Archives for the month of: July, 2020

Parents in North Carolina filed a lawsuit against the state’s voucher program on grounds that it discriminates against them because of their religious beliefs. Through the voucher program, the state sends public funds to religious schools that do not accept the children of these plaintiffs because of their religious beliefs. Therefore the plaintiffs argue that the voucher program encourages religious discrimination.

The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the private school voucher known as the “Opportunity Scholarship Program” established in 2013 by the North Carolina General Assembly.

Major tenets of the lawsuit are:

“The Program sends millions of taxpayer dollars to private schools without imposing any meaningful educational requirements. As implemented, many of the Program’s funds are directed to schools that divide communities on religious lines, disparage many North Carolinians’ faiths and identities, and coerce families into living under religious dictates and The Program as implemented funds discrimination on the basis of religion. Families’ ability to participate in the Program is limited by their religious beliefs and their willingness to cede control of their faith to a religious school,” The Program as implemented funds discrimination on the basis of religion. Families’ ability to participate in the Program is limited by their religious beliefs and their willingness to cede control of their faith to a religious school.

This is an interesting approach. Typically, litigants claim that they are denied access to public funds because of their religious beliefs. In this lawsuit, the litigants say they are denied access to publicly funded religious schools because of their religious faith and that the voucher program should be held unconstitutional because it discriminates against them and their children on religious grounds.

Jim Blew was hired by Betsy DeVos for a key role at the U.S Department of Education, having worked at the far-right Walton Family Foundation, which has a strong commitment to privatization, charter schools, Teach for America, and union-busting. He told education writers that the Department of Education was not likely to grant waivers for next spring’s annual federal testing, despite a year of confusion and disruption in schooling.

The American people are likely to tell Betsy DeVos and Jim Blew and the other public-school haters to pack their bags this November and clear out by January 20, 2021. Someone appointed by President Biden will decide whether to inflict the detritus of NCLB on the nation’s students. If the public votes wisely, the whole wrecking crew will be ousted, blown with the wind, so to speak.

An assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Education said Friday that his agency’s inclination is not to grant states waivers from federally mandated tests for the upcoming school year like it did in the spring.

Speaking on a video call with reporters at the Education Writers Association’s National Seminar, Jim Blew, the assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy analysis, stressed the importance of testing beyond accountability. And he expressed support for a recent statement from the Council of Chief State School Officers about the importance of assessments for learning; that July 20 statement said that “even during a pandemic” assessments “serve as an important tool in our education system.”

In March, as schools shut down in-person classes around the country due to the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos quickly granted waivers to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico from having to administer certain annual exams as required by federal law. But concerns about the pandemic’s impact on the 2020-21 school year have grown, as have sentiments in some quarters that states should get those waivers again, in order to focus on other educational needs…

During a question-and-answer session with reporters, Blew pointed to CCSSO’s statement and said that with respect to testing, “Accountability aside, we need to know where students are so we can address their needs.”

Blew then indicated it would be premature to grant waivers at this time from testing and said, “Our instinct would not be to give those waivers” from the exams, which are mandated under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the main federal K-12 law. “There are so many benefits to testing and it allows for some transparency about how schools are performing and the issues we need to address, that our instinct would be to decline those waivers,” Blew added.

The AFT keeps close watch on legislative action. I thought you might want to read what Randi wrote about Mitch (The Grim Reaper, as he calls himself) McConnell’s bill in the Senate. There’s not nearly enough funding to enable schools to open safely, and Republicans managed to stuff a voucher package into what is supposed to be a coronavirus relief bill. Would someone tell these Republican senators that the overwhelming majority of their constituents send their children to public schools? At a time of fiscal crisis, why do they want to take money away from public schools and give it to religious schools? Has anyone ever told them that every state voucher referendum has failed? Do they know that the latest referendum in Arizona went down by 65%-35%?

Randi writes:

Mitch McConnell finally released his bill today. I’m sure you’re not surprised, but the bill is bad. Simply put, it doesn’t match the scale of the crisis. I’m getting ready for the AFT convention, which starts tomorrow, but I wanted to make sure you heard about McConnell’s bill tonight.

What McConnell is proposing for education is woefully inadequate given the expenses schools will face to reopen safely. It also falls dramatically short by ignoring what schools actually need to reopen safely and, instead, prioritizes the president’s political agenda, tying the funding to in-person instruction and pushing for private school vouchers. And there is no money for states and no protections for healthcare workers.

