Archives for category: Charter Schools

The Center for Popular Democracy released a bombshell report on the financial consequences of charter deregulation and lack of public oversight. It is called “The Tip of the Iceberg: Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud, and Abuse.”

 

When public money is handed over to private corporations or individuals to operate schools, there must be regular monitoring of  and audits. Absent financial monitoring, the result is predictable: waste, fraud, mismanagement, and financial abuse. Does this help education? No, it enriches people who are either in the education business for the money or incompetent to manage the finances of a school.

 

Here is the executive summary released with the report:

 

A year ago, the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) issued a report demonstrating that charter schools in 15 states—about one-third of the states with charter schools—had experienced over $100 million in reported fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. This report offers further evidence that the money we know has been misused is just the tip of the iceberg. Over the past 12 months, millions of dollars of new alleged and confirmed financial fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement in charter schools have come to light, bringing the new total to over $200 million.

 

Despite the tremendous ongoing investment of public dollars to charter schools, government at all levels has failed to implement systems that proactively monitor charter schools for fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. While charter schools are subject to significant reporting requirements by various public offices (including federal monitors, chartering entities, county superintendents, and state controllers and auditors), very few public offices regularly monitor for fraud.

 

The number of instances of serious fraud uncovered by whistleblowers, reporters, and investigations suggests that the fraud problem extends well beyond the cases we know about. According to standard forensic auditing methodologies, the deficiencies in charter oversight throughout the country suggest that federal, state, and local governments stand to lose more than $1.4 billion in 2015.b 1 The vast majority of the fraud perpetrated by charter officials will go undetected because the federal government, the states, and local charter authorizers lack the oversight necessary to detect the fraud.

 

Setting up systems that detect and deter charter school fraud is critical. Investments in strong oversight systems will almost certainly offset the necessary costs. We recommend the following reforms:

 

Mandate audits that are specifically designed to detect and prevent fraud, and increase the transparency and accountability of charter school operators and managers.
Clear planning-based public investments to ensure that any expansions of charter school investments ensure equity, transparency, and accountability.
Increased transparency and accountability to ensure that charter schools provide the information necessary for state agencies to detect and prevent fraud.
State and federal lawmakers should act now to put systems in place to prevent fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement. While the majority of state legislative sessions are coming to an end, there is an opportunity to address the charter school fraud problem on a federal level by including strong oversight requirements in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is currently being debated in Congress. Unfortunately, some ESEA proposals do very little reduce the vulnerabilities that exist in the current law. If the Act is passed without the inclusion of the reforms outlined in this report, taxpayers stand to lose millions more dollars to charter school fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement.

 

 

To read the full post: http://populardemocracy.org/sites/default/files/Charter-Schools-National-Report_rev2.pdf

 

It contains a long list of examples of charter fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. And it is only the tip of the iceberg.

 

 

 

 

 

Charter school founder Ref Rodriguez is running for the Los Angeles school board, seeking to beat incumbent Bennett Kayser. Kayser is known for his insistence that charter schools be financially transparent and accountable for their use of public funds.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the charter school chain co-founded by Rodriguez (who is its treasurer) is embroiled in financial scandal.

“A Los Angeles-based charter group awarded food-service contracts worth millions of dollars to a company partially owned by one of the schools’ high-ranking employees, a state investigation has found.

“The probe involved Jacqueline Duvivier Castillo, who is the director of business and development for PUC Schools and a part-owner in Better 4 You Meals, a company that has provided food to the charter group for the last five years. Investigators said the charter failed to demonstrate that the contract was “awarded properly despite the apparent conflict of interest.”

“Late Saturday, the charter organization said in an email to The Times that Duvivier Castillo would no longer be an employee of PUC….

“Duvivier Castillo failed to properly report her financial interests in the company. The company was ineligible for the food contracts because it lacked a health permit and relied on a subcontractor to prepare meals. PUC Schools did not select the lowest-priced bidder as required.
One of the area’s largest charter groups, PUC serves about 4,800 students in 15 schools, including in the east San Fernando Valley and north of downtown. PUC’s test scores typically compare well with nearby traditional neighborhood schools. It recently started a national organization that opened a campus in Rochester, N.Y….”

Charter officials said they were unaware of the conflict of interest but official documents showed otherwise.

“Tax documents for 2010 list the company as a vendor in filings signed by Rodriguez or Elliot. PUC, the documents said, was “party to a business transaction” with a “key employee.”

“The charter’s tax returns for 2012, however, no longer listed the company as a vendor.

“Company documents provided by the state show that Duvivier Castillo’s husband, Fernando Castillo, is a top official with the company, which provides meals for students at more than 100 charter and private schools.

