Archives for category: Charter Schools

Federal law enforcement agencies, armed with search warrants, raided the offices of Concept Schools in Illinois.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports:
“The recent FBI raid at the Des Plaines headquarters of Concept Schools focused on many of the politically connected charter-school operator’s top administrators and companies with close ties to Concept, according to federal documents obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

 

“Authorities last month said FBI agents carried out raids at 19 Concept locations in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio as part of an “ongoing white-collar crime matter” but declined to provide further details of their investigation.

 

“Copies of the search warrants that FBI agents served in Des Plaines and a subpoena seeking records show investigators went hunting for a wide range of documents pertaining to Concept president Sedat Duman, founder Taner Ertekin and other current and former executives of the fast-growing charter network.

 

“The investigators also sought documents about companies that were hired by Concept to perform work under the federal “E-Rate” program, which pays for schools to expand telecommunications and Internet access.

 

“Concept is linked to the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, and has developed strong relationships with many local politicians, including state House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago).

 

“Four of Concept’s 30 publicly financed schools are in Illinois, including the 600-student Chicago Math and Science Academy in Rogers Park and two campuses that opened a year ago in the Austin and McKinley Park neighborhoods. Chicago Public Schools officials approved another two Concept schools on the South Side for the 2014-15 school year.

 

“For one of the two newest Concept sites, in Chatham, more than $528,000 in public funding was earmarked to pay rent for the coming school year to an arm of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church. The church’s pastor, the Rev. Charles Jenkins, gave the invocation at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2011 swearing-in and served on Emanuel’s transition team….

 

“The federal documents obtained by the Sun-Times, however, reveal that the FBI is taking a close look at the operations of Concept.

 

“Federal law enforcement authorities in Cleveland, who are leading the probe, sent a grand-jury subpoena to Concept on May 30. The subpoena gave the charter chain’s administrators until June 17 to provide a long list of records…

 

“The warrant gave agents the right to take any documents relating to Concept’s involvement in the E-Rate program as well as “all bank records,” “all general ledgers,” “all calendars,” “all documents related to employee travel” and “all telephone records, telephone lists and contact lists.”

 

“Concept officials have said they were cooperating with the investigation and would not make any further comment.

 

A report from the Hartford Courant:

“HARTFORD — City and state educators said Monday that they had been served with subpoenas by a federal grand jury examining the expenditure of millions of dollars in public money by the troubled charter school management company FUSE.

“The subpoenas were issued Friday to the Hartford Public Schools and the state Department of Education, both of which have had extensive dealings with the state-subsidized FUSE, short for the Family Urban Schools of Excellence.

“FUSE was created in 2012 as a management company that used public and private money to take over failing, inner-city public schools and operate them as public charter schools. FUSE’s management agreements with public school systems gave it wide discretion over spending on salaries, rents, curriculum, equipment and other items.

“A series of embarrassing disclosures in the past month appears to have crippled FUSE, costing the organization all its management business, worth more than $1 million a year. The closely affiliated Jumoke Academy fired FUSE as manager of its three Hartford charter schools. Schools in Bridgeport and New Haven severed ties with FUSE, and educators in Louisiana, concerned about events in Connecticut, pulled FUSE from a charter school set to open in Baton Rouge next month.

“The subpoena to Hartford Public Schools demands all city records since 2012 related to FUSE founder and former CEO Michael M. Sharpe, FUSE, Jumoke Academy and Milner Elementary School. Hartford hired FUSE in 2012 to turn around Milner, but the relationship soured and ultimately ended when a fall 2013 assessment showed that, in spite of $1 million in additional spending by FUSE at Milner, students continued to read at rock-bottom levels.”

The State Department of Education did not release a copy of its subpoena.

Jumoke Academy charter schools had received $53 million in state funds since its founding in 1997.

This story by Annie Gilbertson of the Los Angeles NPR station KPCC reported a serious problem for the Gulen-related Magnolia charter chain.

“The Los Angeles Unified school district is investigating a network of eight charter schools for misuse of public school funds.

“An audit showed Magnolia Public Schools used classroom cash to help six non-employees with immigration costs. The schools had trouble justifying another $3 million expense.

“These are taxpayer dollars, and we want to make sure they are spent correctly,” said José Cole-Gutiérrez, director of L.A. Unified’s charter school division.”

“For years, the Magnolia’s books and bank account didn’t match.

An audit in 2012 based on a sampling of transactions found $43,600 missing from accounts: school records showed double payments made to vendors with duplicate invoices attached.