Can you believe it? The GOP is actually using the pandemic to try to pass vouchers, because they couldn’t get them passed before. To rub salt in the wound, while this proposal includes no protections for workers on the frontlines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, it does include a nice bailout for corporations and other employers to limit their liability if employees get sick on the job.

The Senate needs to hear from you right now. Send a letter to your senators and tell them that McConnell’s bill is bad.

While we’re going to be focused on our convention for the next few days, we still need to keep up the pressure on coronavirus relief legislation.

For those who are interested in our convention, it’s going to be exciting. We’ll have Joe Biden, Lin-Manuel Miranda, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a panel on Black Lives Matter, Diane Ravitch, Anand Giridharadas, and more.

You’ll be able to watch the programming on our website. And tomorrow night, I’ll be doing a Facebook live town hall with Dr. Anthony Fauci at 6:45 p.m. EDT.

I know we’re all busy, but I just want to thank you for consistently taking action. We’ve driven tens of thousands of emails and phone calls to the Senate. Let’s keep it going and stop McConnell’s bad bill.

In unity,

Randi Weingarten

AFT President

This story appeared in the Washington Post. This refusal to follow medical advice will continue to spread the disease and cause unnecessary deaths. The world is watching our rudderless response to the pandemic and feeling sorry for us. Why ask a doctor for her best advice in a dire situation and then ignore it?

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) said Monday that he has no plans to close bars and curb indoor dining — minutes after White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx recommended those measures at a joint news conference with the governor.

Saying that the coronavirus situation in Tennessee was at an “inflection point,” Birx said Monday that diligence and targeted business restrictions statewide could have an effect on a par with a stay-at-home order.

“We can change the future of this virus in this state today,” she said. “If we continue to social-distance, if every mayor throughout this great state would mandate masks, close the bars and substantially increase indoor dining distancing, together we can get through this.”

But when Lee took the microphone later, he said there are currently no plans to close bars or limit dining. Some mayors can shutter businesses on their own, but the vast majority of Tennessee’s county health departments fall under Lee’s purview, the Tennessean reports.

“I’ve said from the very beginning of this pandemic that there’s nothing off the table,” Lee said after a reporter brought up the issue. “I’ve also said that we are not going to close the economy back down, and we are not going to.”

“But I appreciate their recommendations and we take them seriously,” he said, after thanking Birx for visiting his state and saying there were “productive meetings” about education plans and strategies to encourage mask-wearing, among other topics.

Lee has also declined to issue a statewide mask order, though he promoted their effectiveness Monday, and Birx said Monday that she believes the governor has a “sound strategy” and supports local officials taking the lead. Birx appealed to the mayors of rural counties in particular to mandate face coverings, saying that a majority of counties in Tennessee require them but that “we need 100 percent.”

On another front in the battle against COVID-19, the head of Baltimore’s Intensive Care Unit died of the virus.

Joseph J. Costa, chief of the hospital’s Critical Care Division, died about 4:45 a.m. Saturday in the same ICU he supervised. He was attended by his partner of 28 years and about 20 staff members, who placed their hands on him as he died. Costa was 56.

The Washington Post reported that the Ronald Reagan Foundation asked the Trump campaign to stop using the former president’s name for the Trump campaign.

Reagan Foundation to Trump, RNC: Quit Raising Money Off Ronald Reagan’s Legacy.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, which runs the 40th president’s library near Los Angeles, has demanded that President Trump and the Republican National Committee (RNC) quit raising campaign money by using Ronald Reagan’s name and likeness.

“It was simply handled with a phone call mid-last week to the RNC, and they agreed to stop,” Reagan Foundation chief marketing officer Melissa Giller said in an email Saturday.

What came to the foundation’s attention — and compelled officials there to complain — was a fundraising email that went out July 19 with “Donald J. Trump” identified as the sender and a subject line that read: “Ronald Reagan and Yours Truly.”

The solicitation offered, for a donation of $45 or more, a “limited edition” commemorative set featuring two gold-colored coins, one with an image of Reagan and one with an image of Trump. The coins were mounted with a 1987 photograph of Reagan and Trump shaking hands in a White House receiving line — the type of fleeting contact that presidents have with thousands of people a year…In the 1990s, both Reagan and his wife Nancy signed legal documents that granted the foundation sole rights to their names, likenesses and images. Of course, there are countless photos and videos of Reagan that are in the public domain. But the foundation claims power to block them from being used for commercial purposes and political endorsements.

Chalkbeat reports that many parents are calling on Mayor DeBlasio to endorse outdoor classes.

