Archives for category: Alabama

The controversial Woodlands Prep Charter School, led by Gulenist Sonar Tarim, is in deep trouble.

Larry Lee reports that the proposed school is seeking yet another extension, and the charter commission is running out of patience.

For some reason, the charter operator decided that a small rural community was the ideal place for a new charter, but the local community was outraged.

Tarim may have to find a state that is more hospitable to charter schools or a different district where the local residents have no voice.

Larry Lee, native Alabaman, follows the charter confusion in his home state, where the law describes precisely how charter schools should be authorized.

But, as Lee notes, the actual process of creating new charters has proceeded with complete disregard for the law, and no one seems to care.

Public schools in Montgomery will be replaced by charter schools, but the local board did not agree (the law said it should).

The charter mess has created disruption and chaos in Montgomery.

Count on it: charters will open and close. Public schools will founder as students “choose” to go to a flailing charter.

Staff will turnover. Principals will come and go.

Disruption.

That is the  point, isn’t it?

 

Betsy DeVos awarded $25 million to Alabama to grow some charter schools. She gave the money to an organization called “New Schools for Alabama,” which is supposed to launch 15 new charters over the next five years. Where there is money, there will always be takers, even where there is no need. This year, two charters are in the incubation stage. One is in Perry County, which has only two K-12 public schools, declining population, and low funding. The charter will be a nail in the coffin for one of those two public schools.

Larry Lee writes about what Betsy DeVos has done:

https://www.alreporter.com/2019/12/12/opinion-perry-county-schools-threatened-by-charter-schools/

Opinion | Perry County Schools threatened by charter schools

They stand as silent sentinels of a time gone by.  Watch towers on the past.  “They” are sturdy concrete silos, rising 40-50 feet above Perry County’s black prairie land.  Head south out of Marion on Highway 5 and you’ll spy one every few miles.  Each a reminder a dairy was once there and those silos were filled with corn silage to keep milk cows well-fed.
They remind us of the struggles this black belt county has faced for generations.  Struggles that continue today.
No one understands this any more than John Heard, longtime county school superintendent.  State data shows that public school enrollment has dropped from 1,938 to 1,256 in the last decade.  There are only two schools in the system today.  Things are no better at Marion Academy, a private school, that has fewer than 100 students in pre-12 through 12th grade.

And if one number can illustrate the plight of this school system it is 137.  That is where the system ranks in terms of local revenue per pupil.  Which means out of 137 systems in the state, it is dead last.  By comparison, its neighbor to the west, Marengo County, gets $1,300 more per student from local sources than Perry does.

Marion is the county seat.  In antebellum days it was a jewel in Alabama’s crown, probably best known for its commitment to higher education.  Judson College was founded in 1838 and is still there.  What is now Samford University in Birmingham began there.  Marion Military Institute’s parade grounds still welcome visitors on the south side of town.  Alabama State University in Montgomery has its roots in Marion.
All things considered, Perry County would appear to be the last place to open a charter school.  But in our quest to sprinkle charter schools at random around the state, that is the plan.  It makes no sense.  But then, in todays world of Alabama public education, logic is too often thrown to the wind.
If a charter school opens in Perry County, it will drive a stake in what’s left of the public school system because it will siphon precious dollars away.  Since charters are public schools supported by public dollars, every student attending one of the county’s two remaining schools (one which is rated a B by the state and the other rated C) means the county system will lose all Federal and state funding for that student.  Presently, this is about $8,500 per pupil.
 