“There was an increased risk of inappropriate or unauthorized expenditures to remain undetected and a potential risk of fraud, abuse and misuse of public funds,” read the 2012 report.

“L.A. Unified officials have refused to release the follow-up audit concluded in June 2014….

“The letter, published by local education blog L.A. School Report, said Magnolia spent $3 million over four years to outsource governance tasks such as curriculum development, professional training and human resources – duplicate services that Magnolia had reported doing itself.

“Cole-Gutiérrez, the director of L.A. Unified’s charter school division, said the inspector general is reviewing whether to refer the case for criminal prosecution.

“You need to know where the public dollars are going – and they are supposed to be going to students,” he said.

“Magnolia administration is planning to fight the closures with the help of the California Charter School Association, which said in a statement the schools did not receive due process.

“It is troubling that more than 400 families, the majority of whom live in poverty, have very little information about why they have lost their high-performing schools,” California Charter School Association spokesman Jason Mandell wrote in a statement. He complained that L.A. Unified has not released the 2014 audit.

“State law also does not allow the district to conditionally renew a charter, let alone rescind that renewal without presenting its findings or providing the school with the opportunity to correct any issues,” he added.

“Last fall, the group stood behind San Fernando Valley charter school administers facing trial for embezzlement and money laundering. Yevgency “Eugene” Selivanov, founder of Ivy Academia Charter School, was then convicted and sentenced to almost five years in prison.”

Without explanation, Rocketship Charters withdrew its application to open 8 schools each in San Antonio and Dallas.

A group of wealthy philanthropists has put up a large fund to draw charter chains to San Antonio, with a goal of 80,000 students in charters by 2026.

Once a charter has opened in Texas, it can expand without going through the entire application process by merely submitting an amendment to their original application.

Rocketship will not be considered in this cycle.

There has been speculation that Rocketship is slowing its expansion while it retools its program, but officials said that the chain intended to focus on four regions: California, Milwaukee, Nashville, and D.C.

The chain is slowing plans not only in Texas, but in Memphis and New Orleans. It hopes to grow from 9 to 20 schools in the next few years.

Here is the latest federal government report on fraud, waste, and abuse in the charter sector. It was released in May 2014 by the Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education. The most common type of fraud identified was embezzlement.

CHARTER SCHOOL VULNERABILITIES TO WASTE, FRAUD, AND ABUSE

With the increase in funding that schools are receiving through the Recovery Act, we issued a report that highlighted past OIG investigations involving fraud at charter schools. The report brought to the Department’s attention our concern about vulnerabilities in the oversight of charter schools. Since 2005, OIG has opened more than 40 criminal investigations at charter schools, which have thus far resulted in 18 indictments and 15 convictions of charter school officials. Charter schools generally operate as independent entities that are subject to oversight by an LEA or authorized chartering agency. Our investigations have found, however, that LEAs or chartering agencies often fail to provide adequate oversight needed to ensure that Federal funds are properly used and accounted for. The type of fraud we identified generally involves embezzlement. The schemes that are used to accomplish this are varied. For example, we have found cases where charter school executives falsely increased their schools’ child count, thus increasing the funding levels from which to embezzle. We also identified an alleged grade changing scheme that allowed failing students to pass in order to ensure that the school met Adequate Yearly Progress, which allowed the school to continue operating, thus continuing a funding scheme from which to embezzle. We have also unraveled schemes where owners or employees of the charter schools created companies to which they diverted school funds and misused school credit cards for personal expenditures. Our report provided examples of investigative cases involving charter schools. The Department generally agreed with our observations and expressed interest in working with OIG in determining how to enhance, when appropriate, its policies and monitoring processes involving charter schools.

A group funded by the notorious conservative Koch brothers will host a school choice forum in Nashville on July 22.

Here are their panelists:

“Moderating the talk will be Shaka Mitchell, who works for Rocketship Education, a California-based charter school organization with an East Nashville location set to open this summer. A second Rocketship school in Nashville has been approved to open in 2015.

“Panelists are Jonathan Butcher, education director of the Goldwater Institute; Stephanie Linn, state programs and government relations director of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice; Justin Owen, president and CEO of the Beacon Center of Tennessee; and Steve Perry, principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School, a Connecticut-based charter school.

“In a statement announcing the forum, the organization applauds Tennessee’s 2010 move to an outcomes-based funding formula for public universities that’s supposed to reward institutions that meet benchmarks. The group says Tennessee’s K-12 public schools, however, have some of the “most high-profile problems in its urban school districts.”

“It alludes to last year’s failed push for school vouchers that would allow public funds to be used for private schooling.”

