Archives for category: California

As charter scandals multiply, as billionaire Eli Broad makes his move to privatize the schools of half the students in Los Angeles, some concerned citizens are organizing to repeal California’s charter law. The law allows unlimited expansion of charters. As we learned in the latest scandal, the law allows districts to open charters in other districts, even hundreds of miles away, and take a cut of its income.


With billionaires supporting the charters, it will be an uphill battle. But those are the battles that must be fought if we want to prevent privatization.

I recently posted about a student, Cedrick Arguelas, in Los Angeles who earned a perfect score on the AP exam in calculus.

Of 302,000 students who took the test, only 12 received a perfect score.

Another student in California won a perfect score. Matthew Cheung attends Davis High School in Davis, near Sacramento.

I earlier reported that Steve Van Zant, superintendent of a small district, had been charged with conflict of interest for helping districts authorize charters in other districts (which is legal under California law), then getting contracts with the charters for his private business.


Now, crack reporter Maureen Magee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports the story (reprinted in the Los Angeles Times):


By the time Steve Van Zant left the Mountain Empire Unified School District in 2013, he had overseen the authorization of more than a dozen charter schools to operate in other districts throughout San Diego County — with several going on to hire his education consulting firm.


All the while, Van Zant coached at least one other district on how to approve out-of-town charters, according to emails obtained by the San Diego Union-Tribune. As more districts approved far-flung charters, Van Zant’s EdHive consultant business took on some of the schools as clients.


The San Diego district attorney’s office arraigned Van Zant on Jan. 15 on a felony conflict-of-interest charge from an undisclosed incident in May 2010 while he was superintendent of Mountain Empire.


The district attorney’s office declined to disclose details of its investigation, and it is unclear whether the charge relates to his work with charter schools. According to the criminal complaint, Van Zant violated laws that prohibited him “from being financially interested in contracts made by him in his official capacity.”


The Union-Tribune has tracked a charter empire built by Van Zant by taking advantage of what some call a shortcoming in state law that gives districts a financial incentive to place charters in other school districts. By placing charters outside its boundaries, a district can raise new funds — up to 3 percent of a charter’s revenue — without any threat to enrollment or state attendance funds.


More than 80 out-of-district charters have been approved in San Diego County, the vast majority of which were authorized by small East County districts — several with help from Van Zant, who includes a list of charter clients on his LinkedIn professional network profile…


When Van Zant accepted the job in 2013 as superintendent of the Sausalito Marin City School District, he was positioned to devote even more time growing his consulting business. He would commute from his Mission Bay home for the three-day-a-week position in Northern California with a starting salary of $165,000 and still run EdHive, which recently opened an office in Symphony Towers in downtown San Diego…



California secretary of state documents show that Van Zant’s wife, interior designer Ingrid Van Zant, registered the corporation in 2011. Steve Van Zant listed himself as both president and vice president of EdHive in 2015 on financial disclosure forms filed with Marin County


After leaving Mountain Empire in the summer of 2013, Van Zant helped usher through another charter in the Pine Valley-based district.


You are a charter God. Like Matt Damon in ‘Good Will Hunting.’ – Former Alpine Superintendent Tom Pellegrino in an email to Van Zant
The former superintendent personally petitioned the Mountain Empire school board to authorize the County Collaborative Charter School. Van Zant would go on to serve as director, and he listed his EdHive consulting firm as the provider of back-office services in charter petition documents.


By soliciting business from the district so quickly after leaving office in Mountain Empire, Van Zant has raised questions about whether he violated the Political Reform Act, which calls for a one-year “cooling off” period before government officials can lobby their agencies — or do business with them — after leaving.


The County Collaborative charter enrolled 201 students in the 2014-15 school year, and lists Van Zant’s downtown San Diego EdHive office as the school’s address on a California Department of Education website. Van Zant is listed as the charter’s director, a position missing from financial disclosure documents filed in Marin after taking office in Sausalito.




