Thursday, January 26, 2017

NC libertarian builds low-cost private schools

A Libertarian Builds Low-Cost Private Schools for the Masses - - Jim Epstein:

January 23, 2017 - "Bob Luddy ... built his own network of low-cost private schools that the government can't meddle with.... A libertarian businessman based in Raleigh, North Carolina, Luddy made his fortune as the owner of the nation's leading manufacturer of commercial kitchen ventilation systems. CaptiveAire has factories in six states, and its 2016 revenues were $400 million....

"Luddy became interested in education when he observed that many hires at CaptiveAire lacked the basic math and science skills to thrive on the job. He volunteered to co-chair a statewide education commission and met with North Carolina officials to voice his concerns. 'They were happy to discuss all of these ideas,' Luddy says, 'but they weren't going to implement any of them.'

"The last straw for Luddy came in 1997, when he ran for a seat on the local school board and lost.... Almost immediately, he filed a charter for Franklin Academy, which today is the third largest charter school in North Carolina, with about four applicants vying for every kindergarten spot.... In 2007, he decided to take a more radical step by creating a non-profit network of schools called Thales Academy....

"Tuition is $5,300 for elementary school, and $6,000 for junior high and high school.... It takes advantage of North Carolina's tax-exempt financing for school construction, and Luddy himself makes a one-time contribution to help defray capital costs with each new facility. Luddy also provides about 6 percent of the student body with financial aid that covers up to half the cost of tuition, and 34 students (1.5 percent) receive financial aid through North Carolina's Opportunity Scholarship Program.

"So how does Thales get by with so little revenue? (North Carolina's public schools spent about $9,300 per pupil in the 2015-2016 school year.) One factor is that it doesn't serve kids with severe learning disabilities.... Luddy believes those students are best served through North Carolina's school voucher program....

"Thales schools also have no auditoriums because they're too expensive to build, heat, and cool.... There's no cafeteria, and thus no cafeteria staff. There are no school buses, and thus no school bus drivers. There's also hardly any support staff, and fewer actual teachers. Thales targets a teacher to student ratio of about 26 to one....Most schools boast about small class sizes, but Luddy is proud of having large classes because it demonstrates efficiency.... It's part of a pedagogical approach called 'direct instruction,' which Luddy believes provides a superior education in a more efficient manner....

"As Thales enters its tenth year of operation, Luddy and his team have grand ambitions. There are currently 25 new Thales schools in the planning stages that would extend the network's reach into Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida."

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