You can be sure that the panel will not mention Rocketship’s plummeting scores, nor the fact that neither vouchers nor charters outperform public schools. And the word will be mum on recent charter scandals in Connecticut, Ohio, and Michigan.

As we all know, the State Senate in Massachusetts voted against lifting the cap on charter schools. This was a shocker.

Here is the inside story, told by Edushyster.

You won’t see this anywhere else.

Jeff Bryant notes that many in the national media were stunned when the NEA called for Secretary Duncan’s resignation. For years, they believed the Secretary’s press releases instead of investigating the festering discontent against his ill-informed policies. Many journalists are oblivious to the protests by teachers–like the one at Garfield High school in Seattle– against the use of student test scores to judge their quality. Many journalists never noticed growing protests by students against obsessive testing in cities like Providence. Many never heard about parent groups objecting to profiteering by test publishers or dismissed them as publicity stunts. Many have been oblivious to the devastating effects of budget cuts by state legislatures that at the same time that they open unsupervised charter schools that impoverish community public schools. With some notable exceptions, like the Detroit Free Press and the Akron Beacon Journal, the mainstream media has simply ignored a widespread assault on the principle of free public education, democratically controlled, open to all. Instead, they print press releases written by corporations about “miracle schools,” where every child graduates and goes to college, without bothering to check facts.

Reporters quote spokesmen from rightwing think tanks that support privatization or from groups like Democrats for Education Reform, which represents hedge fund managers even though they are neither teachers nor parents nor have any other claim to authority (DFER recently referred to NEA as “the lunatic fringe” in the New York Times for denouncing Duncan, even though NEA speaks for three million teachers and DFER speaks for a handful of fabulously wealthy equity speculators).

What is most astonishing is to see the almost total indifference or ignorance of the mainstream media to an unprecedented and well-coordinated effort to privatize public education. Reporters don’t care that certain individuals and corporations are accumulating millions of dollars in taxpayer funding while schools are cutting their budgets and closing their libraries and increasing class sizes. Reporters don’t care that state authorities are allowing schools to open whose founders are not educators and may even be high school dropouts. Nor do they care when charter corporations claim to be “public schools,” yet refuse to permit the state to audit their expenditures, and in some states, refuse to share financial information with their own board. Has anyone tried to explain how a school can be “public” if its financials are not? Reporters know, but don’t care, that major charter chains contribute millions of dollars to state legislatures to make sure that no one investigates their use of public funds. A few reporters in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida have dared to pry into the cozy relationship between the charters and the legislature, but their exposes are followed by silence and inaction.

If present trends continue, the U.S. will have a dual system in another decade. Some cities will have no public schools, only charters that choose their students and exclude those with disabilities and those who can’t speak English. The few remaining public schools in urban districts will enroll the charter school rejects. The great irony is that privately managed schools don’t get better results than public schools on average for poor students yet they are a gold mine for their founders. What is at stake is the great tradition of public schools, open to all, supported by all, controlled by the public, not corporations. This is a principle worth fighting for, yet the public cannot fight if they are uninformed. It is up to a free press to sound the alarm when private interests seek to undermine, exploit, monetize, and control our democratic institutions. To date, with rare exceptions, the press has not sounded the alarm.

Georgia has an important run-off for State Superintendent of Education in the Democratic Party on July 22. If you care about the future of public education in Georgia, please vote.

Valarie Wilson came in first in the primary, with 32% of the vote. The runner-up, Alisha Thomas Morgan, received 26%.

The Network for Public Education has endorsed Valarie Wilson, a strong supporter of public education. In reviewing her list of contributors, it appears that almost all of them live in Georgia. Wilson’s total contributions, after taking out loans, was $178,147. Of those, $174,572 came from supporters who live in Georgia; $3,575–or 2%-came from outside Georgia.

Valarie was elected to the local school board in Decatur in 2002 and served as its president from 2005-2011. She was elected president of the Georgia School Boards Association in 2012-13.

Her opponent, Alisha Thomas Morgan, has been endorsed by the corporate reformers, the hedge fund managers and billionaires, who support privatization, charters and vouchers.

On Morgan’s website, she boasts that she has been endorsed by the Wall Street hedge fund managers group, Democrats for Education Reform; by the voucher-loving American Federation for Children (Betsy DeVos of the Amway fortune, sister of Erik Prince of the infamous Blackwater security company); by Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst; by billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s daughter Emma Bloomberg; by billionaire Eli Broad; and by Frank Biden, brother of Joe Biden, who manages a for-profit charter corporation in Florida called Mavericks.