The Glendale, California, school board voted unanimously to reject a petition for a charter school for a variety of reasons. One was that the finances were shaky and there was a likely deficit of nearly $1 million. Another was that 74% of the prospective students did not live in Glendale. Now the charter school will appeal to the Los Angeles County Board of Education.


The school planned to offer a dual-language immersion program in Spanish, German, Italian and French for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Glendale administrators said the staffing was inadequate.


The state law governing charters was written by the charter lobbyists to help create more and more charters. If the County Board approves the school, the local board and the local Glendale community is out of luck.


The school board of Anaheim, California, asked for relief from charters. California has one of the most permissive charter laws in the nation. It also has one of the most powerful lobbies in the nation, the California Charter Schools Association.









December 18, 2014


Contact: Pat Karlak
Public Information Officer
Phone: (714) 999-5662



Anaheim Union High School District Calls for a Temporary Moratorium on Approval of Charter Schools



ANAHEIM—Board members of the Anaheim Union High School District and Superintendent Michael Matsuda on December 18 called for the state of California to implement a temporary moratorium on the approval of charter schools until legislators fix the overly permissive law that enables charters to operate on a business model whose main goal is to make money.


“Although there is nothing wrong with making money, when it comes to public education, our children should be our first priority,” Superintendent Matsuda said. “While charter school proponents may say they care about kids, many charters operate in the shadows with no transparency, no accountability, and no public review.”


The superintendent cited the example of Magnolia Science Academy, one of two charter applications recently submitted to AUHSD. Magnolia Science Academy is one of the largest charter operators in America, with 155 campuses and ambitious expansion plans. According to an expose on 60 Minutes, Magnolia Science Academy is overseen by Fethullah Gulen, a wealthy Turkish national who controls an international chain of Gulen schools.


The 60 Minutes piece exposed the fact that American taxpayer money—hundreds of millions of dollars nationwide—is being funneled into the pockets of Turkish foreign nationals in the form of contracts for building schools and hiring teachers. At the same time, Gulen’s financial health and practices have been called into question and investigated by local and state agencies. Fethullah Gulen, himself a Turkish national, is wanted by the government of Turkey and is in hiding in the United States.


“Because of lax charter laws that favor privatization, we are the only nation where taxpayer money is used to fund schools operated by foreign nationals,” Superintendent Matsuda said. “Although the Gulen officials insist there is no ill intent, enough questions have been raised about Magnolia’s charter school operations that it is a prime example of why we need an immediate temporary moratorium on charter schools until the laws are fixed and accountability is restored.”


Added Trustee Al Jabbar, “We respectfully ask the public to consider that if kids really come first, why are charter schools continuing to hide their funding, ownership, and financial relationships? Why don’t they allow open access to financials, including budgets and salaries, even though they spend taxpayer money, just like public schools do? Why not agree to the same accountability policies as public schools, policies that would build public trust?”


The entire AUHSD Board signed off on an opinion piece calling for the immediate moratorium, which was published December 18 in the Voice of OC. The day before, at a special school board meeting, AUHSD trustees unanimously rejected a petition by Vista Charter Middle School as educationally and financially unsound.


“It’s open season on neighborhood schools in Orange County, because the Orange County Board of Education, which, mind you, was elected to represent the public school children of the region, is now a 3-2 vote in favor of overturning virtually every local school board’s decision against a charter,” Mr. Jabbar noted. “The Orange County Board wants us to assume all the liability for failure. They want us to assume financial authority over charters when we just heard on Thursday night from a charter operator (Vista) who won’t have enough resources to make it through the first year. They want us to take back the special education and English learner students that they routinely ‘disenroll,’ or drop, to game the system and boost their academic reputation. Let the Orange County Board of Education assume that fiscal and moral risk. Don’t put it back on us as our responsibility. We don’t want it.”