How we got to this point is a curious tale and testimony to the consequences of what we are supposed to believe are good intentions.
New Schools for Alabama is a brand new non-profit based in Birmingham.   Its mission is to bring charter schools to the state.  This year’s education budget gave them $400,000 for operating expenses.  (Yep, we are taking money from public schools to fund a group who, if successful, will take more money from public schools.  Another example of the logic practiced by the supermajority leadership of the state legislature.)
New Schools was recently awarded a $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education headed by Betsy DeVos, who has never seen a charter school she didn’t like.  Plans are that New Schools will award three $1.5 million grants annually to give charters a jump start.  They have also set up a fellowship program in which they fund someone to spend time at a charter school in another state so they can come back to Alabama and get a charter up and running.
This is where Perry County comes in.  New Schools recently announced that one of their first fellowships is going to Darren Ramalho to start Breakthrough Charter School in Perry County.
And here is where the irony gets even more ironic.
Ramalho is a graduate of UCLA and came to Perry County in 2014 as a Teach For America teacher.  TFA descended on Alabama in 2011.  Like many others, they came to “save the Black Belt.”  Perry County has used TFA from the outset and while most other west Alabama school systems quit TFA years ago, Perry County has continued to do so.  Which means they have spent thousands and thousands of dollars on this program which puts temporary teachers in local schools.
In other words, someone from California who has been supported by John Heard and the Perry County system for several years now has intentions to bring harm to them.  As you can imagine, Heard is upset.  And rightly so.  In this corner of the world, actions such as this are sometimes referred to as “biting the hand that feeds you.”
Perry County is struggling–and has been for generations.  They definitely do not need an effort that will only intensify their struggles.
But putting a charter school there will do just that.

 

 

Larry Lee, an education advocate and blogger in Alabama, posted the story of a North Carolina mother who enrolled her sons in charter school, taking a blind leap of faith. She is a diligent mother, so she attended board meetings and followed her sons’ progress closely. But then she inquired about who and what was behind this charter school and she was gobsmacked. Lee was interested in the story because the same sharp operators are behind the controversial Woodland Prep charter school in Alabama.

Lee writes:

Alyson Ford is a mother in the Charlotte, NC area.  It wasn’t long after she enrolled one of her sons in a charter school that she began to feel something was amiss.  Soon she was attending board meetings of the school and digging into financial records.  What she found was disturbing and even led to conversations with the FBI.

What does this have to do with Alabama?  Many of the players Alyson has uncovered are involved with American Charter Development of Springville, Utah.  This company is heavily involved with both LEAD Academy in Montgomery and Woodland Prep in Washington County and has close ties to Soner Tarim.

Here is Alyson’s story:

“I have two boys.  One has only attended charter schools. The other has attended traditional public schools, as well as charter schools.

My son enrolled at Lakeside Charter Academy in November 2017, during their rebranding and name change from Thunderbird Preparatory Academy. He stayed through the 2018-2019 school year (4th grade). My stepson began at Lakeside in January 2018, for 4th grade. We withdrew him at the start of the 2018-2019 school year.

We chose the charter school route for several reasons. The biggest being that one son has a severe peanut allergy. The thought of him  eating lunch in a cafeteria, surrounded by peanut butter sandwiches was terrifying.  Our district schools are much larger than charters as well. We liked the idea of smaller schools for our boys. We like the sense of community offered at many charter schools.

We were aware of the negative press since Thunderbird opened in 2014. I studied the North Carolina Charter School Advisory Board meeting minutesl. The school was frequently in trouble and on the verge of having their charter revoked.

We toured the school and found the interim principal amazing. She was the reason we took the leap of faith. We were cautiously optimistic when enrolling at Lakeside Charter Academy (formerly Thunderbird Prep).

Given the school’s past I vowed to be very involved and attend board meetings. I was especially curious about the EB5 investors involved with the school. Even though I repeatedly asked questions regarding this I never received much clarity. Sadly, the more I attended board meetings the more unanswered questions I had.

So she started looking for the answers to her questions. You may be surprised to see what she learned.

 

The board of Alabama’s first charter school, LEAD Academy, fired its principal, Nicole Ivey, and she is retaliating with a lawsuit that airs the school’s dirty laundry. 

Those named in the suit include Charlotte Meadows, the school’s founder and board president who is also running for the Alabama Legislature; Soner Tarim; owner of Unity School Services, an education service provider; Unity School Services; and each of the school’s board members: Ryan Cantrell, William Green and Lori White….

The suit claims LEAD’s objective is to “maximize school revenue and academic achievement by minimizing the presence of students with special needs.”

