Archives for category: Charter Schools

Possibly in response to the Detroit Free Press’s expose of charter schools’ lack of transparency and accountability, a majority in most recent poll (73%) want a moratorium on new charter schools until the Legislature and the State Department of Education has reviewed charter legislation.

 

Having learned from the 8-day series of articles that charters get $1 billion without oversight, the public might want some regulation of how their dollars are spent.

Three New Jersey bloggers–Jersey Jazzman, Marie Corfield, and Ani McHugh–here jointly respond to Tom Moran, chief editorial writer for the Star-Ledger and chief cheerleader for Newark’s state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson. Their open letter was jointly posted on their blogs at 7 a.m. This morning. Although Moran has ignored them and any other critics of the Christie-Anderson plan to eliminate public schools in Newark, they are hoping that their collaboration might get his attention.

They write:

“Until now, your pieces in the Star-Ledger about Newark’s school system and the reorganization of the district have been ill-informed and reckless. You’ve ignored the warnings of teachers, parents, community leaders, researchers, and students, preferring instead to cling to recycled talking points crafted by those with scant little experience in education policy, but much to gain in profits.

“You’ve paid a price: like your ridiculous attempt to walk back from your disastrous endorsement of Chris Christie, your continuing effort to support State Superintendent Cami Anderson while distancing yourself from the consequences of her catastrophic leadership has shredded any integrity you had left as a journalist. Any standing your newspaper had left as a champion of the people of Newark has also eroded: as with Anderson, no one in the city trusts you or the Star-Ledger’s editorial page anymore.
“Shame on you for refusing to educate yourself about the policies you endorse.”

“But as awful as your previous meanderings about Newark’s schools have been, at least you never had the bad taste to try to pawn off Anderson’s failures and your own poor judgement to others. At least you never tried to make the case that the impending disaster of One Newark was the fault of anyone but the Christie administration, its appointed superintendent, and her enablers in government and the press.

“This week, however, you crossed that line. We have tried individually in the past to get your attention and set the record straight to no avail (see all the links later in this piece). Therefore, we—professional educators with a combined total of seven degrees, a PhD in the works, and 38 years of teaching experience—who, along with countless others across this state, have stood against the illogical, faith-based, and racist education policies you espouse for Newark regularly from your position of influence, have come together to deliver you a message.”

They document that Newark’s charters do not serve the same population as Newark Public Schools. They do not have the same proportion of students who are poor, have special needs, or don’t speak English.

They write:

“The sad truth is that parents in your town of Montclair (or any other mostly white, mostly wealthy suburban community) would never willingly subject their own children to what’s happening in Newark right now:

“Public schools being closed without community input

“Children in the same family being sent to different schools in different parts of town on a transportation system that’s never been tested

“Tax dollars going to a school system that is separate and unequal: that segregates the neediest students from those who are the easiest and least expensive to educate

“The harsh, unforgiving “no excuses” disciplinary policies that are characteristic of so many charter schools

“Mass layoffs of education professionals

“A superintendent who has been a colossal failure at fiscal management

“Schools in such disrepair that they are unsafe to occupy

“A superintendent who refuses to listen, who refuses to attend board of ed meetings, and who is not supported by the community

“In fact, the parents of Montclair are fighting back right now, but you have not written one word about it. Why is it okay for them to fight back, but when the parents of Newark do so, you accuse them of “shrieking” and being “shrill and unreasonable”? Are the parents of Newark not smart enough to know what’s good for their own children? Don’t you think they can smell a rat as well as someone from the ‘burbs?

“Public education belongs to the public. The board of ed is answerable to all the people. But in Newark? Meh, what do those people know? They have no money, so they have no voice. They aren’t the right skin color, so they have no voice. They can’t write big campaign checks, so they have no voice. They aren’t concerned parents. They are, in your words:”

They write much more.

You can read their cri de coeur, their plea for fairness for the children and parents of Newark here, here, here, and here.

Jeff Bryant of the Education Opportunity Network notes that the charter industry has launched an advertising campaign to sell the charter idea to the public. But, writes Bryant, there have been so many revelations of corruption, self-dealing, and rogiterring by charter schools in recent months that the public should be wary of their self-promotion. What’s needed now, he says, is state regulation of charters to protect children and taxpayers.

Bryant says that the more that the public learned about Common Core, the less they supported it. He sees the same phenomenon happening with charters.

“A similar evolution may be occurring with charter schools. Because only about 6 percent of school children are enrolled in charters, the vast majority of Americans have had virtually no actual experiences with these schools. But in communities where charters are more prevalent, public opinion is more starkly divided. In school systems such as Philadelphia, Bridgeport, Pittsburgh, and Chicago, where charter schools are major providers, parents and local officials have increasingly opposed charter takeovers of their neighborhood schools.