A Brooklyn lawmaker has joined the growing chorus of parents and activists calling on the city to close streets around school buildings for use as car-free space for recreation, lunch, small group instruction and other activities.

In just two days, City Council Member Brad Lander received proposals from 14 schools from his district — stretching from Boerum Hill and Park Slope to Sunset Park and Kensington — to use surrounding streets. He called on the Department of Transportation to establish an “Open Streets: Schools” program to help coordinate and oversee a citywide operation.

“Families, teachers, school staff and many others are deeply concerned about the safety of sending students back to indoor school in the fall, about whether their school facilities can be made safe (e.g. what about the schools where windows don’t open),” Lander wrote Thursday to the transportation department.

Lander’s letter is part of the effort to maintain social distance guidelines while providing in-person learning this year. Schools are figuring out how to safely hold socially distant classes for their hybrid of in-person and remote schedules, opting to repurpose cafeterias, auditoriums and even office space as classrooms. The push to look outdoors comes as much of the scientific evidence points to less transmission of the coronavirus outside, and as many families remain concerned about the ventilation inside classrooms despite promises from city officials that HVAC systems and ventilation upgrades are underway. Schools are also grappling with how to figure out how to follow social distancing rules with limited space, which means that most children will attend school next year between one and three days a week.

“This is especially dire for students in our most crowded schools, who may end up with up to 66 percent fewer school days simply by virtue of where they live,” Lander wrote.

The letter suggests that blocks could be closed to traffic during school hours to make room for students. Temporary tents could be set up for shade or rain protection, or in some cases, blocks could be fully closed to allow schools to set up semi-permanent tents and outdoor classroom spaces.

Trump has repeatedly defended the Confederate flag as a representation of Southern heritage, and he has defended Confederate monuments as part of “our history.” The military doesn’t want Confederate symbols and doesn’t want the names of Confederate leaders on its bases, which is deeply offensive to those who understand that the men so honored were traitors, not heroes.

Since there has been so much agitation about the Confederate flag and what it represents, it seems worthwhile to hear directly from the Vice-President of the Confederate States of America, Alexander H. Stephens, who gave a famous speech called “the Cornerstone Speech,” in 1861.

It is too long and tedious to print in full, but you can open the link and read it.

Here is the key section that explains the Cornerstone of the Confederacy.

The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.

In the conflict thus far, success has been on our side, complete throughout the length and breadth of the Confederate States. It is upon this, as I have stated, our social fabric is firmly planted; and I cannot permit myself to doubt the ultimate success of a full recognition of this principle throughout the civilized and enlightened world.

As I have stated, the truth of this principle may be slow in development, as all truths are and ever have been, in the various branches of science. It was so with the principles announced by Galileo it was so with Adam Smith and his principles of political economy. It was so with Harvey, and his theory of the circulation of the blood. It is stated that not a single one of the medical profession, living at the time of the announcement of the truths made by him, admitted them. Now, they are universally acknowledged. May we not, therefore, look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgment of the truths upon which our system rests? It is the first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society. Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite; then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances, or to question them. For His own purposes, He has made one race to differ from another, as He has made “one star to differ from another star in glory.” The great objects of humanity are best attained when there is conformity to His laws and decrees, in the formation of governments as well as in all things else. Our confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws. This stone which was rejected by the first builders “is become the chief of the corner” the real “corner-stone” in our new edifice. I have been asked, what of the future? It has been apprehended by some that we would have arrayed against us the civilized world. I care not who or how many they may be against us, when we stand upon the eternal principles of truth, if we are true to ourselves and the principles for which we contend, we are obliged to, and must triumph.

Thousands of people who begin to understand these truths are not yet completely out of the shell; they do not see them in their length and breadth. We hear much of the civilization and Christianization of the barbarous tribes of Africa. In my judgment, those ends will never be attained, but by first teaching them the lesson taught to Adam, that “in the sweat of his brow he should eat his bread,” and teaching them to work, and feed, and clothe themselves.

To understand what the Confederate flag represents, ponder the words of one of its leaders. It is a symbol of white supremacy and black subordination. It has no place in our country today other than as a relic of a terrible war that was fortunately lost by the racist Confederate States of America.

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, reports on a major NPE investigation of charter schools that double dipped into federal funding for coronavirus relief. The article was posted on Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet” at the Washington Post. First the charters received public funding from the $13.2 billion allocated to public schools as part of the CARES Act. Then, on the advice of charter school lobbyists, many applied for funding from the $660 billion Paycheck Protection Program, for which public schools were not eligible. Charters enroll 6% of the nation’s students.