The fact that the Orange County school board has the authority to grant charters without the consent of local school boards undermines the concept of local control and makes a mockery of the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), said AUHSD Board President Annemarie Randle-Trejo.


“The 27 school districts in Orange County have to ask themselves if they are OK with the Orange County Board of Education deciding the composition of each of our school systems,” Ms. Randle-Trejo said. “I’m not OK with that and you shouldn’t be, either.”


“If you look at donations to politicians, you will see a lot of money being funneled to them from charter school operators and special interests. These charter people are very smart,” Ms. Randle-Trejo added. “They have wined and dined politicians from the federal level down, providing junkets and campaign contributions. They stage openings of their schools and invite the local politicians. They certainly know how to play the political game.”


The submission of the petitions by Magnolia Science Academy and Vista are part of a coordinated strategy in Los Angeles and Orange counties by charter proponents to establish a stronghold in Southern California.


Here is the 60 Minutes piece on Gulan schools:



Here is the link to the Voice of OC piece:


Voice of OC posts press releases to provide readers with information directly from organizations. We do not edit or rewrite press releases, and encourage readers to contact the originator of a given release for more information. To submit a press release email



The latest report from the Stanford-based CREDO research group found that online charters deliver a poor education. Students in online charters lose 42 days of reading in a year, and 180 days of instruction in math. Zilch. K12, Inc. is the largest of the online charter chains. It was founded by the Milken brothers, Michael and Lowell. It is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.



California Teachers Association/NEA December 14, 2015
1705 Murchison Drive
Burlingame, CA 94010

Contacts: Claudia Briggs at 916-296-4087 or Mike Myslinski at 408-921-5769.

Dec. 15 Media Conference Call to Discuss Educators’
Struggle in One of Nation’s Largest Online Charter Schools to Address Major Issues Impacting 15,000 Students
California Educators to Deliver Report Card of Straight Fs
at Dec. 16 Washington, D.C. Shareholders Meeting


***Tuesday, December 15, 2015***


BURLINGAME – More than 750 educators at the Simi Valley-based California Virtual Academies (CAVA) have been seeking a stronger voice in improving working conditions and student learning for 15,000 students. The recent Public Employment Relations Board decision declaring the California Teachers Association as the exclusive bargaining agent comes at a critical time and promises to provide momentum for the teachers’ on-going efforts to make their online school more responsive to the needs of their students.

Concerned CAVA teachers have been calling for improvements at their school for years. In March 2015 they shared their experiences in an in-depth study of CAVA released by the “In the Public Interest” group that called for better oversight of the school. In June they filed complaints with school districts that authorized CAVA charters throughout California in an effort to protect students. Recently, new research from Stanford University and the University of Washington came out reinforcing many of the concerns CAVA teachers have voiced.


WHO: Educators at California’s largest virtual charter school will discuss in a Tuesday, Dec. 15, media conference call why their colleagues plan to deliver a report card with Straight Fs the next day at the annual shareholders meeting in Washington, D.C. of the controversial Virginia-based K12 Inc., a for-profit education company providing management services and curriculum to CAVA.


WHEN: Conference call is at 1 p.m. PST/ 4 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Dec. 15.


SPEAKERS: Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association; teachers working to improve California Virtual Academies.


Media should call toll-free 1-888-505-4368 to get on the teleconference. The password code is 4500878.


WASHINGTON, D.C. EVENT: California CAVA teachers will be educating shareholders of K12 Inc. at their annual meeting and will be joined by other concerned supporters. The event starts at 9:30 a.m. EST Wednesday, Dec. 16, at the law offices of Latham & Watkins LLP, 555 Eleventh Street, NW, Suite 1000, Washington, D.C., 20004.

Journalist Yasha Levine wrote the single most comprehensive article about the “so-called” Parent Trigger and the takeover of the Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, California.


Levine went to Adelanto to interview parents and teachers. He immersed himself in the issue.


The article is timely because a few days ago, the Adelanto school board refused to renew the charter for Desert Trails charter schools. Read Levine’s article for context.