“Probably even more concerning to charter school advocates is the news that credit rating agency Standards & Poor’s recently down-rated the nation’s charter sector to a “negative” outlook.”

When the public sees charter operators taking money away from their local public school, and when they see them enriching themselves at taxpayers’ expense, not even a slick ad campaign can wipe away the negative reaction.

Bill Phillis, a veteran warrior for public schools and equitable financing of them, wrote the following in response to a court case that will be heard on September 23. Does a for-profit private corporation own all the assets of the schools it manages?

Who owns school facilities, equipment, technology, furniture and other assets purchased with taxpayer’s money? White Hat Management? The privately-operated White Hat charter school board? The public?

Over the past couple of decades, citizens of Ohio have, through taxes, purchased more than 1,000 new school buildings, complete with furniture, equipment, technology, etc. Who owns this vast investment? Duh–the public.

September 23, 2014 will be a pivotal day in Ohio history. The Ohio Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on whether a private company owns real estate, facilities, furniture, equipment, technology, and other assets that were purchased by taxpayer money extracted from school districts. The Supreme Court’s decision on this issue will have far-reaching consequences. Historically, taxes devoted to public school infrastructure has been owned and controlled by the public.

For the past couple of decades, while taxpayer money was being used to rebuild Ohio’s public school infrastructure, state officials have extracted $7 billion from school districts to fund privately-operated, so-called “public” charter schools. A portion of that $7 billion financial drain on public school districts has been used to purchase charter school furniture, equipment, technology, etc. Who owns these assets? The public? Individuals? Private corporations?

It would be absurd for public policy to allow private ownership of the new 1,000 public school buildings or any other school district assets. But, White Hat Management and some if its charter school allies, including the Alliance for Public Charter Schools, argue for private ownership.

The lower courts supported the claims of White Hat Management. It is quite interesting that the State Attorney General supported the claims against White Hat Management in the lower courts but has since dropped out of the case.

Also of interest is that the Attorney General’s Chief Operations Officer is the former Executive Director of the Ohio Department of Education’s Center for School Options and Finance and thus had administrative oversight of the Office of Community Schools.

Oh what a tangled web state officials weave—the taxpayers do they intend to deceive.

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215

Bill Phillis of the Ohio Equity and Adequacy Coalition asks, where is the outrage?

He writes:

“Charter school operators argue that public tax money becomes private when it reaches the borders of charterland

“Real estate, facilities, equipment, education materials and all other assets purchased by public school districts, obviously, belong to those political subdivisions-not private individuals. Down in charterville, school operators and their charter school allies claim that assets purchased with public tax dollars are owned, not by the public, but the private companies.

“For-profit companies that operate charter schools attempt to shield themselves from transparency and accountability, including public audits, by claiming that tax dollars become private at the moment the tax dollars are transferred to private hands.

“White Hat Management Company, in a case before the Ohio Supreme Court, contends that school property purchased with public tax dollars belongs to White Hat. Hence, real estate, facilities, equipment, educational materials and other assets which were purchased with public dollars would become private property. White Hat, not only turns a profit from its charter school operations, but claims to own publicly-purchased assets.

“An August 9 Akron Beacon Journal article indicates that several non-profit advocacy groups have filed briefs with the Ohio Supreme Court in support of White Hat’s position. It’s all about money, ideology and politics-not education.

“Over the past 15 years charter-promoting state officials have created an out of control monster that intrudes on the rights and funds of school districts. Ohio’s students and taxpayers are the losers.

“Where is the outrage?”

William Phillis
Ohio E & A
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Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215

Ra Rmanuel has not disguised his dislike for public education or his love for charter schools. After all, he closed more public schools at one time –50–than any other school district in U.S. history.

Well, how about this? An independent report found that Chicago public schools outperformed Chicago charter schools, especially in reading, but in math as well.

“Austin community activist Dwayne Truss said neighborhood schools are burdened by negative stereotypes.

“There’s heavy marketing that somehow neighborhood schools are a horrible place and charter schools are better,” Truss said, adding, “we don’t have that advocacy in the political arena to say, ‘Hey, Mr. Mayor, we need to look at these numbers.’ ”

Ruth Conniff of “The Progressive” reports that the FBI is becoming more assertive in its investigation of criminal behavior by charter schools. Charter schools receive millions of dollars of public money with minimal accountability. In some states, they have gone to court to fight public audits, claiming that the schools are public but the organization running them is a private corporation.

Conniff reports: “From Pittsburgh to Baton Rouge, from Hartford to Cincinnati to Albuquerque, FBI agents have been busting into schools, carting off documents, and making arrests leading to high-profile indictments.”

She adds:

“Charter schools are such a racket, across the nation they are attracting special attention from the FBI, which is working with the Department of Education’s inspector general to look into allegations of charter-school fraud.