Prior to the enrollment application window opening, the suit claims Meadows expressed that she did not want special education children enrolled in the school. When it was explained to Meadows that the law prohibits discrimination against this group of children, the suit claims that Meadows responded that “We’re a charter school. We don’t have to follow the law,”: or words to that effect…”
Meadows, a former Montgomery County Board of Education president, is currently running for the Alabama House of Representatives District 74 seat. The lawsuit claims that Meadows actively ran her campaign out of the school’s finance office during hours of operation…
Prior to the school opening, the Montgomery Area Association of Realtors donated $200,000 to LEAD Academy. The suit claims half of that was put into a bank account that was solely managed by the school’s board president, Meadows, and one board member, White.

To Ivey’s knowledge at the time of her separation with the school, “none of the remaining $100,000 was expended to support the education programs at LEAD Academy,” the suit claims.

And then she gets to the nepotism and cronyism.

Andy Spears, editor of the Tennessee Education Report, says that Tennessee should learn from Alabama’s mistakes when authorizing charter schools.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee wants to disrupt public schools and throw open the public treasury to anyone who wants to open a charter school. He wants charters to open without the approval of local school districts, a recipe for disruption and an attack on local control.

Andy Spears writes:

Look to Alabama to see what happens.

Here’s more from the Alabama Political Reporter:

Woodland Prep is a charter school horror story — and it hasn’t even been built yet.

Located in rural Washington County, Woodland Prep, which will open as a K-7 school this fall and add a grade level each year, is everything state leaders assured us could never happen under Alabama’s charter school laws.

Its land is owned by a shady Utah holding company. Its building is owned by a for-profit Arizona company. It will be managed by a for-profit Texas company that doesn’t employ a single Alabamian. It will pay the head of that management company around $300,000 per year — up front. Its application was rejected by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which Alabama pays a hefty sum to review and approve charter applications. Woodland’s management plan failed to meet basic standards for approval in any of the three plan areas reviewed by NACSA.

In spite of all of those concerns, Woodland Prep was approved by the Alabama Charter School Commission — a board similar to the one envisioned by Lee and his legislative supporters for authorizing charters in Tennessee.

Governor Lee is following orders from ALEC and Betsy DeVos. He does not have the best interests of the children of Tennessee at heart.

 

 

For some reason, the Gulen charter chain thought that it would be a good idea to open a charter in a rural county in Alabama. Residents of Washington County were outraged, and the charter didn’t enroll enough students to open. The state charter commission asked no questions of Soner Tarim, the leader of Woodland Prep, and gave the school a one-year extension.

But as veteran education writer Larry Lee reports, the commission members changed and now Tarim was asked tough questions about his enrollment and finances and demanded evidence, which he could not supply.

The school is being built by American Charter Development out of Springville, Utah.  Their construction manager was at the meeting.  When Henry Nelson wanted to know why so little progress had been made on the building, this guy told him that it rains a lot in Alabama and that was slowing them down.

Everyone in the room guffawed knowing that Alabama is suffering its worst drought in decades.

(State representative Brett  Easterbrook of Washington County attended the meeting and said to me afterwards, “If you can’t tell the truth about where you live and the weather, how can you believe anything these folks says?” )

 

Josh Moon of the Alabama Political Reporter reports that Montgomery’s first charter school has devolved into a chaotic messonly six weeks after opening. 

LEAD Academy, Montgomery’s first charter school, has been a chaotic mess since it opened less than six weeks ago, with staffing shortages leaving more than 70 students crammed into one class, angry teachers left without necessary supplies, student shortages threatening the school, extensive discipline issues and an ongoing fight between staff and the LEAD board over a strange contract that faculty members are being forced to sign several weeks after school has started, according to numerous LEAD teachers and employees who spoke with APR. 

Most of the issues have remained internal, with few details leaking outside of LEAD’s walls … until Friday, when the school’s first principal, Nicole Ivey, resigned unexpectedly. Almost immediately, rumors began to swirl and worried faculty members started to discuss the multitude of issues at LEAD. 

