Archives for category: For-Profit

Bill Phillis founded the Ohio Equity and Adequacy Coalition, which advocates for public schools and exposes for-profit scams.

He writes here:

Imagine Schools, Inc.: For-profit, out- of- state business operation took $44.9 million of Ohio school districts’ funds last school year

Imagine Schools, Inc., based in Arlington, VA, has 18 Ohio business centers, authorized by eight different charter school sponsors. During the 2013-2014 school year, this for-profit company enrolled 6,235 students at a cost of $45 million to Ohio school districts.

Each of these 18 charter schools has a sponsor and a board of directors. The Ohio Department of Education and Ohio charter school sponsors typically provide limited monitoring and oversight. The boards of the Imagine Schools, Inc. appear to be mere rubber stamps of company decisions. (A company internal memo surfaced in which charter school principals were admonished to keep boards in line with company decisions because the schools belonged to the company.)

Since the financial operation of this school district-funded enterprise is hidden from public view, the amount of tax money that is converted to profits is a secret.

My resident school district had a deduction of $3,702,897.67 for Imagine Schools, Inc. last school year. As a taxpayer and supporter of my school district, board of education, administration and district employees, I object to a portion of the school district tax money being taken from my school district and handed to entities that have little or no transparency or accountability. I, along with other school district residents, have no access to the unaccountable financial operation of Imagine Schools, Inc. School districts’ finances, on the other hand, are available to citizens.

The Ohio Department of Education deducted $15,570,134.09 from my resident school district for students going to charter schools. These funds went to 66 charter schools, most of which had a lower state report card rating than the district.

State officials should eliminate the for-profit companies from the Ohio charter school industry.

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

The Palm Beach County Commission allocated $20 million to enable a new charter school to borrow money for school construction. Some members of the commission opposed it, but the majority thought it was just another business that needed public funding.

 

The County Commission voted in favor of allowing Renaissance Charter School at Cypress on Okeechobee Boulevard in West Palm Beach to borrow money by accessing tax-exempt bonds. Those bonds can help the charter school pay for the cost of buying land, constructing the new building, adding equipment and other educational expenses.

While the money comes from private investors, those bonds are supposed to get paid back by school revenues. Those revenues include the portion of school tax dollars that go toward charter schools.

Palm Beach County shouldn’t be enabling charter school companies to profit from the bond deals, said County Commissioner Paulette Burdick.

“It’s not about educating children. It’s about making money,” said Burdick, a former school board member….

 

Charter schools are billed as a way to provide parents more educational alternatives for their children. Private companies, nonprofit groups and other organizations can use public funds to start charter schools, which can operate without many of the regulations of traditional schools.

But a proliferation of charter schools has sparked concerns that they are poorly regulated and too often fail to deliver on promised educational improvements. Critics say charter schools are taking too many tax dollars away from educational efforts at existing public schools.

The Palm Beach County League of Women Voters on Tuesday opposed approving a bond deal for the Renaissance Charter School.

Charter school companies are using public financing help to profit off land deals and the county shouldn’t help, according to Elaine Goodman, of the League of Women Voters.

“What is happening to our traditional public schools?” Goodman asked. “Where are our priorities?”

 

Despite the critics, the commission approved the deal by a vote of 5-2.

 

 

This is a must-see. Peter Greene here presents and discusses comedian John Oliver on student debt.

Most students will leave college with heavy debts; some will spend years trying to pay it off. The arrangement was created by the federal government and state governments, which have steadily decreased their responsibility for subsidizing the cost of higher education, transferring the burden to students. There once was a time when community colleges were tuition-free. No longer. For-profit institutions and online “universities” have moved in to fill their place. These institutions have terrible completion rates. Despite repeated calls to regulate the for-profits, Congress and the U.S. Department of Education have failed to do so. The for-profit industry hires top lobbyists from both parties to protect their interests. Who protects the students?

When one of the worst for-profit institutions (Corinthian) teetered near bankruptcy, the US DOE extended a bail-out instead of closing it down.

Feeling down about corporate ownership of almost everything? So is David Greene. Gates, Walton, Bloomberg, Bezos, Murdoch, Koch. What don’t they own? Our votes.

David thinks back a century. Other oligarchs owned almost everything then. Of course, it didn’t occur to them to monetize the schools.