“One target, covered in an August 12 story in The Atlantic, is the secretive Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who runs the largest charter-school chain in the United States.

“The Atlantic felt compelled to note, repeatedly, that it would be xenophobic to single out the Gulen schools and their mysterious Muslim founder for lack of transparency and the misuse of public funds.

“It isn’t the Gulen movement that makes Gulen charters so secretive,” writes The Atlantic’s Scott Beauchamp, “it’s the charter movement itself.”

“Kristen Buras, associate professor of education policies at Georgia State University, agrees.

“Originally, charter schools were conceived as a way to improve public education,” Buras says. “Over time, however, the charter school movement has developed into a money-making venture.”

“Over the last decade, the charter school movement has morphed from a small, community-based effort to foster alternative education into a national push to privatize public schools, pushed by free-market foundations and big education-management companies. This transformation opened the door to profit-seekers looking for a way to cash in on public funds.”

And more:

“”Education entrepreneurs and private charter school operators could care less about innovation,” says Buras. “Instead, they divert public monies to pay their six-figure salaries; hire uncertified, transient, non-unionized teachers on-the-cheap; and do not admit (or fail to appropriately serve) students who are costly, such as those with disabilities.”

“Rebecca Fox Blair, a teacher who helped to found a small, alternative high school program in Monona, Wisconsin, says she was struck by the massive change in the charter school movement when she attended a national charter school conference recently.

“It’s all these huge operators, and they look down on schools like ours,” she says. “They call us the ‘mom and pop’ schools.”

“There are now more than 6,000 publicly funded charter schools in the United States — a more than 50 percent increase since 2008.

“Over that same period, “nearly 4,000 traditional public schools have closed,” writes Stan Karp, an editor of Rethinking Schools. “This represents a huge transfer of resources and students from our public education system to the publicly funded but privately managed charter sector.”

“And all that money has attracted some unscrupulous operators.”

One big-time operator is K12, whose CEO was paid over $4 million last year. K12 is active in the corporate-advocacy group ALEC. The corporation, listed on the New York stock exchange, was founded by the Milken brothers.

“ALEC added K12 to its corporate board of directors just before its national convention in Dallas at the end of July.

At the Dallas meeting, ALEC also trumpeted the launch of a new charter school working group. Among the measures the group discussed:

* Legislation to exempt charter school teachers from state teacher certification requirements, and allow for charter schools to be their own local education authority.

* A bill to give charter schools the right of first refusal to purchase or lease all or part of unused public school properties at or below market value, and avoid taxes and fees.

* A controversial measure proposed by Scott Walker in Wisconsin to create a statewide charter school authorizing board, bypassing local authority over charter schools, even as charters drain funds from local districts.”

In addition to the investigations cited by Conniff, the FBI raided the offices of The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, whose CEO was eventually indicted for numerous violations of the law.

Also, June Brown, the founder of the Agora charter school in Pennsylvania, was investigated by the FBI, indicted, and charged along with other executives for the theft of $6.7 million from three charter schools. When she was tried, the jury cleared her on some counts, deadlocked on others, and federal prosecutors vowed to retry her. A local newspaper reported on the trial:

“Two of Brown’s co-defendants pleaded guilty before the trial, while two others were acquitted…..

“The case is the fifth federal prosecution of local charter school operators in seven years, raising questions about the regulation of the growing charter school movement.

“Before 2008, Brown collected full-time salaries as the chief executive officer of three charter schools she founded. In addition, two management firms she owned collected millions in fees for services to the Agora Cyber Charter School, which she also established.

“Prosecutors charged that Brown provided little or no services to Agora in return for the money.

“Neither Brown nor her co-defendants testified in the case. Defense attorneys argued that the charter schools achieved excellent outcomes for students and that Brown’s compensation, while perhaps generous, was not illegal. They also argued that prosecutors had not proved that June and other officials had falsified documents to cover up financial fraud.

“Several witnesses testified that forged signatures and fabricated documents were used to support Brown’s claims for compensation.”

Why do we see the same story in state after state? Wherever for-profit charter schools exist or wherever state law allows charter schools to hire for-profit management companies, someone is making a lot of money that was supposed to go for educating students.

The latest story comes from Florida, where for-profit charter entrepreneurs are making big dough.

Noah Pransky of WTSP writes about the financial success of for-profit Charter Schools USA.

“Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that are authorized by – but not operated by – each school district. For each student who “chooses” a charter, his or her school gets state dollars that would have otherwise gone to the school district.

“Charter Schools USA (CUSA) has been operating charter schools in Florida for 20 years, including recently-opened schools in Hillsborough County: Woodmont Charter, Winthrop Charter, and Henderson Hammock Charter. Although charter schools sometimes struggle financially at first, CUSA eventually collects a 5% management fee from each to provide administration and guidance.