“He could not be reached for comment.

“Annual audits paid for by PUC and released by the state indicated charter officials knew of the alleged conflict of interest.

“Additionally … PUC has signed a contract with a company that is one hundred percent owned by PUC’s director of business and development,” the PUC audit said. “PUC’s management believes that all transactions, including the bidding process, were done in arm’s length.”

“According to these audits from PUC, the charter group paid Better 4 You Meals more than $339,000 in 2011, more than $947,000 in 2012 and about $970,000 in 2013. No figures were available for other years.

“Charter officials reported to the state that Duvivier Castillo had a controlling interest in the company until 2014. She and her husband now have 19% stock ownership, charter officials said.”

I don’t live in Los Angeles, but then neither do the hedge fund managers and equity investors and billionaires who regularly pump money into campaigns in districts where they don’t live. I am giving Bennett Kayser’s campaign $100 because he expects charter schools to be financially and academically accountable. All schools that receive public money should be held to the same standards. His opponent Ref Rodriguez operates a charter school which tried to keep a recent audit secret until after the election. It has been leaked, however. See the KPCC public radio summary here. Rodriguez is the charter’s co-founder and treasurer; the audit finds the school was “insolvent” for nine years and was poorly managed in terms of its finances.

Here is a comment on the blog:

“Here’s where you can donate on-line to Bennett’s campaign:

http://www.bennett2015.com/donate-online.html

“Here’s his website in general:

http://www.bennett2015.com/

“One more thing, Ref portrays himself as a poor Chicano from the barrio who cares about the education well-being of poor Chicanos in the barrio.

“Well, let’s see… because charters are unregulated, he can pay himself whatever he wants, and he works as little as he wants.

“So what does he do?

“He pays himself $350,000 (a third of a million dollars) annually, while he pays his custodial and cafeteria workers—all low-income Latinos—$8/hour instead of the living wage that their counterparts in the traditional public schools get paid… while principals in traditional public schools earn around $100,000 annually.

“Try to live in L.A. on $8/hour.”

Karen Wolfe is a public school parent in Los Angeles:

She writes:

“Just like a rash of neighborhood robberies reminds us to double check that our doors are locked, Ref “Reformer” Rodriguez’s campaign to take the school board seat away from experienced educator Bennett Kayser reminds us how vulnerable we are.

“One recent alarm came in the form of an invitation to a fundraiser at the home of Frank Baxter (supporter of charters since they were a twinkle in his eye, in the 1990s, and now co-chairman of the board of the Alliance charter management organization).

“The Special Guest was none other than Marshall Tuck, the recently defeated candidate for California Superintendent.

“Defeat is no obstacle for someone like Tuck. Sure, in addition to losing his election, he was left off the “really good list of ed reform leaders in LA :)” which LA School Report publisher Jamie Alter Lynton sent to her husband, Sony chief Michael Lynton. (Readers can see the whole list in the treasure trove of leaked Sony emails exposed on WikiLeaks.)

“So, at the Ref Rodriguez fundraiser, Marshall Tuck was the Special Guest.

“The suggested donations were $500-$1100 per person. Why stop at $1100? I thought the LA City Ethics Commission in January raised the campaign donation limit to $1300. Maybe supporters are purposely reserving $200 because it’s just enough for a trip to Walmart for campaign supplies–valet parking included. That’s what Students For Education Reform disclosed spending on April 13, working *independently* to defeat Bennett Kayser.

“Humor aside, it turns out $1100 is the donation limit, and $200 in receipts is not even a drop in the bucket to Walmart of course. The billionaire retailer is waging a war on labor unions and the quickest route is through public schools.

“No one has stood up more consistently for the school district’s union partners than Bennett Kayser. So where is the brotherhood and sisterhood as we fight to protect and restore our schools? As Bennett Kayser wages the campaign fight for his life?

“According to folks close to Kayser’s campaign, SEIU has stepped in. This is surprising to education activists who have been unnerved by SEIU’s advocacy for former superintendent Deasy and other privateers. Let’s hope they increase their support tremendously–immediately. But where are the teachers, for whom Bennett Kayser—a former classroom teacher—has been a steadfast supporter? While UTLA strongly backed Bennett Kayser in the primary campaign, their organization is invisible as we near the finish line.

“Bennett Kayser is being outspent by charters 9:1. But if every teacher that lives in Board District 5 brings in two votes, Bennett Kayser will win and, once again, people will win over corporate power. UTLA can provide the kind of support that can make a monumental difference. They need to do it today.

“The alarm is sounding for Bennett Kayser’s campaign.