Two staff members who worked closely with Ivey said she ultimately resigned after a heated argument with LEAD board president Charlotte Meadows, who was pushing Ivey to require the staff to sign an at-will work contract which would allow the board to fire or reduce the pay of any LEAD employee without cause. But those staff members, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear that they could be fired by Meadows, said Ivey’s resignation was likely inevitable due to a litany of mismanagement issues and odd decisions by leadership at the school….

For several weeks now, LEAD Academy staff members and their family members have been sending APR information about problems at the school. Prior to Friday, those issues ranged from the mundane to something just short of serious. But following Ivey’s resignation, a flood of information, including details of troubling safety issues and possible fraud allegations, came pouring in from LEAD staffers….

”This is the craziest place I’ve ever worked,” said one employee who has experience working in other school districts in Alabama. “There are no rules. They don’t follow the law. And when you ask Charlotte about it, or say that we can’t do something because it’s illegal, she’ll just tell you that ‘LEAD is a charter school and charter schools don’t follow laws.’”

”Lawless” is the word that teachers use most often to describe the school.

Read the story.

Then ask yourself, why do Alabama state leaders want to inflict this disruption and chaos on children? Why do Republican politicians think that schools like this are just what children in their state need? Do they want to dumb down future generations? Are they preparing children for a jobless economy where robots make decisions? What’s the game?

 

 

Terri Michal is an elected school board member in Birmingham. Betsy DeVos recently gave $25 million to Alabama from the federal Charter Schools Program, which she uses as her personal slush fund.

Federal Grants and Surplus Property: DeVos’s Solution to Help the Students of Birmingham, AL.

By Terri Michal

In Alabama we have a Legislature that appears to be perfectly fine creating legislation that targets our black and brown high poverty students in Birmingham.

We have education organizations and foundations that work against the very schools they are contracted to support.

We have a State Superintendent that is condoning the targeting of our students.

We have a real estate executive that in 2015 actively worked, unbeknownst to Birmingham City Schools (BCS), to get our charter school law passed while at the same time holding a contract to sell surplus properties for the school system. This information was just recently exposed. They are still under contract with BCS.  

Now, thanks to an old organization, the Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools, renamed New Schools for Alabama, we can add Betsy DeVos to that dogpile. Like the cherry on top of a sundae, Betsy DeVos is the final piece needed to serve up Birmingham City Public Schools to the power-hungry politicians and the gluttonous corporations they work for.

So, what was it exactly that DeVos did to make their charter school dreams come true? She awarded New Schools for Alabama a $25 million-dollar grant to open 15 charter schools, a majority of which no doubt will be in Birmingham.

However, New Schools wasn’t the only one that got a gift, I did too.  What was it? The Federal grant application that New Schools filed in an effort to receive that CSP Grant. It brought together, in one document, the entire cast of characters that’sworking to undermine public education in Birmingham, Alabama.

When I began reading it, I didn’t really know what I was looking for.

But the first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that they had no problem saying they were targeting Birmingham, along with 3 other districts. Now, finally, for all of those in this city who refuse to believe we are targets for privatization, it’s right there in the application in black and white. I guess we can now put that ‘conspiracy theory’ to rest.

Second, I noticed the people and organizations that wrote letters in support of New Schools for Alabama and the grant that would be undermining our public schools; Alabama Sen. Del Marsh (R), U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D), State Superintendent Eric Mackey, the Mike and Gillian Goodrich Foundation, the Daniel Foundation, and A+ Education Partnership, just to mention a few.

Third, and possibly the most disturbing, was the fact that the Executive Director of NSFA, Tyler Barnett, used data gathered from our voucher law, the Alabama Accountability Act, to justify targeting our black and brown students for charter schools.  Here’s what he said:

Of Alabama’s 76 state-designated failing schools—meaning, the bottom 6% of schools in academic achievement—72 had at least a 90% poverty rate.  And of the 38,420 students in those failing schools, 96% are Black or Hispanic.