“But 10 Investigates found a much bigger pot of money CUSA has been able to tap into: rent. When the company helps open a new school, its development arm, Red Apple Development, acquires land and constructs a school. Then, CUSA charges the school high rent.

“For example, Winthrop Charter in Riverview may struggle to balance its budget this year thanks to a $2 million rent payment to CUSA/Red Apple Development. The payment will equate to approximately 23% of its budget, even though CUSA CEO Jon Hage has been quoted as saying charter school rent should not exceed 20%.

“Both CUSA and Winthrop Charter officials tell 10 Investigates that the schools are operated as nonprofit entities, and robust FCAT scores and happy parents are proof of success.”

As long as the scores are high and the parents are happy, who cares what happens to taxpayers’ dollars?

Pransky interviewed Pat Hall of the League of Women Voters, which published a study critical of the financial dealings of the charter industry:

“But among CUSA’s critics is the League of Women Voters, which recently released a study suggesting a troubling lack of separation between a charter school’s advisory board and for-profit management companies. It also indicates charter school teachers aren’t often paid as well and profits all-too-often play a role in educational decisions.

“That means that children aren’t getting what they’re owed by the public funding,” said Pat Hall, a retired Jefferson High department head and Hillsborough County’s education chair for the League of Women Voters.

“The study also revealed school choice creates a higher risk of disruption to a child’s education, as “statewide closure rate of charters is 20%” and “Charters are 50% of all F-rated schools in 2011.” In the last week, last-minute problems displaced a hundreds of charter school students from St. Petersburg to Delray Beach.

“Hall acknowledges many charter schools are teaching children in unique and successful ways, but says Charter Schools USA isn’t offering students anything that’s not available in public schools. She adds that the schools are so focused on FCAT fundamentals, they forego many traditional aspects of the school experience.

“While many CUSA schools may not have amenities such as a library or cafeteria, a company spokesperson said moving those amenities to the classroom can improve a student’s learning atmosphere.”

Daniele Dreilinger of the Times-Picayune reports that charter schools in Néw Orleans are ill-prepared by large numbers of new students from Central America, and the students and their families are confused by the city’s choice system.

One school saw its Spanish-speaking enrollment jump from 10 to 53 in one year, 20% of its students. “That’s a gargantuan challenge for a small school that six weeks ago didn’t have instruction materials in Spanish or a full-time English as a Second Language teacher.”

“Immigrant students are also arriving in a system under fire. VAYLA last year filed a federal civil rights complaint describing deep gaps in schools’ abilities to serve Spanish-speaking families. In one school, a 5-year-old said she had to translate for her parents at report card meetings because there was no staff member to do so, the complaint said.”

The problems are exacerbated by the city’s Balkanized school “system.” Nearby parishes with central offices and zoned schools are handling the problems of new immigrants with better planning and coordination of services for the students.

Since most of the schools in Néw Orleans are independent charters, no one has an accurate count on the number of new students from Central America.

“The rapid rise of students needing help learning English this is fall means they are spreading to many more schools, observers said. Lacking official numbers from the Recovery School District and the Orleans Parish School Board, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune contacted officials representing more than 60 of the city’s 83 schools to inquire about their enrollment.”

“Part of the reason why some schools are particularly saddled by a large number of new English-learner students, while others get a few, is the New Orleans enrollment system. The “school choice” process is complex and challenging even for families that speak English and have months to decide. Recently-arrived immigrants had neither.”

As late enrollees, the students had to go wherever seats were available. Assignments “were made regardless of whether the schools had teachers and resources available to handle ESL students.”

The downside of NOLA’s almost-all-charter system is that there is no central office to plan or coordinate the response to changing conditions. Every charter is on its own, and every student is also.

In an in-depth article that appears in the journal “In These Times,” journalist George Joseph describes a campaign by business leaders to take advantage of an obscure provision in state law and use it to turn Dallas into a “home rule” district. This would be a prelude to turning Dallas into an all-charter district.

The business community already controls the school board. The campaign for “home rule” has the support of mostly unnamed funders, except for billionaire John Arnold, who lives in Houston, not Dallas. Arnold has causes about which he is passionate: public sector pensions (he is against them), charter schools (he is for them) and Teach for America (Joseph says he has given TFA more than $20 million). Arnold supports the leading advocacy group for “home rule,” which is ironically called SOPS–Support Our Public Schools.

Why the heavy-duty campaign for charter schools in Dallas? Joseph speculates that at bottom the campaign is about gentrification and real estate. The home-rule plan is not supported by Dallas’s black and Hispanic population. In a recent school board race, an opponent of home rule won overwhelmingly.

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