It starts like this:


When NSFWCORP sent me to Victorville this January, I little expected that the neighboring town of Adelanto would become ground zero for a fight between billionaires on one side, and poor, vulnerable minority parents and children on the other.


I first heard about the fight through the local right-wing paper, the Victorville Daily Press, which gleefully announced on its front page that a local school, Desert Trails Elementary, had just made history as the first school in the nation to be privatized under California’s new “parent trigger” law. The paper described the takeover as “promising a fresh start to the failing elementary school,” and claimed it had received widespread support from parents.


The national press gushed in similarly glowing terms. The LA Weekly described the Adelanto privatization as an “historic moment for the education-reform movement picking up steam across the nation.” The New York Times dutifully compared the takeover of Desert Trails to “Won’t Back Down.” An “issues” movie starring Face of Indie Maggie Gyllenhaal, “Won’t Back Down” promotes the parent-trigger law as a panacea for America’s public-education problems, one that “empowers” parents to fight back against self-interested public school teachers and their union.


All in all, everyone agreed that this takeover of Desert Trails Elementary represented a triumphant moment for parents and their children, a victory for the people over rapacious elementary school teachers and their unions.


But something didn’t seem right about this story — it was too pat, too much like a triumph-of-the-spirit Disney tale, too much like Maggie’s movie. So I made some calls and started spending some time in Adelanto, to find out what really went on there.


* *
Motorists entering the City of Adelanto are greeted with a big blue sign that reads: “The City With Unlimited Possibilities.” It’s not clear who came up with this slogan, or when. But, these days, the sign is a cruel joke.


Founded in 1915 by the guy who invented the modern electric iron, Adelanto never amounted to much. Mostly it served as pit stop and junkyard to a nearby George Air Force Base. The base closed more than a decade ago, and home values have collapsed since the last real-estate bubble popped. Entire neighborhoods emptied out, and building companies went belly up, leaving behind half-finished “master planned communities” that still stand there, desiccating in the dry heat. Signs advertise brand-new three-bedroom McTractHomes for zero down and $800 a month.


Today, Adelanto is the end of the line. A poor, desert town, the city serves as a dumping ground for low-income minority families who have been squeezed out of the Greater Los Angeles-Orange County region and pushed out over the San Bernardino Mountains into the bleak expanse of the Mojave Desert, where housing is dirt cheap and jobs almost non-existent.

The numbers tell the story: Of the 32,000 people who call Adelanto home, one out of three are below the poverty line. Per-capita income is just under $12,000 — nearly three times lower than the California average, and about as much as the average person earns in Mexico. There are almost no jobs here, and Starbucks ranks among the city’s top-ten employers.


Nearly two-thirds of the population are Latinos, many of them undocumented. Another one in five are African-American. Then there are the 5 percent of the population that the census bureau classifies as “institutionalized,” which is nothing but a wishy-washy bureaucratic way of saying that 1 out of 20 Adelanto residents is currently rotting in jail — a rate five times higher than the national average. Adelanto does not have its own high school, but dropout rates in the neighboring suburb of Victorville, also hard-hit by the subprime bubble, are among the worst in the state — hovering somewhere around 50%.


If you stand at the city’s welcome sign, you can just make out its three major prison facilities: a giant federal prison complex to the north, a brand-new state prison to the west, and just north of that, California’s largest private immigrant deportation facility. The last was built recently by Geo Group, the nation’s second-largest private prison contractor.


* *
I would spend several weeks talking to the parents of children enrolled in Desert Trails Elementary, meeting with them in local taco joints and strip mall diners and talking about what happened. As I had suspected, their version of events turned out not to match the Disney version in national papers.