“Anyone wishing to volunteer can contact 323-535-9930 and donations can be made at http://www.bennett2015.com/donate-online.html. Every single bit helps.”

Peter Greene fell for EduShyster, as everyone does. She can interview anyone, and she interviewed Peter Cunningham. Here’s Peter’s take.

He writes, for starters:

“I have now met Jennifer “Edushyster” Berkshire, and I totally get it. I don’t believe there is a human being on the planet who, upon sitting down with her, would not want to answer every question just to prolong the conversation and once you’re talking, well, lying to the woman would be like kicking a puppy.

“So it makes perfect sense that just about anybody would be willing to talk to her, even if she is on the Pro-Public Education side of the fence.

“She’s just put up an interview with Peter Cunningham, the former Arne Duncan wordifier who now runs Education Post, a pro-reformster political war room style rapid response operation (I knew I’d moved up in the blogging world when they took the time to spank me personally).

“I don’t imagine there are people who read this blog who do not also read Edushyster, but I’m going to keep linking/exhorting you to head over and check out this interview while I note a few of my own responses here.

“There are a couple of eyebrow-raisers in the interview that really underline the differences between the reformsters and the pro-public ed side of these debates. In particular, Cunningham notes that many reformsters feel isolated and under attack. When explaining how Broad approached him about starting EP, Cunningham says

“There was a broad feeling that the anti-reform community was very effective at piling on and that no one was organizing that on our side.

“Organized?! Organized!!?? It is possible that Broad et al have simply misdiagnosed their problem. Because I’m pretty sure that the pro-public ed advocate world, at least the part of it that I’ve seen, is not organized at all. But we believe what we are writing, so much so that the vast majority of us do it for free in our spare time (I am eating a bag lunch at my desk as I type this), and we pass on the things we read that we agree with.

“In fact, it occurs to me that contrary to what one might expect, we are the people using the Free Market version of distributing ideas– we create, we put it out there, we let it sink or swim in the marketplace of ideas. Meanwhile, the reformsters try to mount some sort of Central Planning approach, where they pay people to come up with ideas, pay people to promote those ideas, pay people to write about those ideas, and try to buy the marketplace so that their products can be prominently displayed.

“It is the exact same mistake that they have brought to education reform– the inability to distinguish between the appearance of success and actual success. If students look like they are succeeding (i.e. scoring high on tests they’ve been carefully prepped for), then they must be learning. If it looks like everybody is talking about our ideas (i.e. we bought lots of website space and hired cool writers and graphics), then we must be winning hearts and minds.”

Money can’t buy you love.

In this interview with Peter Cunningham, EduShyster gains his insights into the current thinking of the billionaire reformers.

 

Peter Cunningham was Arne Duncan’s communications director during Duncan’s first term. In Washington, he was known as “Arne’s Brain.” He is smart, charming, and well-spoken. So far as I know, he was never a teacher, but that is not a qualification these days for holding strong views about fixing the public schools. Cunningham is now back in Chicago. He started a blog called “Education Post,” which was funded with $12 million from the Broad Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and an anonymous philanthropy. Its goal, proclaimed at the outset, was to introduce a more civil tone into education debates and to advance certain ideas: “K-12 academic standards, high-quality charter schools, and how best to hold teachers and schools accountable for educating students.” Translated, that means it supports Common Core standards, charter schools, and high-stakes testing for teachers, as well as school closings based on testing.

 

You might say it is on the other side of almost every issue covered in this blog, as Ed Post praises “no-excuses” charter schools, standardized testing, Teach for America, and other corporate-style reforms.

 

EduShyster asked Cunningham if he feels the blog is succeeding, and he cites Nicholas Kristof’s recent column–admitting the failure of most reform efforts and the need to focus on early childhood programs–as an example of progress. When she pressed him about his “metrics” for “betterness,” he replies:

 

Cunningham: I think that an awful lot of people on the reform side of the fence are thrilled by what we’re doing. They really feel like *thank God somebody is standing up for us when we get attacked* and *thank God somebody is willing to call out people when they say things that are obviously false or that we think are false.* When I was asked to create this organization—it wasn’t my idea; I was initially approached by Broad—it was specifically because a lot of reform leaders felt like they were being piled on and that no one would come to their defense. They said somebody just needs to help right the ship here. There was a broad feeling that the anti-reform community was very effective at piling on and that no one was organizing that on our side. There was unequivocally a call to create a community of voices that would rise to the defense of people pushing reform who felt like they were isolated and alone.

 

EduShyster: That expression you see on my face is incredulity. But please go on sir. I want to hear more about the isolation and alone-ness of people pushing reform. How they are faring today?