But we beat them back. We elected people to regulate the oligarchs. We can do it again.

This came in my email from a teacher who gave me her/his name, email, school name, and phone number. I asked for permission to post the letter and received it. Do you have any suggestions for this teacher?

Ms. Ravitch,

I am writing to you because you are the first person I have seen take such a great interest into researching the integrity of charter school systems. I am a teacher at a charter school in Cleveland. I hate it. I hate the whole idea of it. This company I work for is making BILLIONS of dollars by putting schools in impoverished areas… and pocketing it. So basically, they are making billions of dollars off poor people. I have funded nearly my entire classroom. We are a for-profit school and we don’t see any of that profit. In fact, we can’t even accept gifts or donations from charitable causes because they are not allowed to give things to for-profit schools. So when our students come to school in the same outfit every day for two weeks, we don’t have clothes that were so graciously donated to our school to let the students borrow. We have nothing. Their greed for money has gotten so extreme that as a way to push for more enrollment, they had the teachers go canvassing… in east Cleveland. Not sure how familiar you are with the area, but let’s just say I walked up to a neighborhood gang. This made me feel so invaluable- more than I could ever have imagined feeling with what I’m being paid and for the resources I have been given. It has come to a point to where they have actually begun to put our lives in jeopardy; risking our safety and threatening us with job loss due to unsubstantial funding. It’s a load of bullshit. They just want more money and it sickens me.

Why am I still working for them… because I feel like the students need me. Who will have a voice for the people with no voice if someone who knows what needs to be done isn’t there to do it?

I have thought of the problem and brainstormed multiple stepping stones to a solution, however, it is hard these days to accomplish anything meaningful when it is one person vs. a billion dollar corporation. I have met with a union rep and have tossed around the idea of starting a union. I continue to send her any information I can. However, starting a union not only seems unlikely, but I’m not sure if it would accomplish the real goal. I have little doubt that a company like mine would shut down all of their Ohio schools before turning over to the requests of a union. And quite frankly, they are excellent at covering their tracks. Our students’ IEPs are never met because we lack the staffing to carry out those duties– so illegal right? So they fired our entire intervention staff and made them interview with an outsourced company they hired, probably to take the fall if they get caught for not meeting IEPs…. Let’s just say they think ahead.

The other solution I looked into was turning to ODE or the political members that are supposed to be making sure these sort of things aren’t happening. Yet those people are turning their cheek the other way, calling people like me whistle-blowers. Apparently anyone who wants justice in this world is a tattletale… and will lose their job.

I could go on and on naming indecencies of the company I work for, but the point is, what am I accomplishing by complaining? Who can I turn to to help me make this company own up to their malpractices? How can one person make a positive difference in a system that is infiltrated with all sorts of corruption?

Any advice would be welcomed with open arms.

Sincerely,

Frustrated Teacher

The Ohio blogger Plunderbund here lays out the astonishing record of William Lager and the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.(ECOT). This online charter school is the largest charter in the state. It receives almost $100 million a year from the state.

“On the latest report cards released by the Ohio Department of Education, ECOT continues to rank below all of the 8 large urban schools that are often-criticized by legislators and in the media for their “sub-par” performance.

“That hasn’t stopped ECOT’s founder, William Lager, from continuing to get paid. And getting paid he is.”

“Lager is also the owner of two privately-held companies that provide both the management services (Altair Learning Management) and curriculum (IQ Innovations) to the online school.” Those two companies will collect another $22 million for their services.

Plunderbund shows that Lager is a major campaign contributor. He has donated $2 million to political campaigns since he went into the charter business in 2000.

“Let’s just say that Lager is living pretty well thanks to Ohio’s Republican legislators who keep the money flowing. While Ohio’s public schools are are pinching pennies due to funding cuts and most public school employees are seeing modest (if any) raises, Lager’s companies take is increasing at a rate of nearly 15% per year.

“Lager is living large off of public education funding.”

Plunderbund wonders why the Columbus Dispatch says nothing about Lager’s lavish compensation and his school’s poor performance.

He concludes:

“THAT is the story of William Lager and ECOT. THAT is at least how much Lager is making [$2 million a year] on a salary funded by Ohio’s taxpayers and approved by Ohio’s Republican majority.