The parents told me that a Los Angeles-based group calling itself Parent Revolution organized a local campaign to harass and trick them into signing petitions that they thought were meant for simple school improvements. In fact those petitions turned out to be part of a sophisticated campaign to convert their children’s public school into a privately-run charter — something a majority of parents opposed. At times, locals say, the Parent Revolution volunteers’ tactics were so heavy-handed in gathering signatures that they crossed the line into harassment and intimidation. Many parents were misled about what the petition they signed actually meant. Some told me that the intimidation with some of the undocumented Latino residents included bribery and extortion.


They first noticed something was up in the summer of 2011, when small groups of parents decked out in Parent Revolution T-shirts started appearing around town, going door to door to speak to parents of Desert Trails Elementary kids, spreading the word that they were organizing a “parent union” to try to improve the quality of their children’s education.


At that, local parents who’d been involved in school affairs started to grow suspicious. According to several I spoke to, two of the leading members of this new “parent union” had previously served in the school’s Parent Teacher Association, and had resigned amid accusations of improprieties.


Why would they suddenly start a new parent organization? Spite? Revenge? And what exactly was Parent Revolution?



The fight over the future of the Desert Trails Elementary School was a nasty chapter in the history of public education. A billionaire funded group called Parent Revolution to the poor community to persuade parents to sign a petition to change their school. Some thought they were signing a petition for improvements; others knew the petition would turn the school over to a charter operator. A majority of parents signed the petition, but some tried to withdraw their signatures when they realized that they were agreeing to hand the management of their school over to a private board. A judge ruled that those who had signed the petition were not allowed to change their minds, so the petition succeeded with a minority of parent votes. Eventually only a small minority of the parents at the school selected a charter operator to run the school. The main accomplishment of the Parent Trigger was to bring conflict and divisiveness, not better education, to the community.


As I reported in the last post, the local school board rejected a renewal of the charter. You can expect that this matter will go to court, as the Parent Revolution organization has millions of dollars in its coffers.


Since California suspended state testing in its transition from its old standards to the Common Core, there was not much score data. But the crux of the matter can be found in the board’s discussion of governance. Who really was in charge of the charter?

Read this document, in which the board outlines its reasons for denying a renewal of the Desert Trails charter. The key section begins at the bottom of page 4, which reviews the unusual governance structure of the school.



DTPA’s governance structure raises a variety of concerns. DTPA is governed by Desert Trails, Inc., a nonprofit public benefit corporation. However, Desert Trails, Inc. has a sole statutory member, Ed Brokers Educational Services (“Ed Brokers”), another nonprofit public benefit corporation. Among other broad authority vested in Ed Brokers is the authority to approve a majority of Desert Trails, Inc.’s directors as well as removing any director at any time, thereby effectively giving Ed Brokers absolute control over the corporation and the Charter School. Thus, while technically DTPA is governed by Desert Trails, Inc., it is for all intents and purposes actually governed by Ed Brokers, and the Desert Trails, Inc. Board is under Ed Brokers’ authority.

Neither the Charter nor the bylaws provide any information about this sole statutory member of the Desert Trails, Inc. corporation, and the District is given no involvement or effective oversight authority over Ed Brokers. As a result of this structure, grave concerns arise as to what, if any, real authority the Desert Trails, Inc. Board has over DTPA, and corresponding concerns about the District’s ability effectively to exercise its oversight obligations. This corporate structure and DTPA’s Charter do not effectively ensure public access and accountability by specifically requiring Ed Brokers to comply with the Brown Act, Public Records Act, Political Reform Act, and/or other conflict of interest laws applicable to public agencies, and other similar laws and requirements that dictate transparency and public accountability in the operation of the public school system, including charter schools.


It is a most unusual arrangement, and it gets even more complicated.

The Network for Public Education Action Fund is pleased to endorse Dr. Suzie Abajian for the South Pasadena School Board

Dr. Suzie Abajian is an educator, in every sense of the word. She has sixteen years of experience as a teacher, field supervisor, educational researcher, and professor, and holds a Ph.D. in Education from UCLA. Dr. Abajian taught Mathematics at Loyola Marymount University for four years, and is currently a professor of education at Occidental College. She has been a committed supporter of public education throughout her career, and will bring a profound understanding of education policy, effective teaching, and education research to the South Pasadena School Board.