 

Cunningham: Take Kevin Huffman. Now you can disagree with him on policy, but he felt like people were waking up everyday and just attacking him on social media. He tried to respond, and he just felt like it didn’t matter. By 2012-2013, Team Status Quo—your label not mine—was very effectively calling a lot of reform ideas into question. I mean look around the country. Huffman’s gone, John King is gone, John Deasy is gone, Michelle Rhee is gone. I’ve created the ability to swarm, because everyone felt like they were being swarmed. We now have people who will, when asked, lean in on the debate, when people feel like they’re just under siege.

 

There is much in this interview that is fascinating, but most interesting to me is that the billionaires, who have unlimited resources were “feeling isolated and alone.” They felt they were “being piled on and that no one would come to their defense.” They needed to hire bloggers to defend them.

 

This is indicative, I think, of the fact that social media is very powerful, and those who oppose the “reformers” own social media. The pro-public education voices are in the millions–millions of teachers, principals, parents, and students. The billionaire reformers hire thousands. Whether you consider the more than 200 bloggers who are part of the Education Bloggers Network, which advocates for public education, or consider Twitter and Facebook, the critics of billionaire-backed reform and privatization are many, are outspoken, and command a huge forum. No wonder the billionaires are feeling lonely and isolated. They can create astroturf organizations like StudentsFirst, Education Reform Now, 50CAN, TeachPlus, Educators4Excellence, and dozens more groups, but it is typically the same people running a small number of organizations and issuing press releases.

 

Is it time to feel sorry for the billionaires?

 

Be sure to read the comments that follow the interview.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The charter school industry in Néw York City is well-supported by hedge-fund billionaires, but they used their riches and political clout to compel the city to pay the charters’ rent in private space.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio had the temerity to suggest that amply-funded, privately-managed charters should pay rent (based on their ability to pay), the hedge-fund managers poured millions into a TV ad campaign attacking de Blasio and invested millions in Governor Cuomo’s campaign, assuring his loyalty to charters.

What a smart investment for charters, even though it robs the 1 million children who are not enrolled in charters.

“It’s huge,” said Great Oaks Charter School founder Michael Duffy, who became the first school leader to test the nascent law’s limits this summer. Duffy estimates his Lower Manhattan school stands to receive about $300,000 to cover rent for about 109 students in seventh grade this year.
Great Oaks is one of 46 city charter schools in private space that added grades, according to the New York City Charter School Center, and more than 3,600 students from those schools were enrolled in new grades. Most of those schools successfully appealed to the State Education Department for rental assistance over the last several months.”

Duffy ran the city’s charter school office from 2007-2010 when Joel Klein was chancellor.

“But the city’s costs are certain to continue to add up, as more schools open and enrollment increases at expanding schools. Next school year, the charter center’s enrollment projections would put the maximum tab just for expanding schools at $17.8 million.

“One of those new schools, South Bronx Early College Academy Charter School, will be due more than $300,000 for 110 six graders next year, according to the founding principal.

“It’s a heck of a gift,” said the founder, Ric Campbell.

“The city is obligated to spend $40 million to cover rent costs of eligible charter schools if they are not given space inside of a city-owned building, according to the law. Once the bills hit the $40 million ceiling, costs will be split with the state.”

Those hedge-fund managers are very smart. They even figured out how to get the city to pay the rent for their hobby schools.

National Charter School Week is May 3-9. The teachers at Olney Charter High School voted to form a union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. That is a nice way to celebrate and to make sure that teachers have good working conditions. According to the AFT press release, this is the 120th charter school to go union. Only 5,880 to go.

 

 
Olney Charter Teachers Vote Overwhelmingly to Join Teachers Union

 

Teachers Cite Need for a Voice to Advocate for Students and Their Profession at
Philadelphia High School that’s Part of National ASPIRA Charter Chain

 

PHILADELPHIA—Last night, teachers and support staff at Olney Charter High School in Philadelphia voted overwhelmingly to form a union. They voted by a near three-to-one margin to join with the Philadelphia Alliance of Charter School Employees to gain a voice in how classrooms are resourced and school decisions are made. They also sought greater input into teacher evaluations and professional development.

 

Olney Charter High School (located on West Duncannon Ave.) is one of five charters run by ASPIRA Inc. of Pennsylvania within the Philadelphia School District. It was carved out of the public system following the state takeover of public city schools in 2001, which handed control of public schools to private operators under a corporate education reform model.

 

ASPIRA Inc. of Pennsylvania is an affiliate of the national ASPIRA Association, a nonprofit organization focused on education for Latino and other underserved youth. ASPIRA Association operates in eight states and Puerto Rico.