“But, since Ohio’s Republican legislators, including Lager’s close friend, John Kasich, aren’t truly interested in transparency as far as charter schools are concerned, we’ll never actually know the true extent of William Lager’s fleecing of Ohio’s taxpayers or why “Ohio’s Greatest Home Newspaper”, the Columbus Dispatch, continues to ignore Lager’s gross abuse of taxpayer-funded, public education dollars. Let’s just say Lager’s making and donating enough to keep it a secret.”

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

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.”

Paul Horton is a history instructor in the University High School at the University of Chicago Lab Schools. This post explains the Obama administration’s love for charters and its disdain for public schools.

Martin Nesbitt is the President’s best friend, and close associate of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, who provided much of the start-up capital for Parking Spot, a very successful off airport parking company that Mr. Nesbitt directed for several years before Ms. Pritzker sold the company. Nesbitt and Pritzker also are invested in the Noble Charter Schools chain in Chicago. In the last year, Mr. Nesbitt has created an investment firm called the Vistria Group that seeks, in part, to bundle capital for Charter School investment.

Mr. Nesbitt grew up in Columbus, Ohio and credits the discipline he acquired at the private Columbus Academy for helping him deal with the violence, drug use, and the social dislocation that surrounded him growing up in a tough neighborhood. He sees the Noble Charter Schools as a vehicle to instill discipline in inner city youth. Like the President, he grew up, for the most part without a present father. They both see themselves as self made men and view charter schools as a potential path to success for inner city youth. (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-01-21/business/ct-biz-0121-executive-profile-nesbitt-20130121_1_martin-nesbitt-michelle-obama-penny-pritzker)

Mr. Nesbitt and the President are basketball addicts. They play as much as they can and talk basketball incessantly. They, of course share this addiction with Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education and Craig Robinson, former Oregon State coach and Michelle Obama’s brother. Mr. Nesbitt sponsors and participates in three on three basketball tournaments all over the country.

During his first campaign, the President narrowed his friendship group, forcing long time friends Bill Ayers and Rashid Khalidi out of their social circles in response to attacks from the right concerning Mr. Ayers’s political past and from AIPAC on Professor Khalidi’s advocacy for Palestine and criticism of American Middle East Policy.

In Chicago, Mr. Nesbitt was the President of the Chicago Housing Authority in the late 90s where he worked with Rahm Emanuel and other power brokers to create public-private partnerships that created housing on Chicago’s south and west sides to replace the drug and crime ridden behemoth projects, the Robert Taylor Homes (see Gang Leader for a Day) and Cabrini Green.

The Commercial Club of Chicago worked with CHA to re envision the development of mid south and near west sides. A subcommittee created the “Renaissance 2010″ plan that sought to create mixed income housing in these area that was open to former project residents who worked thirty hours a week. “The Renaissance 2010″ plan resulted in heavy real estate investment in these areas and the creation of charter schools were seen as essential to attracting young urban professionals into these areas.

So the connection between real estate developers who speculate on land and building investment and the push for charter schools is very strong. Chicago real estate moguls lead by Bruce Rauner, the Republican nominee for Illinois governor, and the Crown family drive much of the Chicago push to close public schools to expand the charter sector. Indeed, the Commercial Club of Chicago, known as “the billionaires club” on the streets of Chicago, drives the Education policy of the mayor and funds, through connections with the Joyce Foundation (the Director of the Joyce Foundation sits on board of the Commercial Club) funds education “research” (non peer-reviewed) that is printed on the editorial pages of the Chicago Tribune to legitimate public school closings.

This pattern of connection between real estate developers, the creation of and public-private partnerships to build low density mixed income housing in impoverished neighborhoods, and the drive to close public schools and open charter schools has been chronicled in powerful detail by Education theorist and sociologist Pauline Lipman. I have addressed these issues in more detail in an Education Week piece, “Why Obama’s Education Policies will not Change and why ‘Change is Hard.'”

Mr. Nesbitt and Mayor Emanuel are the leading political actors who have orchestrated and executed public policy for the interests of the Commercial Club. Their chief supporters need the value of the land that they bought in gentrifying neighborhoods to increase. They see charter schools as a key magnet to attract middle class professionals back into neighborhoods within a three to four mile radius of downtown on the south and west sides.

