Archives for category: Ohio

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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From reader Chiara:

 

This is absolutely amazing. [Ed: read the story in the link]

 

The Ohio Department of Education has chosen a lobbying group. StudentsFirst, to direct efforts to “inform” parents on whether to turn over a bunch of public schools to private contractors under the Parent Trigger:

 

“Columbus Superintendent Dan Good said yesterday that the district is working to understand all the nuances of the law. On Tuesday, the school board is to hear a presentation by the Education Department and StudentsFirst, the group that the department chose to inform and organize parents”

 

Rules released by the department yesterday refer to StudentsFirst as a “neutral third party,” but Columbus Education Association President Tracey Johnson said the group is not neutral; it’s a school-reform lobbying organization.”

 

This is ridiculous. Our state Department of Education is completely captured by lobbyists.

 

They’re a joke. I resent paying these people. I think StudentsFirst should put them on the payroll and take them off mine. They are actively working against existing public schools in this state.

 

Chiara is right. StudentsFirst, founded by Michelle Rhee, is not a neutral third party. It actively lobbies and advocates for charters, vouchers, and high-stakes testing in states across the nation. It also supports the parent trigger. According to the article cited by Chiara, one in five of the schools in Columbus are eligible for parent takeover, even though many of them have been reconstituted and turned around previously. The laws have been written in such a way as to label many schools as failures without actually doing anything to help them. This sets them up for privatization. StudentsFirst has no track record of improving schools. It is a lobbying organization for privatization.

 

Dawn Neely-Randall is a teacher in Ohio. She is in her 25th year in the classroom. For a long while, she watched in silence as the testing mania absorbed more and more instructional time. And then she decided she had to speak out. She had to defend her students. She had to defend her professional ethics. She could not remain silent. And speak she did. Here is an article that she wrote that appeared on Valerie Strauss’s blog.

If every state had 1,000 teachers as brave, bold, and outspoken as Dawn Neely-Randall, we could stop the insanity that is destroying children’s lives and debasing education. For her courage in speaking out, for her refusal to remain docile and silent, I add Dawn Neely-Randall to the honor roll.

Here are a few choice excerpts from her impassioned article.

“Last spring, you wouldn’t find the fifth-graders in my Language Arts class reading as many rich, engaging pieces of literature as they had in the past or huddled over the same number of authentic projects as before. Why? Because I had to stop teaching to give them a Common Core Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) online sample test that would prepare them for the upcoming PARCC pilot pre-test which would then prepare them for the PARCC pilot post test – all while taking the official Ohio Achievement Tests. This amounted to three tests, each 2 ½ hours, in a single week, the scores of which would determine the academic track students would be placed on in middle school the following year.”

“In addition to all of that, I had to stop their test prep lessons (also a load of fun) to take each class three floors down to our computer lab so they could take the Standardized Testing and Reporting (“STAR”) tests so graphs and charts could be made of their Student Growth Percentile (SGP) which would then provide quantitative evidence to suggest how these 10-year-olds would do on the “real” tests and also surmise the teacher’s (my) affect on their learning.

“Tests, tests, and more freakin’ tests.

“And this is how I truly feel in my teacher’s heart: the state is destroying the cherished seven hours I have been given to teach my students reading and writing each week, and these children will never be able to get those foundational moments back. Add to that the hours of testing they have already endured in years past, as well as all the hours of testing they still have facing them in the years to come. I consider this an unconscionable a theft of precious childhood time……”

“And most disconcerting of all, in my entire 24-year career, not one graded standardized test has EVER been returned to the students, their parents, or to me, the teacher. Also, for the past three years here in Ohio, released test questions have no longer been posted online. In addition, teachers have had to sign a “gag order” before administering tests putting their careers on the line ensuring they will not divulge any content or questions they might happen to oversee as they walk around monitoring the test.”

Chiara, a frequent commenter, sent the following summary of the Common Core fight in Ohio:

“Meanwhile, the Common Core fight in Ohio continues. It’s the Tea party lawmakers versus the Republican lawmakers.

“I have no idea why either group cares at all what is taught in Ohio public schools, because of both parties had their wish, there wouldn’t be any public schools at all.

“I’m flattered by all this sudden concern, but since the second this political battle is over they’ll be returning to either bashing public schools or selling them, I don’t care which side “wins”. I’m rooting for injuries.”

Plunderbund reports on the disputes between the school board and the teachers in Reynoldburg, Ohio.

The district gets high ratings from the state, even though poverty has steadily increased in the student body and nearly half the students live in poverty. Yet despite these accomplishments, the school board has not kept pace with teachers’ salaries and is now making a divisive contract offer.

Plunderbund writes:

“Reynoldsburg has consistently performed among the top school districts in Ohio, and over the past four years has shown continued improvement based on reporting by the Ohio Department of Education. In 2010, the district received a rating of “Effective”. In the three succeeding years, the district advanced to receive ratings of “Excellent”, then “Excellent with Distinction”, and then received a grade of “A” on the state’s new report card last year. In all three of those years, the district met 100% of the state’s performance indicators.