 

As Olney teachers and staff began organizing, management hired a union-avoidance firm, National Consultants Associated, which has a history of questionable ties to organized crime and individuals charged with federal corruption and racketeering. In the days leading up to the union vote, National Consultants Associated held mandatory anti-union meetings, costing parents face time with teachers, students hours of instruction during annual exam prep, and untold dollars that could have been put to use in classrooms.

 

The victory for teachers and support staff at Olney is the latest in a string of successful organizing efforts. Teachers at charter schools across the country increasingly are uniting to challenge the conditions that lead to incredibly high turnover in their schools and to improve education for their students. Often, in spite of aggressive anti-union tactics from their employers, teachers vote to join together in a union when given the choice.

 

“Teachers at charter schools want what other teachers want: respect for the job they do and a real voice in their schools,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.6-million member American Federation of Teachers. “Increasingly, they see how joining a union of professionals is the vehicle to do that. That’s what today’s overwhelming vote was about.”

 

A total of 172 teachers and support staff are now represented by the union and will soon begin negotiating a first collective bargaining agreement. They also are calling for organizing and collective bargaining rights for teachers and staff at all ASPIRA Inc. schools. On May 12, teachers and staff at John B. Stetson Charter School, another ASPIRA school, filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board requesting a union vote. The Board has yet to rule on the request.

 

“We look forward to forging a new relationship with ASPIRA of Pennsylvania,” said Ted Kirsch, president of AFT Pennsylvania and an AFT vice president. “By opening its planning and decision-making process to teachers, staff and parents, ASPIRA has an opportunity to make its schools a model for innovation and collaboration in K-12 charter schools.”

 

The AFT represents teachers and support staff in more than 120 public charter schools in 12 states.

Dr. Mark Henry, superintendent of the Cypress-Fairbanks school district in Texas, says it is time to save students from failing charter schools.

Dr. Henry proposes:

“I have an even better prescription that Texas should try. In my solution, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD will create “The Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Opportunity School District” to take over and manage failing charter schools.

“Around 8.2 percent of public school campuses are classified as failing, but nearly 17 percent of charter schools are designated as failing. In fact, within three years of being included on the low-performing list, only seven out of approximately 8,500 traditional public schools are still designated as failing. If you are mathematically inclined, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all Texas public school campuses are rated IR or AU for more than three years.

“It seems that public schools are doing a great job of addressing low-performing schools without the added bureaucracy of another state agency. But there does appear to be a need to help charter schools, when nearly 1 in 5 are considered failing.

“CFISD is recognized as one of the most effective school districts in the state when considering academic achievement and financial efficiency. We don’t pick and choose our students; we educate all students within our borders. The principles we practice should be quite useful in assisting the great number of failing charter schools. We feel that with more funding, less regulation and our processes, we can give thousands of students trapped in failing charter schools hope for a better tomorrow.

“The proliferation of failing charter schools is the “civil rights issue of the 21st Century.” CFISD sees an opportunity to rescue these students and generate additional dollars to help offset the current underfunding (less operation funding than charters) that we receive. It is a win-win! Students at the failing charter school will benefit by receiving a quality education and CFISD students will benefit with more funding.”

When I read this brilliant parody of the “reformers'” favorite reform, I concluded their days of hoaxing the public are numbered.

Peter Greene writes that Maryland’s new Republican Governor, Larry Hogan, wrote charter legislation to make more charters with minimal regulation, accountability or transparency.

 

His “bill would let charters hire and fire staff at will (Maryland’s charter teachers are actually employed by the local district). Teachers wouldn’t have to be certified. Charters would have more ability to pick and choose students. Charters would get more money per student and also get a shot at construction funding. Perhaps most importantly, charters would finally have a recourse if mean old local school boards turned them down; they would be able to appeal to the State Board of Education to override the decision of local elected officials.”

 

The Democratic-controlled legislature had qualms about unleashing free-market charters. It substantially watered down Hogan’s bill. The pro-privatization Center for Education Reform was very upset.

 

Even better, the legislature eliminated Hogan’s wish to authorize online charter schools in Maryland. This is a top priority for ALEC, as it allows for-profit corporations like K12 (which is active in ALEC) to make big money while producing poor results for students. Studies by CREDO in Pennsylvania (comparing public schools, charter schools, and virtual charter schools, of which the last was the worst) and by the National Education Policy Center, as well as investigations by the Bloomberg News, the New York Times and the Washington Post have found online charters to have terrible outcomes (low test scores, low graduation rates, high dropout rates). Yet every one of the privatization organizations quoted in this article bemoans the legislature’s failure to siphon money off to the for-profit, low-performing sector of virtual charters.

 

Score one for public education.

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