The IDEA charter chain has received hundreds of millions in federal funding to expand. It has garnered a lot of attention, however, for its caviar tastes. The IDEA board approved a management proposal to lease a private jet for nearly $2 million a year, for the convenience of its executives. Not like your average school board or superintendent!

But their luxury tastes have not been curbed by the negative reaction private jet problem.

Among other big-ticket items noted in this story, here is a notable one. IDEA CEO Tom Torkelson flew to a private meeting with Betsy DeVos in Florida, in a nine-passenger jet in which he was the only passenger. DeVos has given IDEA more than $200 million from the federal Charter Schools Program. She loves IDEA.

The Texas Monitor reports:

Last October, the CEO and president of the largest charter school company in Texas took a trip to Houston. They didn’t travel the way most public-school employees would have. Instead, they traveled by private jet, their spouses and five children came along for the trip, and they got around Houston not by Uber or rent car, but in a chauffeured SUV.

That trip was just one item in an $800,000 bill that IDEA Public Schools racked up between 2017 and 2019 on private jets and other luxe travel spending. Although IDEA received $319 million from the State of Texas and $71 million in federal money in 2018, this kind of travel would be illegal for public school district and state employees in Texas. Traditional public-school supporters and charter school advocates alike say it’s the kind of spending that gives a black eye to the charter school concept.

Charter schools receive no property tax revenue, as traditional public schools do, but are funded through state and federal grants. Like other public schools, they can also raise money from private donors. IDEA says it uses some of that private money for its luxury travel.

Records show that company CEO Tom Torkelson, his wife and three children, along with IDEA President JoAnn Gama, her husband and two children, stepped off a private jet at Sugar Land Regional Airport and jumped into the chauffeured SUV. The reason for the trip, records show, was to “visit Houston school sites.”

The flight cost is not noted in the records, nor is the reason for the spouses and children coming along on the trip. The vehicle, rented from Casablanca Limousines in Houston, cost $1,800.

At about the time of the Houston trip, IDEA was preparing to lease a private jet – the same plane that the district had used on an individual trip basis since at least 2014. But board members nixed the lease after the deal became public.

In December 2019, IDEA announced the plane lease had been put aside.

In March, Torkelson proclaimed that “IDEA will not pay for private air travel” any longer.

Four days later, IDEA released the district’s transportation records to Peyton Wolcott, a Texas-based education advocate who had submitted a request for the documents in January.

She questioned the timing and the sincerity of Torkelson’s vow to end the subsidized travel.

“Why shouldn’t IDEA’s board and executives, who enjoyed Texas taxpayers’ largesse, dig deep into their pockets and pay it back? “she said. Records show IDEA has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on private-plane travel in the past five years.

Flights by Torkelson and IDEA staffers inside Texas between 2017 and 2019 cost, on average, about $1,300 per one-way trip, with a discount for round-trip fares. For example, a private, round-trip flight taken by Torkelson in fall 2018 from McAllen to San Antonio ran $2,340. A commercial flight on United Airlines today would cost $377 for the same route. Bills for private flights can also include lodging and meals for pilots as well as other costs. See a sample invoice here.

Torkelson took a private jet to Tampa in November to meet with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to discuss “education philanthropy,” records show. He was the only passenger on the jet, which holds nine people.

I mean, really, do you expect such powerful people to fly economy like a public school employee?

IDEA promises that 100% of its students who graduate will enroll in a four-year college. What they don’t point out is that students are not allowed to graduate unless they have been accepted by a four-year college. And, yes, there are colleges that accept every applicant.

Nonetheless, Craig Harris of the Arizona Republic hopes that IDEA and KIPP will open in Arizona. Arizona has the most lax charter oversight in the nation. It’s the only state that allows for-profit operators of charters (many other states ban for-profit charters, but allow for-profit management, as in Michigan, where 80% of all charters are run by for-profit EMOs). It’s hard to judge whether Arizona or California has had the most charter scandals, but Arizona has had some big ones, where charter operators have made off with millions of dollars, and it was all legal.

There is the grand success of former legislator Eddie Farnsworth, who pocketed up to $30 million by turning his for-profit chain into a nonprofit chain.

Then there was Glen Way, who made millions building his charter schools.

Michael and Olga Block founded the BASIS charter chain in Arizona, whose demographics are skewed white and Asian, get very high test scores, but take home enough to buy a NYC condo for $8.4 million.

No one has accused KIPP or IDEA of fraud, so maybe Arizona needs them, that is, if you think itis a good idea to continue stripping students and resources from public schools.