NPE President Diane Ravitch has offered Dr. Abajian her unqualified endorsement, stating, “Dr Suzie Abajian is exactly the kind of person who should run for school board and be elected to serve. She is a well-informed advocate for students and for educational change. I hope that the people of South Pasadena turn out to elect her for their school board.”

Abajian has already demonstrated that she can successfully work within the system to bring about positive change for students. She was on the steering committee for the Save Adult Education campaign that kept the Adult Education Program in Los Angeles Unified School District open. She is also on the steering committee of the Ethnic Studies Now Coalition that made Ethnic Studies a graduation requirement in select school districts in California.

Teacher, El Rancho School Board Vice President, and fellow Ethnic Studies Now Coalition member Jose Lara has also endorsed Dr. Abajian, stating, “Dr. Abajian championed Ethnic Studies in our schools, which meant that having the literature and history of students of color, Latino, Black, Armenian etc. in the classroom is as essential as expanding STEAM programs.”

“She has been a champion for students and educators from many years now,” Lara continued. “She has been an advocate for equitable funding of public school and maintaining essential programs like Adult Education, music, arts, and expanded Pre-K education.”

A strong proponent of small class sizes, Dr. Abajian stated, ‘Class size definitely matters! Class size should be kept under 20. I will do whatever I can to support legislation and policy changes that reduce class size.”

Dr. Abajian immigrated to the United States from Syria with her family when she was 12 years old. “I can identify with the struggles of students who don’t quite fit into our school district. Our school board needs to have individuals from more diverse backgrounds that better represent the diversity of the city in which we live.”

NPE Action agrees that Dr. Abajian is an ideal candidate for the South Pasadena School Board. Please visit her website to learn more about her, and do what you can to support her campaign by donating or volunteering.

California decided to cancel its high school exit exam. Now the state is trying to locate 32,000 students who were denied diplomas since 2006 because they did not pass the exam, but met all the other requirements for graduation.

Sifting through old high school transcripts and searching for names on Facebook, school officials across California are scrambling to hand out thousands of diplomas to former students, many of whom gave up on graduating and don’t realize they’re now eligible.

The young men and women, some in their late 20s, became sudden qualifiers for a diploma after Gov. Jerry Brown last week retroactively revoked the requirement that all students pass the controversial California High School Exit Exam. With the stroke of a pen, the governor brought relief to up to 32,000 students since the class of 2006 who only needed to pass the test to graduate.

Some districts are using Facebook and other social media to search for former students.

“Sifting through old high school transcripts and searching for names on Facebook, school officials across California are scrambling to hand out thousands of diplomas to former students, many of whom gave up on graduating and don’t realize they’re now eligible.

The young men and women, some in their late 20s, became sudden qualifiers for a diploma after Gov. Jerry Brown last week retroactively revoked the requirement that all students pass the controversial California High School Exit Exam. With the stroke of a pen, the governor brought relief to up to 32,000 students since the class of 2006 who only needed to pass the test to graduate.

The about-face on the Exit Exam began earlier this year when the state Department of Education stopped administering the test while the Legislature considered suspending the graduation requirement.

As The Chronicle reported in August, that left thousands of members of the class of 2015 in limbo, required to pass a test the state no longer offered. An emergency state law waived the Exit Exam requirement for the class of 2015, but did not address what would happen to former students still trying to pass the test and get a diploma years after they left high school.

The new law, signed by the governor Wednesday, not only revoked the Exit Exam graduation requirement going back to the class of 2006, but also suspended it through 2017. State officials now must decide whether to create a new test aligned with the new Common Core standards or come up with another way to verify a level of academic proficiency needed to get a diploma.

As is often the case, California is forging a different path from the rest of the nation.


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