Archives for category: California

Jennifer Hall Lee lives in Pasadena, California. Her child is now enrolled in the high school, but Lee continues to volunteer and raise money for the middle school, where she is needed. In a note to me, she said that 45% of the students in Pasadena are attending private schools, charter schools, or home schooled. The public schools are suffering because of this splintering of civic energy.

She explained why she cares about the middle school:

The annual fund committee raises money throughout the year to help Eliot pay for teacher salaries, supplies, programs, technology and more–all of which keeps Eliot an arts magnet school. Annual funds, once the staple of private schools, are now necessary for many public schools. Pasadena Unified doesn’t receive money from a parcel tax and California ranks very low in per-pupil spending. Let me explain that by referring to the words of Pasadena School Board Member Pat Cahalan as he explains the funding disparity well: “Wisconsin funds public education at about $2,000 more per student. If California funded PUSD at that rate, the district would have over $30 million more every year.”

Eliot is a Title 1 school, which means that our student body is over 50% socio-economically disadvantaged. Moreover, we have to deal with reality: low statewide spending on students, no parcel tax, and misperceptions about PUSD. When the annual fund committee meets to discuss fundraising ideas, we have to deal with those three realities. They are in the room with us, underscoring our ideas as we decide which events to hold and what monies we can reasonably expect to raise. It’s difficult, but also joyful.

During the first year of the Eliot annual fund, we reached the goal of $50k; believe me, it was a huge lift. It took 12 months, but we succeeded, and I have to say this: we couldn’t have done it without everyone, including community members who had no children in Eliot but who participated, reached out to us, donated, and encouraged us. We are so grateful.

In today’s political climate we need everyone’s generosity and interest in our school to help us succeed. Children need to know that everyone in their community cares about them.

 

Here is an excellent idea from the California Democratic Party: Charter schools should be governed by elected boards, just like real public schools.

California is a bellwether for the nation. This strong stance shows that teachers are reclaiming their profession from billionaires and hedge fund managers.

Edsource reports:

Taking aim at the majority of charter schools in the state, the California Democratic Party has included language in its platform declaring that these schools should be overseen by publicly elected boards, in contrast to the self-appointed boards that run most of them.

The new language, adopted at the state party’s annual convention in Long Beach over the weekend, was promoted by the 120,000-member California Federation of Teachers and strengthens an already strongly worded section of the California Democratic Party’s platform on charter schools.

It is especially significant because it comes from a state with by far the largest number of charter schools in the nation, enrolling just over 10 percent of all the state’s public school students. It also underscored the ongoing divisions within the party over charter schools, which have become about one of the most contentious issues on the nation’s education reform agenda.

“We need to keep certain services public, and education is one of them,” said California Federation of Teachers President Jeff Freitas.

The party platform includes this new language:

CALIFORNIA DEMOCRATIC PARTY PLATFORM

Urges “support for those charter schools that are managed by public and elected boards, not for profit, transparent in governance, have equitable admissions, adopt fair labor practices and respect labor neutrality, and supplement rather than supplant existing public education program.” — Adopted by California Democratic Party, November 2019

 

 

School closings in Oakland are accelerating. These closures disproportionately affect the lives and well-being of black and brown students. They need stability, not disruption and constant churn. Black communities across the nation have suffered disinvestment in their communities because of school closings.


Reply-To:
“Kwesi Chappin, Color Of Change” <info@colorofchange.org>

Tell Acting School Board President Jody London to stop Oakland’s school closures today  

Black students in Oakland classroom

Black kids deserve stability in education.

TAKE ACTION

 

Last Wednesday, under Acting Oakland Unified School Board President Jody London’s watch, parents were physically barred from participating in a school board discussion that has the potential to completely change the trajectories of their children’s futures.1 In spite of escalating protests from teachers and parents, Oakland Unified School District is moving along plans to close up to 24 schools over the next three years.2 The vast majority of these schools, many of which are known for developing culturally competent curriculum and tight-knit relationships with the communities they serve, are located in predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods in East and West Oakland.

The fight to protect our schools is the fight to protect our communities.

When schools leave our communities, the vital resources they provide our students and their families leave with them. The underinvestment in Black students’ education that Oakland’s school closures represent has been mirrored in nearly every major city in the country. If we do not take action now, the complete disregard Black students are being shown in California will undoubtedly continue to go unchecked across the nation. This is why we are demanding that Acting School Board President Jody London place a moratorium on all school closures in the Oakland Unified School District today.

Will you sign the petition and forward this email to make sure your voice is heard? Add your name here.

