’s the law. Even when the demands of being successful pile upon themselves like the responsibilities of teachers grow, you only get that 180 days. If more time is needed, you do not get to incentivize with overtime pay. But don’t worry about that. Your employees will already be working those extra hours – that is if they are like teachers.

You will have to communicate with all of your clients’ parents and guardians. That’s right, you will have to call the parents and caretakers of all of your customers when they do not get their products or when they do use those products correctly.

And finally you will have to understand that YOU WILL NOT MAKE A MONETARY PROFIT. Why? Because you are not a business any longer. You are now a public service.


2 thoughts on “Public Schools Aren’t Businesses – Don’t Believe Me? Try Running a Business as a Public School

  1. I’ve been saying this for years! I think part of the problem is that everyone went to school, so they feel qualified to say how one should be run. Also, I can’t fire my students for underperforming, so…that business idea goes right out the window.


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