“Even more impressive, the teachers in Reynoldsburg have accomplished this feat with a changing student population – specifically an increase in the number of students living in poverty of over 10% (from 37.6% to 47.9%). With socioeconomic status being a huge factor in student achievement, such gains on state indicators simply cannot be ignored.

“Instead of recognizing these accomplishments on the part of the teaching staff, the Reynoldsburg School Board has chosen to engage in negotiation tactics designed to divide the teaching staff, implying that a great disparity exists among the teaching ranks. The performance of the district as a whole contradicts that notion.”

Nonetheless the school board is trying to drive a wedge among teachers by changing health benefits based on marital status.

“If Reynoldsburg truly wants to recruit good teachers and retain the excellent teachers they already have (as evidenced by the district’s improving performance), then the School Board should quit messing around and seriously reflect on how their actions are driving away experienced teachers. Instead of eliminating benefits packages that, by their own admission, most other districts have in place, they should retain the benefits for married teachers so that young, talented unmarried teachers don’t feel the need to seek employment in a district that has a better benefits package. That’s part of retaining teachers in a competitive environment, especially when the salary schedule is so similar.

“And regarding the salary schedule, they should seek to increase it across the board, but especially for the large number of teachers with Master’s degrees who should be most tempted to look to competing districts that will pay them more for that extra experience (that may also help pay off the student loans required to obtain the degree).

“The Reynoldsburg School Board thinks it is being innovative and forward thinking in trying to attract and retain teachers, but their misguided information, deceptive marketing, and lack of understanding of the “competitive teaching marketplace” has them driving a wedge between the excellent teachers that they already have employed in the district and instead is driving their best teachers away.

“Instead of playing games, the Reynoldsburg School Board should listen to the teachers who are leading the way in improving the district’s overall performance. While School Board members come and go, it’s the teachers who will be there for decades, continuing to have a positive influence on the lives of the children and families of Reynoldsburg.”

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.”

Plunderbund is one of Ohio’s most valuable bloggers. In this post, Plunderbund points to an alarming trend in that state: the authorization of charter schools that are connected to clerics and churches.

To begin with, there are the Gulen schools, associated with a reclusive Turkish imam. With 150 schools, it is the nation’s largest charter chain, with 19 located in Ohio and operating under the names of Horizon Science Academy and Noble Academy. Plunderbund notes that State Representative Cliff Rosenberger, “a leading candidate to become the next Ohio Speaker of the House, accepted an all-expenses paid junket to Turkey offered by the Niagara Foundation, part of the Gulen network.” Plunderbund also refers to FBI raids on Gulen schools in Columbus and Cleveland whose outcome is not yet determined, but how often are traditional public schools the target of FBI investigations?

Plunderbund moves on to the story of FCI Academy, a Columbus charter school whose financial troubles led to the firing of a dozen staff members. FCI Academy was founded by Bishop Edgar Allen Posey of the Living Faith Apostolic Church and his wife, Tracey, along with a third person. the school’s current governing board president is Tracey Posey, wife of Bishop Edgar Allen Posey.

Plunderbund writes:

“A Google search lists an address for FCI Academy as 2177 Mock Road, Columbus, and another Google search for the Living Faith Apostolic Church shows the church being located at the same address. The co-location of the church and the school, along with the fact that the wife of the church’s pastor is president of the charter school’s governing authority, should raise very serious issues with the Ohio Department of Education, State Auditor. Attorney General, and other state monitors related to the legal status of this school as a qualified recipient of state education funds.

“An examination of the school’s website shows that FCI Academy last posted an annual report for the 2010-2011 school year. That report lists Tracey Posey as the president of the school governing board, along with Carly Shye as treasurer. In late 2012, Shye was sentenced to two years in prison and fined more than $470,000 for embezzlement from a number of charter schools that he served as treasurer.

“In light of the school being founded by a bishop, currently housed in church property, and the bishop’s spouse currently serving as president of the school governing authority, astute observers wonder how does this state of affairs complies with the requirements of Ohio Revised Code Section 3314.03 (A)(11)(c):

“The school will be nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices, and all other operations, and will not be operated by a sectarian school or religious institution.”

But that’s not all.

There is also the curious story of Heir Force Academy, now known as Heir Force Community School. It converted from a chartered nonpublic school to a chartered community school, now publicly funded.

Plunderbund writes:

“In looking at this formerly chartered nonpublic school which is now receiving state taxpayer funds as a public charter school, an examination of two other websites reveals that Darwin Lofton is the associate pastor of Cornerstone Harvest Church and Darwin Lofton is the Executive Director of Heir Force Community School. The school’s governing board lists David Roberts as its president, and Sherri Roberts, his wife, also sits on the board of the public charter school.

The same questions raised by the church and state entanglements of FCI Academy and Living Faith Apostolic Church in Columbus cry out for answers when a discerning eye looks at the structures between Heir Force Community School and Cornerstone Harvest Church in Lima. Somehow those questions lead us back to the law:

“The school will be nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices, and all other operations, and will not be operated by a sectarian school or religious institution.”

What does the Ohio Department of Education and Governor Kasich’s office say about these church-state entanglements? So far, nothing.

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

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