Thomas Carroll was one of the authors of New York state’s charter law, passed in 1998,when Republican George Pataki was governor. The governor traded a pay raise for legislators to get their support for charters.

Carroll started a charter chain in Albany called “Brighter Choice.” It included single-gender schools for boys and girls. He operated 11 charter schools in the state capitol and hoped to charterize the entire district. He failed, the chain failed. But Carroll is now promoting the virtues of school choice on behalf of the Trump-DeVos agenda to denizens of D.C. who are ignorant of his over-hyped, costly, failed charter chain in Albany.

Carroll is not an educator, but he figured out how to make charters pay. His chain was handsomely funded by the Walton Family Foundation, and Carroll thought of other ways to generate funding and profits through real estate deals and clever use of public bonds.

This article by a union activist in Albany was written in 2010:

“They said charters would offer needed competition to community schools, but they didn’t say the competition would be about public dollars. Last week Albany Times Union reported on the city’s Albany Leadership Charter High School for Girls “asking for $15 million in tax-free public financing to buy the brand-new charter high school for girls built by the Brighter Choice Foundation.”

“Here’s the cute part. The nonprofit Brighter Choice Foundation, which runs all 11 charter schools in Albany and erected the building at a cost of some $10.1 million, is directing its Charter Facilities Finance Fund to ask the city to back its selling tax-exempt bonds to investors so it can buy the school building and — are you ready for this? — lease it back to Brighter Choice.

“Forget about whether the deal sounds dodgy, because it does. If the deal also sounds a bit familiar, it may be because Thomas Carroll, the prime mover behind the Brighter Choice charter schools, has been profiting from a similarly questionable real estate tax loophole for the past several years, a story exposed earlier this year by Juan Gonzalez in the Daily News.

”Critics say Carroll’s latest charter real estate trick runs counter to the purpose of the city providing tax free bonds, which is to jump-start job creation and promote economic development. No jobs will be created here; the school is already up and running. Where’s the public benefit in financing a project that’s already completed?

“The paper cites Brighter Choice Chairman Chris Bender’s bright expectation that the high school’s sale would “replenish the revolving line of credit” it holds with the Walton Family Foundation, the charity run by the family that owns the nonpareil union-busting Wal-Mart.

“As the paper notes, that cozy arrangement “could create another potentially controversial scenario in which Brighter Choice is essentially using the proceeds from the sale of tax-free bonds to bolster the account from which it builds new schools to compete with the city school district.”

“Supporters say the school does create jobs —some two dozen new ones — but that’s denied by an Albany schools spokesperson who says it’s more a case of job shifting than job creation, given that 200 public school staff members, including 100 teachers, were laid off in the last two school years.

“We should note that Carroll, the little man on the charter school stair, is the honcho behind School Performance Inc., which in turn runs the Charter Facilities Finance Fund that wants to make deal for the city.

“His adventures in education aren’t restricted to the state’s snow belt. President of the charter-flacking Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, Carroll is also president of the Empire Foundation and CHANGE-NY, both far-right-of-center organizations that mask conservative ideology as fiscal prudence. Ripping off Albany’s tax base must be the new style in protecting the public’s dollars.”

This is what Juan Gonzalez wrote about Thomas Carroll’s Brighter Choice real estate deals:

“Wealthy investors and major banks have been making windfall profits by using a little-known federal tax break to finance new charter-school construction.

“The program, the New Markets Tax Credit, is so lucrative that a lender who uses it can almost double his money in seven years.

“In Albany, which boasts the state’s highest percentage of charter school enrollments, a nonprofit called the Brighter Choice Foundation has employed the New Markets Tax Credit to arrange private financing for five of the city’s nine charter schools.

“But many of those same schools are now straining to pay escalating rents, which are going toward the debt service that Brighter Choice incurred during construction.

“The Henry Johnson Charter School, for example, saw the rent for its 31,000-square-foot building skyrocket from $170,000 in 2008 to $560,000 last year.

“The Albany Community School’s rent jumped from $195,000 to $350,000.

“Green Tech High Charter School rents went from $443,000 to $487,000.

“Meanwhile, all the Albany charter schools haven’t achieved the enrollment levels their founders expected, even after recruiting hundreds of students from suburban school districts to fill their seats.

“The result has been less money in per-pupil state aid to pay operating costs, including those big rent bills.

“Several charters have fallen into additional debt to the Brighter Choice Foundation.”

In 2015, the state closed down two of the Brighter Choice charter schools for low performance, high teacher turnover, poor learning materials,  Eventually, all but two of the Brighter Choice charters were closed.

Scott Waldman wrote in Politico in 2015  about “the educational model that failed”:

“In total, Albany taxpayers have spent more than $300 million on the city’s charter schools in the last decade, Albany school district spokesman Ron Lesko said. Many of those schools have now been closed.

“We didn’t need to spend scores of millions of dollars to find out that the work our teachers and staff do and the staff in Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo and New York City, and every city in poor communities in America is doing is hard work,” he said. “There is no quick and easy fix and privatizing education is no answer and that’s been proven here.”

“The failure in Albany has shown the disruption that charters can cause to public school systems and surrounding neighborhoods. The Brighter Choice middle schools set to close were built just a few years ago, near the foundation’s headquarters. Half of a city block was leveled and residents were displaced from their homes.

“The closure of those schools has created an administrative nightmare for the Albany city school district, which must now establish an entirely new middle school in the next six months to handle the almost 400 charter school students who were enrolled in the failed Brighter Choice schools.

“Albany was once among the top 10 districts in the nation when it came to the percentage of public school students enrolled in charter schools. Just a few years ago, more than a fifth of the city’s 10,000 public school students were enrolled in charters.

“The Brighter Choice schools are supported by the Brighter Choice Foundation, once headed by Tom Carroll, a lobbyist for education reform and a former Pataki official who helped write the state’s charter school law. Carroll was a prominent critic of one of Albany’s first charter schools, New Covenant Charter School, which he did not create, and which he argued should be shuttered because it reflected poorly on the rest of the city’s charter sector. Carroll criticized the school, which started in trailers on a vacant lot in Albany, for growing too quickly and never developing its curriculum. Its closure, over the objections of Governor George Pataki, drew significant media attention.

“The Brighter Choice schools, Carroll said, were designed to be better, the answer to New Covenant failings, small and with a “relentless focus on standards and results.” Carroll, who earned more than $400,000 annually from the nonprofits he created to encourage charter growth, raised more than $15 million from the Walton Foundation to help build Albany’s charter schools. He also turned to hedge-fund billionaires including Bruce Kovner to bring outside money for help growing Albany’s charter sector.”

So, having cost the district of Albany hundreds of millions of dollars, having demonstrated the failure of school choice, Thomas Carroll now claims that school choice is the wave of the future.

His own example proves that he is wrong. Unless we want to waste billions on more failures.