Valerie Strauss introduces the report:

The Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, is a $660-billion business loan program established as part of the $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus legislation that Congress passed in the spring. PPP was aimed at helping certain small businesses, nonprofit organizations, sole proprietors and others stay in business during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Small Business Administration administered the program, and recently the SBA and the Treasury Department released some data on what organizations won loans from the program and how much they received. (Some loans can be forgiven if the PPP money is spent on keeping employees on the payroll.)

The release of funding details sparked some controversy about whether some of the organizations that received funds should have gotten them, including public charter schools — which are publicly funded but privately operated — and some elite private schools. (A Washington Post database shows the data.)

Charter schools received emergency stimulus money from Congress from the same fund that traditional public schools did — but some charter schools decided to apply for PPP loans as well, saying that they are underfunded through regular funding formulas and had a right to seek more aid. Other charter schools chose not to apply for loans, saying it would be double-dipping in federal aid funds.

Among those charters that did were some that knew they didn’t actually need the money to maintain financial stability. For example, 2KUTV in Salt Lake City did an investigation into Utah charter schools taking PPP funding and found that they took a total of $7.9 million. It reported on a discussion at the June 25 meeting of the governing board of the Utah Military Academy, a charter with two campuses, in which an unidentified board member explained how the $1.15 million in PPP funding that the school was expecting would be spent.

The conversation, heard on audio tapes, went like this, according to the CBS affiliate:

“So we take this money to pay the salaries, and the money we were going to pay salaries is going to go into our accounts to help flush up our funds,” said the board member.
“Can I ask a question?” a female voice said. “My understanding was that this money is for businesses who, because of the drop in business, were having trouble keeping all their employees. How do we qualify for that? Because our funding wasn’t cut at all.”
She also notes that no employees have been laid off by the school because of the covid-19 pandemic. Two more voices interject, “We’re a business,” and, “We’re a nonprofit.” A third voice is heard saying, “It’s some of that good free government money!”

With that, here is the post about just how much charter schools did get in PPP money, written by Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, an alliance of organizations that advocates for the improvement of public education. Burris, a former award-winning principal in New York, has been chronicling the charter school movement and the standardized-test-based accountability movement on this blog for years.

Here is Burris’s report:

On May 13, Washington Post reporter Perry Stein reported that some Washington, D.C., charter schools had been receiving funds from the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), although all of their taxpayer revenue continued to flow. By June 15, The New York Times’s Erica L. Green also wrote a story about how charter schools, some of which had billionaire backers, had been applying for and getting PPP money. Before long, local news agencies picked up on the story, questioning why schools that received public funding were tapping into the SBA program.

Unknown at the time was the national scope of the use of PPP funds by charters. Therefore, the Network for Public Education decided to scour the list of PPP recipients disclosed by the SBA and create lists by state of the charter schools and their management organizations that had received funding.

The amount that we have identified is staggering. More than 1,300 charter schools and their nonprofit or for-profits and management companies secured between $925 million and $2.2 billion through the PPP. We provide a range not from uncertainty but because the SBA chose not to report the exact amounts of the forgivable loans.
Even this range is an underestimate. Excluded from our calculations is the sizable number of PPP loans below $150,000 — which the Trump administration has not disclosed. You can find our state-by-state list of charter schools and charter management organizations, along with each school’s PPP range amounts on our website here.
Background

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools informed its members via email in March that it had successfully lobbied for charter schools to receive PPP funds and provided instructions on how such funding could be obtained. The blog that contained the contents of that email has been removed, however, you can find it in the Internet archives here. Not only did the charter school alliance encourage its members to apply, but the organization itself received its own PPP forgivable loan in the range of $350,000 and $1 million.

Because the laws regarding charter transparency vary from state to state, prior to the publication of the SBA list we could only obtain information about PPP loans by reading charter school minutes, if they were posted. In some cases, we were able to listen to available recordings of meetings. From that limited information, a disturbing pattern emerged.

Well-funded charters with ample funding were applying for and receiving large PPP awards. A discussion of the governing board of California’s Summit Public Schools was particularly insightful. Not only did the school’s chief executive officer report that the schools were in good fiscal standing, the only major concern of the board, in addition to public relations, was whether or not they would find themselves under criminal investigation if they took the funds and it was then discovered that Summit did not need the money.

