Don’t waste time arguing about public education, says Thales founder Bob Luddy. Head for the exits.
Bob Luddy was tired of trying to convince North Carolina educrats to improve the state’s public schools, so he 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. But what does fabricating stove hoods and building HVAC systems have in common with turning out successful students? More than you might think.
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. It turned out to be a “great blessing,” he says, because it led him to start focusing on creating alternatives to the traditional public schools.
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.
But Luddy wasn’t satisfied. “Charters are far better than the [traditional] public system,” Luddy says, “however, there’s still regulation…and over time, the bureaucrats are going to continue to load more regulation on charters.”
In 2007, he decided to take a more radical step by creating a non-profit network of schools called Thales Academy. Influenced by economist Albert Hirschman’s classic 1970 treatise on political science, Exit, Voice and Loyalty, Luddy conceived of Thales as a way to give families “exit.”
“‘Voice’ is [when] you go to vote [or you] express an opinion…Exit…is like Uber…where someone comes up with an entirely new idea, they bypass the existing industry, and they get amazing results.”
It was necessary to set the cost of attending Thales within reach of most families. Tuition is $5,300 for elementary school, and $6,000 for junior high and high school. At that price point, Thales is able to cover its costs with only a few exceptions: 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 who are more expensive to educate. Luddy believes those students are best served through North Carolina’s school voucher program.
Another way Thales saves money is by spending significantly less on infrastructure than the public system. In 2013, the town of Rolesville, North Carolina got a new public high school that cost $76 million. A year later, Thales opened a $9 million high school two-and-a-half miles away. Read More http://reason.com/reasontv/2017/01/23/thales-academy-north-carolina-bob-luddy