From Chicago to D.C. to Philadelphia, the rate of school closures in predominantly Black neighborhoods, especially those with rising rates of gentrification, has jumped dramatically in the past ten years3. Studies show that these closures hit Black students the hardest. While white students are “significantly more likely to transfer to high performing schools,” Black students who get displaced rarely benefit academically or otherwise from their new placements4, widening the achievement gap that the historic Brown v. Education decision to end racial segregation in education once sought to close. For so many of our communities, schools are one of the only institutions that still provide consistent support and resources to both Black children and their families5. Once those schools shut down, Black students get left behind, with no real plan in place to ensure that the new schools they attend have the appropriate resources to guarantee their success or their safety. What happens in the fight for both equity and equality in education in Oakland will set the stage for what’s possible for our communities across the country for years to come. We have to make it our business to support all Black students’ right to a stable education today.

Black kids deserve stability in education. Take action to demand Acting President Jody London place a moratorium on all school closures in the district NOW.  

Systems built without our input will not meet the needs of our communities. Our children should not have to be shuffled out of their own communities for the false promise of a quality education – our fight is for a deeper investment in the schools that they already attend. While the Oakland Unified School District continues to spend well over 6 million dollars a year on hiring police officers at schools who criminalize, traumatize, and harshly punish our children, they refuse to meaningfully invest in the teachers, counselors, and nurses who have been proven to support their growth and potential 6. That isn’t right! Take action today to let President Jody London know that she has a responsibility to invest in the solutions her constituents want, not to ignore their concerns and lock them out of this process. Sign now to demand that Acting President London and the board of directors put a moratorium on all school closures immediately.

Sign now to let Acting President Jody London know we want a moratorium placed on Oakland school closures now. 

Until justice is real,
—Kwesi, Arisha, Shannon, Chad, Dominique, Daniel, Corina, Imani, Quiana, Sadie, Ariana, and the rest of the Color Of Change team

References:

  1. “Oakland school board may close meeting to public after protests,” East Bay Times,November 12, 2019, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/195290?t=11&akid=39141%2E2472185%2EEuJQKB
  2. “Oakland school board’s vote to close schools draws ire from parents, teachers,” Mercury News, September 12, 2019, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/163219?t=13&akid=39141%2E2472185%2EEuJQKB
  3. “School Closings Are Shutting The Doors On Black And Hispanic Students,” ThinkProgress, May 14, 2014, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/163220?t=15&akid=39141%2E2472185%2EEuJQKB
  4. “School Closures Tend to Displace Black, Poor Students With Few Positive Outcomes,” Kinder Institute for Research, August 2, 2016, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/163220?t=17&akid=39141%2E2472185%2EEuJQKB
  5. “Gentrification, School Closings, and Displacement in Chicago,” The American Prospect, March 14, 2019, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/163220?t=19&akid=39141%2E2472185%2EEuJQKB
  6. “From Report Card to Criminal Record,” The Black Organizing Project, Public Counsel, and the ACLU Northern California, August 2013, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/163220?t=21&akid=39141%2E2472185%2EEuJQKB


Color Of Change is building a movement to elevate the voices of Black folks and our allies, and win real social and political change. Help keep our movement strong.

 

WHAT AN OUTRAGE! “Reform” strikes again. Literally.

 

PRESS STATEMENT & PRESS AVAILABILITY

October 24, 2019

Contact: OEA 2nd Vice President, Chaz Garcia, 510-414-3593

Statement from OEA 2nd Vice President Chaz Garcia on Behalf of the OEA Officers on OUSD’s Use of Violence at School Board Meeting

 

“Last night, OUSD police pushed, choked and clubbed peaceful elementary school parents and educators who were protesting school closures. We hold the OUSD Board of Directors and Superintendent Johnson-Trammell responsible for setting the stage for this violence by erecting barricades, and for the actions of their police force. The Oakland Education Association condemns these acts of policing and violence in the strongest possible way, as we have opposed (and went on strike against) the harm done to our students by school closures, the harm done when a Board member choked a teacher in March, and OUSD’s continued spending of over $6.5 million on OUSD police while underspending on counselors, nurses, and school psychologists that our students need.” 

 

“Oakland students, parents and educators deserve better than what the OUSD Board and Superintendent Johnson-Trammell are giving us. Oakland educators demand that OUSD immediately: 

 

  • Enact a moratorium on all planned and future school closures; 

  • Issue a public apology to our students, parents and educators for the use of police barricades, over-policing, and violence at last night’s board meeting;

  • Defund the OUSD police force, and redirect those funds toward the counselors, nurses and other supports our students need; and immediately suspend, investigate and discipline officers for their behavior last night.”


PRESS AVAILABILITY: OEA 2nd Vice President Chaz Garcia, Noon to 2pm today (October 24th); OEA office (272 E. 12th Street, Oakland, 94606)

 

Will Huntsberry of the Voice of San Diego has covered the scandals blighting California’s Charter Industry, especially the A3 online scandal, the largest in American history.