The process appears to be working for developers on the near west side with the construction of a massive shopping mall, the sales of condos that were intended to be mixed income to middle and upper middle class white and black professionals, and the plans to build a new selective enrollment “Barack Obama High” smack dab in the middle of the former Cabrini Green.

The gentrification scheme of developers, however, is clearly not working in Bronzeville, on the near south side. According to a recent Harvard study that received some attention on NPR, real estate values in the mId south and Bronzeville areas on the south side is slowed by perceptions of violence. According to this study, white urban professionals are more likely to move into Latino areas like Humbolt Park and Pilsen.

To date, Mr. Nesbitt’s friends are scared to death about their investments in Chicago’s mid south and Bronzeville areas, explaining why this area has been targeted for several rounds of public school closings and charter school openings.

The take away from this piece is that many of the people who provided the funds to transform Mr. Obama into a viable national candidate after he passed the litmus test of Iowa are associated with the Commercial Club of Chicago were heavily invested in real estate speculation and building charter schools as a way to increase the value of property purchased by investors. All of this is couched in the language of making Chicago a global city and creating school choice for parents.

At the national level, Democrats for Education Reform stepped into the discussion over schools in exchange for raising money for Democratic campaigns that was needed to counteract the impact of the Citizens United decision.

The reason why those closest to the President are strong supporters of RTTT and charters is because they are connected to south and west side real estate investment in Chicago and bad press for public schools in the form of low test scores will create the pretext and legitimation for more investment and funding of charter schools that will lead to rising condo sales, condo values, and land values. Once values rise and more middle class professionals move into these areas, commercial shopping and retail investment will do its work to increase the value of real estate.

That the President’s best buddy, should attempt to capitalize on on charter school investment after playing a role in the shaping of the President’s education policy, is either the hallmark of a “free enterprise system” or more grease to the wheels of yet another episode of crony capitalism excreted by the proximity to power of buddies helping each other out.

I taught Mr. Nesbitt’s two oldest children and I have communicated my disappointments about the Obama administrations education policies to him.

I told Mr. Nesbitt several times that the Democratic party would pay a price for creating education policies that did not serve the interests of the majority of parents, students, teachers, and administrators.

He told me that “teachers do not deserve the amount of money that they make,” “that their salaries should be reduced,” and that they deserve no respect for sacrificing other career paths to answer the calling of teaching.

He seemed more concerned about reducing teacher’s salaries to create a profit margin for investors than about the impact the disruptive policies of school closings would have on human communities.

I recently sent him a note that explained to him that the majority of 3.7 million teachers in this country are very upset with policies that denigrate teachers, students, parents and communities for political gain.

For an administration that pretends to care about the disappearance of the middle class and rising income inequality, its lack of support for teachers and public schools is astounding. We have heard nothing from this administration when democratic state representatives all over the country threaten to steal pensions that were not adequately funded due to political incompetence and a willingness to pay political cronies rather than pension funds.

We now see an attack on due process for teachers gaining political support from both parties and the billionaires who will benefit from the destruction of public unions. The attack on due process rights for teacher unions will set precedents for attacks on due process rights for other unions.

Scarcely 12% of Americans belong to unions and real wages in the United States have declined as union membership has declined.

The curtain has been pulled back, and most Americans can see now who are pulling the levers. The Democratic Party no longer supports the working people of this country. it serves the commercial clubs in every major American city, Wall Street bundlers, and plutocrats all over the world.

Mr. Nesbitt, the 3.7 million teachers in this country will not be fooled by staged meetings between a few teachers in the White House, listening to a few BadAss Teachers at the DoEd, or calling for a congress of teachers. WE know that this is political posturing in advance of November elections.

Your administration has disrespected us, our communities, and our families. How stupid do you think we are? Your policies are an attack on our self-respect.

Unless you instruct Senators Harkins and Durbin to defund NLRB and RTTT, fire Arne Duncan, and begin pursuing a new path, very few of us will support you in November.

We know that your billionaire friends will profit from their investments only if you pursue policies that create more charter schools. We know that you and your friends are betting on Pearson and Microsoft stock.

Your blatant disrespect for students, teachers, parents, and school communities will cost you the upcoming election.

You are blinded by greed and ignorance.

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