When the SBA finally released the PPP data, a nonprofit research and policy organization group called In the Public Interest, and the nonprofit grassroots advocacy group Parents United for Public Schools, analyzed charter school recipients in the state of California. Meanwhile, Carol Burris, Marla Kilfoyle and Darcie Cimarusti of the Network for Public Education concentrated on the other 49 states and the District of Columbia. Professor Gary Miron of Western Michigan University provided a national list of for-profit and nonprofit charter management organizations, which we checked against the PPP database as well. Because some organizations did not list themselves as nonprofits but rather as corporations, and some charter schools have nonprofits with names different from the name of the school, it is likely we missed a sizable number of grantees.

What we found

California has the most charter schools in the nation — approximately 1,300. Even so, its charter sector received a disproportionately large amount of PPP funding, which may be as high as half a -billion dollars.
More than 400 charter organizations received loan money totaling between $240.7 million and $565.6 million. In the Public Interest has created a searchable database of the California charters that received PPP loans, available here. Two-thirds of these charters are affiliated with “CMO’s,” or “charter management organizations,” such as Learn4Life and Magnolia Public Schools, large chains with campuses statewide. Inspire Schools, whose founder and former chief executive officer has recently drawn criticism for receiving more than $1 million in retroactively authorized payroll, took as much as $29.7 million in PPP funding. This home-schooling charter network was expelled last fall from the California Charter Schools Association, an organization that typically unabashedly defends its members.

In Los Angeles County — where the Los Angeles Unified School District has more charter schools than any other school system in the country — according to In the Public Interest, charters received as much as $201 million. San Diego County charters received as much as $91 million.

The New York State charter sector received between $126 million and $293.2 million — even as local businesses were going belly up due to a lack of revenue during the high point of the covid-19 pandemic in that state.
While New York public school districts may have felt the pain of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) decision to not distribute federal CARES Act funding to schools and use it to fill the state’s budget hole instead, 146 of the 327 charter schools had that blow cushioned by PPP. For example, six of the eight New Vision Charter High Schools received PPP funding, which totaled at the high end of the range to $10 million. In addition, the New Visions charter management organization that manages the schools received its own PPP funding in an amount between $2 million and $5 million.

Beside California and New York, two other states’ charter sectors received high-end range PPP funding in excess of $100 million: Florida, at $152.8 million, and Louisiana, at $107.4 million. The charter sectors in three other states received up to $80 million or more: Arizona, $99.4 million; Pennsylvania, $85 million; and Texas $81.1 million. Again, readers can find state totals along with school names and funding ranges here.

National charter chains cash in

Learn4Life is a charter school chain claiming 80 campuses in California enrolling nearly 40,000 students. It is expanding to North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. Its schools are often storefronts in malls where over-aged or at-risk students pick up work to independently complete. On-site teachers provide support if needed.
According to In the Public Interest, Learn4Life schools received as much as $51.7 million in PPP funds — more than the total amount received by the entire charter sectors in the majority of states. Last June, a judge ordered the chain to close three of its San Diego County locations after school districts said they were operating illegally within their boundaries. Later that year, a Voice of San Diego investigation revealed that John Helgeson, a Learn4Life executive vice president, was collecting two paychecks paid with public money. In a scheme described as “a classic conflict interest,” Helgeson owned a for-profit company that loaned money and leased corporate office space to Learn4Life while he worked for the chain.

At a glance, Learn4Life seems too big to apply for a PPP loan. But like Shake Shack and other corporations with multiple locations, Learn4Life’s leaders took advantage of the chain’s structure to apply school by school, while also applying for their central management organization.

Learn4Life was hardly alone. Twenty-one organizations related to the KIPP charter chain have in total received an amount at the high end of the range, $68.7 million, more than the high end of the charter sector in 42 states.

The for-profit charter management organization Academica runs charter schools in seven states. Its home office is located in Florida, where the company manages scores of charter schools down the east coast of the state from Fort Pierce to Homestead. Academica also has a presence in Arizona, California, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. Academica Management, L.L.C, Academica West, and Academica Virtual Education, which the EMO uses to support online schooling, received PPP funding as did 15 of the schools it manages and supports. High-range amounts for Academica and its schools produce a total of $35.7 million.

Small charter management organizations jumped in as well. Phillips Education Partners, located in Newark, New Jersey, got between $150,000 and $350,000. It runs two charter schools. One of those two schools, Phillips Academy of Patterson, also received PPP in the same amount — $150,00-$350,000 — as the charter management organization. Miguel Brito, the chief executive officer of Phillips Education Partners, received total compensation in 2017 of $410,205. Meanwhile, the average salary for New Jersey school superintendents in 2017-18, was $155,631, according to an NJ Advance Media analysis of state data.