Ninety Six percent are Black or Hispanic!! How in the world can Mr. Barnett, or anyone else for that matter, take this data andthen twist it to blame the schools and/or the students for ‘failing’? Especially knowing the same Sen. Del Marsh that wrote the recommendation letter for this grant was also responsible for bringing us the Accountability Act.  Just as they are targeting our students for charter schools, the Accountability Act targets our black and brown students and labels their schools as failing.

This data is garbage, the only purpose it serves is to strengthen the systemic racism that exists in public education in Alabama. If you are thinking to yourself, ‘it’s the poverty’, it’s not.  Approx. half of our public-school students that live in poverty in Alabama are white.

Finally, the most surprising thing I found was this, in reference to what our charter school law says about acquiring real estate:

Already, this law has been exercised by a charter applicant in Birmingham City Schools, which sold a historic but underutilized school building in the fall of 2018 so that an emerging charter network could restore the building for school use.

Wait, what?  I am a board member for BCS, I would like to think that I’d know if we sold a building for charter school use.We did attempt to sell one property last fall, but the sale fell through in February, a month after the NSFA Federal Grant Application was submitted.

If we were to believe that the information in this federal application were true, and why wouldn’t we, the reason I didn’t know the surplus property was going to be a charter school is, more than likely, because of three little words that come after the buyer’s name on our real estate sale agreement, ‘and/or assigns’.What these three words do is allow the person buying the property to assign the sale to a third party.  So, if it says John Smith and/or assigns, then maybe John Smith is buying it, and maybe he’s just making a quick buck for his services and passing the sale on to a third party.  As a BCS school board member, I don’t really KNOW who’s buying our property.

One bit of information I left out; New Schools for Alabama is still legally the Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools(ACPS). This coalition’s sole purpose was to get the charter school law passed in Alabama.  Once it did that, the organization went dormant.

Now they have rebranded themselves with a new name, a new board and a new purpose.  Part of their new purpose is to help prospective charter schools buy and/or lease property. (Surprise!!)

In light of this very generous offering from our public-school hating Secretary of Education, I decided it was time to revisit the old board of ACPCS, just to refresh my memory.  

Right away I came across the name of J. Michael Carpenter.  I can tell you, I was more than a little surprised to find out that it was the same J. Michael Carpenter that founded Bloc Global,the real estate company that Birmingham City Schools has had under contract to sell surplus properties since 2011. Could this be how NSFA knew that we sold property to be utilized as a charter school?

So, let me explain this again in very simple terms.  As a Birmingham City Schools Board member I discovered that the real estate company that we have under contract to sell  our surplus property was, in part,  founded by and currently still under the direction of, the very same person that sat on the board of the coalition that is  responsible for helping write our charter school law and lobbying for its passage. Legally that coalition (ACPCS) is the same entity doing business as New Schools for Alabama. NSFA wrote the CSP Grant Application that stated the BCS board sold property in the fall of 2018 to someone for charter school use.

 Is your head spinning? Well so is mine. I knew none of this information until recently. I’m very concerned and upset that as an elected member of the BCS board I had to spend days doing research to uncover all of this myself.  

Yet, I know this is how things work in Betsy’s world.  The world of charter schools is one big land grab full of backroom deals and shell games. Now, with this new information and the $25 million dollar grant it appears the final piece of the charter school puzzle is in place in Birmingham.

Land???  Check.

Betsy DeVos was sad to see that Alabama had only four charter schools. So she awarded $25 million to an organization tasked with generating more private charters to drain money away from the state’s underfunded public schools.

The state charter commission has been mired in controversy since giving its approval to a Gulen charter school in a rural district where it was not wanted.

The rationale for charters is that they have more flexibility than public schools, but if flexibility from state regulations is needed, why doesn’t the state grant flexibility to its real public schools? Why doesn’t it abolish burdensome regulations and mandates for community public schools?

Next time you hear a pundit say that DeVos doesn’t have the power to do damage, think of her unilateral control of $440 million in the federal Charter Schools Program, which has become her personal slush fund.