Most of Morgan’s funding comes from out-of-state donors. Morgan has collected $21,203 from citizens of Georgia. She has collected $70,675 from out-of-state donors.

Here is the list of outside donors to Morgan.

LastName FirstName Cash_Amount
Aluise Joseph 500
American Federation for Children Action Fund-Georgia PAC 3700
Arnold John 1500
Bender Benefits & Insurance 3000
Bing Jonathan 250
Blew James 500
Bloomberg Emma 500
Bloomberg Emma 500
Bloomberg Michael 3700
Bloomberg Michael 6300
Bradley Katherine 1000
Bradley Sean 200
Broad Eli 3700
Broad Eli 6300
Conforme Veronica 250
Cunningham Peter 200
Deane-Williams Barbara 150
DeLaski Kathleen 500
DeVos Jr. Richard & Elisabeth 6300
Dostart Steve 250
Dostart Steve 250
Duncan Damon 250
Elisa Louis 100
Elisa Louis 100
Ferguson Wilkie 250
Fields Jarett 75
Fisher John 1000
Francis Gregory 200
Fuller Howard 250
Fuller Howard 250
Gaal Michael 250
Gordon Scott 250
Groff Peter 250
Groff Peter 250
Hilton Adriel 100
Hilton Adriel 100
Holifield Johnathan 250
Huizenga J.C. 2500
Jackson-King Carolyn 150
Johnson Alex 250
K12 Management Inc. 2000
Kihn Paul 250
Kihn Paul 100
Kirtley John 3700
Ledre Jr. Reo 200
Leslie Kent 200
Lomax Michael 250
Martin Rayne 100
McGriff Deborah 250
Nellons-Paige Stephanie 500
payton jr tony 150
Peabody Malcolm 500
Powell Jobs Laurene 6300
Rees Nina 500
Revenaugh Martha 500
Ritchie Daniel 3000
Rudall David 250
Russell Jerome 500
Schilling John 150
The Alex’s Group LLC 150
Thiry Kent 4300
Thompson Elizabeth 100
Thompson Elizabeth 100
Tilson Whitney 250
Total 70675

Texas State Commissioner Michael Williams overrode the veto of the state board of education to bring Arizona-based Great Hearts Academy to Texas. The state board thought they could veto the commissioner’s choices. But, well, it didn’t work that way, especially after Great Hearts hired Governor Rick Perry’s former chief of staff as its lobbyist.

Williams was impressed by Great Hearts’ excellent test scores and frankly didn’t care that most of its charters are located in white, affluent neighborhoods, and that its schools did not enroll any English language learners. Williams said that no one should hold against them the fact that most of their students are white and not poor.

“Williams’ decision has been so contentious not only because of the procedural issues, but because education leaders question whether Great Hearts—a chain of 19 schools in the Phoenix area (as of this fall), all but one of them in the suburbs outside the city—can replicate its program for Texas students.

“Great Hearts advertises SAT scores hundreds of points above the national average, glowing college attendance rates and an “A” rating from the state for most of its schools. Williams told the board this morning that Great Hearts’ track record suggested they clearly fit the bill for a “high performing” network. But critics—like those who rallied to keep the chain from expanding into Nashville—say Great Hearts gets those results because its student body reflects the white, affluent neighborhoods where it opens. None of Great Hearts Arizona’s 7,617 students are classified as “English language learners,” according to the Arizona Department of Education, and just two of its schools have any students on free or reduced lunches—a common shorthand measure of student poverty.
Roberto Gutierrez, who leads Great Hearts’ nationwide growth efforts, said in a statement that they’re committed to serving a diverse student body in Texas. “Our first campus in central San Antonio is in a neighborhood that is more than 61% Hispanic/Latino,” Gutierrez wrote. Great Hearts’ school in that city is set to open this fall on two campuses in the Monte Vista neighborhood near Trinity University. “The Dallas and Irving neighborhoods we seek to serve are also diverse, urban communities full of parents and students who support these new public school offerings for excellence.” They’re still looking for a campus in Old East Dallas, Oak Cliff or downtown Dallas.

“Speaking to the board this morning, Williams allowed that in Arizona, “the bulk of [Great Hearts' students] are white and probably not poor.” But he said it’s wrong to hold that against them. “There is nothing in Texas law, and nothing in the public policy of this state, that says that one cannot have a charter, or an expansion amendment, that serves kids who are not poor and who are not minority. Quite frankly, I think the latter part would be against the law. … State law doesn’t say that you can only have charters for brown, poor and black kids.”

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