Authentic need or money grab?

The board of Palisades Charter High School near Los Angeles voted in June to accept $4.6 million in PPP funding despite admitting that they didn’t have an immediate need for the money. Yet, earlier this month, they voted to lay off five staff members, including a tutoring center coordinator, and reduce the hours of 18 other employees.

Palisades was not alone. In all of the minutes we read, and recordings we listened to, charter school boards reported ample fund balances and justified taking the money because future funding was uncertain. During a meeting of the Utah Military Academy, one board member described taking PPP funds as follows: “So we take this money to pay the salaries, and the money we were going to pay salaries is going to go into our accounts to help flush up our funds.”

However, preparing for possible uncertainties or “flushing up funds” was not the purpose of the program. We are aware of no other sector funded nearly exclusively by the taxpayers that received PPP.

This begs the questions about whether charter schools should have been allowed to access PPP money, and whether harm was caused by allowing them to do so.

Charter schools have received the same continuity of funding as district-run neighborhood public schools during the pandemic. Eligible charter schools — those schools with large numbers of low-income students —have also received federal CARES Act funding, as well as other state-based covid-19 relief. While receiving this funding that was intended to support public schools, charter schools are now also receiving funding that was intended for small businesses and nonprofits whose revenue streams were drastically impacted by the pandemic.
Granted, charter schools are not alone among nonprofits in taking funding just because they can. We found 17 nonprofit organizations that support charter schools (or advocated for charters receiving PPP funding) receiving that funding themselves — in total receiving between $6.3 and $14.8 million. For example, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a school reform think tank, is also an authorizer of charter schools in Ohio. It received between $350,000 and $1 million in PPP funding despite its initial endowment of $50 million. In 2018, the organization ended the year with a fund balance of $8 million. Readers can find a list of these charter support organizations and the amounts they received here.

And now to the question of harm. By taking PPP when not needed, systemic inequities increased. The PPP has been widely criticized as being difficult to access for many small businesses, particularly those owned by people of color.

A survey conducted in May of 500 black and Latinx small-business owners found that just 12 percent of those who had applied had received the funds they asked for, with nearly 50 percent anticipating having to permanently close in the next six months. A recent study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found “different levels of encouragement to apply for loans, different products offered, and different information provided by bank representatives.”

Certainly, there are other nonprofit and for-profit organizations beyond the charter school world that took covid-19 money just because they could. Although eligible via our nonprofit status, the Network for Public Education did not apply for PPP funds. We encourage other nonprofit organizations that were able to meet payroll without the funding to return those funds, making them available to the small businesses that never received them or that may need a second infusion of cash.

As to the funding supplied to charter schools, we suggest that as states distribute the next round of funding to schools, that allocations to charter schools that received PPP be reduced by the amount they received and be redistributed equitably to all schools, both public and charter.

Congress appropriated $13.2 billion for public schools to help them weather the coronavirus pandemic, which is causing cuts and layoffs.

South Carolina received $48 million in CARES funds.

Governor Henry McMaster has allotted $32 million of that total to underwrite vouchers for private schools.

Dr. Thomasena Adams, an educator and resident of Orangeburg, South Carolina, filed suit to block the Governor’s action. The lawsuit says the governor is giving a disproportionate amount of money to the 5,000 students who use vouchers, while shorting the 800,000 in public schools.

A circuit court judge in Orangeburg signed a temporary restraining order to block disbursement of the $32 million to voucher students.

Under the governor’s plan, students in Orangeburg public schools will receive $473 each, while voucher students will receive $6,500 each.

This tribute appeared on Garrison Keillor’s “The Writers’ Almanac.”

Today is the birthday of English author Aldous Huxley (books by this author), born in Godalming, Surrey (1894). He was the grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley, a scientist and man of letters who was known as “Darwin’s bulldog” for his defense of the theory of evolution. Huxley wrote a few novels that satirized English literary society, and these established him as a writer; it was his fifth book, Brave New World (1932), which arose out of his distrust of 20th-century politics and technology, for which he is most remembered. Huxley started out intending to write a parody of H.G. Wells’ utopian novel Men Like Gods (1923). He ended by envisioning a future where society functions like one of Henry Ford’s assembly lines: a mass-produced culture in which people are fed a steady diet of bland amusements and take an antidepressant called soma to keep themselves from feeling anything negative.

Brave New World is often compared with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948), since they each offer a view of a dystopian future. Cultural critic Neil Postman spelled out the difference in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture. … In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.”