In this article, he goes straight to the heart of the scandals: the flawed audit process.

California lawmakers created a system that places just one process at the forefront of detecting fraud and mismanagement in the state’s schools: a yearly audit, conducted by a “state-approved,” “independent” auditor, according to the Department of Education.

But these auditors are not independent, in so much as they are hired and fired at will by the schools they are auditing. The term state-approved is also something of a misnomer. To qualify as an approved firm, the State Controller’s Office must only verify that the potential auditors are accountants in good standing with the California Board of Accountancy.

No special training or vetting required.

The audits themselves are also not designed to dig deeply into a school’s finances, according to transcripts from a grand jury proceeding into an alleged $80 million charter scam obtained by Voice of San Diego.

A3 Education operated 19 online charter schools around the state. The schools enrolled thousands of students, some real and some fake, prosecutors say. Two men at the top of the alleged scheme funneled $80 million out of the public education system and into companies they controlled, prosecutors say.

Even though few other people ever existed on the companies’ payrolls besides the owners, auditors following standard procedures missed that part of the alleged scam, as well as others, according to the grand jury transcripts.

“They’re not designed to catch fraud at all,” Michael Fine, who runs a state fiscal watchdog agency called the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team, told Voice of San Diego. “To have a certain confidence level in the numbers, they do some testing of transactions. But that testing is fairly limited.”

Fine said there’s another critical element that could limit the auditors’ effectiveness: They rely on what school management teams show them, rather than getting much behind the numbers.

That makes no sense. Ask the folks in charge of a massive scam to show you the numbers they choose to show.

California and charter fraud are becoming synonymous.

 

California is paying a high price for its notoriously lax law for authorizing charter schools, which was revised in recent weeks.

Tom Ultican sees a striking similarity between the Inspire charter chain, which enrolls home schoolers, and the A3 chain, which went up in flames with a loss to taxpayers of at least $50 million.

Inspire Charter School mirrors the methods of A3 Education. It employs practices strikingly similar to those that led to May’s 67-count indictment against A3’s leaders. Furthermore, the California Charter School Association (CCSA) took the same unusual step of sharing concerns about Inspire and A3 with California authorities. They are virtual schools that concentrate on obtaining authorization from small school districts. These systems have a similar structure in which a central organization controls the schools that are contracting with it and they transfer funds among multiple organizations making it difficult to monitor their activities. Students at both Inspire and A3 struggle academically.

The Acton-Aqua Dulce Unified School District is infamous for authorizing suspect charter applications while not having the resources to adequately monitor those schools. It has 1085 public school students and 14,734 charter school students. Acton-Aqua Dulce authorized Inspire’s first charter school which was located in Los Angeles County. Strangely, Inspire Charter grew from 151 students in the 2014-15 school year to 4,321 students in the 2018-19 school year and then closed up shop this June 30th.

Founder Nick Nichols needed a program that would service his target audience of home school students.  The Inspire 2016 tax form shows that he purchased curriculum from Academic Arts and Action for $149,625. This is notable because the chairman of Academic Arts and Action was Jason Schrock and the President was Sean McManus. That is the same Schrock and McManus indicted in the A3 scandal.

The education writer for the San Diego Union Tribune (UT), Kristen Taketa, has been relentlessly pursuing the Inspire story. She explains one of the the charters selling points,

“Inspire parents have been able to spend state-provided money on expenses they say are educational, from Disneyland annual passes to private ice skating coaching. The list of places where Inspire parents could spend school funds has included Costco, Amazon, Big Air Trampoline Park, Medieval Times, Guitar Center and the DNA testing company 23 and Me, according to Inspire’s list of approved vendors.”

Inspire provides each parent $2600 to $3000 to spend on field trips and other educational resources.

Last year Nick Nichols oversaw nine schools with 23,300 total students. In the 2016-17 school year, Inspire took in $76,018,441 yet their debt was skyrocketing. Their pay for officers went from $65,318 for the 2014-15 school year to $2,011,898 in the 2016-17 school year. Nick Nichols did especially well.

Inspire Income-Debt-Wages-Table

Data from Inspire Tax Documents

The UT’s Taketa reports, “Inspire expects to pull in $285 million in state funding this school year.”

Inspire just secured another $50,000,000 loan from the California School Finance Authority. With booming student daily attendance income and large financial backing from the state, it is strange that Nick Nichols chose now to take a temporary leave of absence. Former Mount Diablo Superintendent and Inspire’s chief operating officer, Steven Lawrence, is taking over as executive director.

As Ultican shows, Inspire’s students have very poor academic results.

How much longer will this charade continue with state money? Will someone wake up the taxpayer’s and legislators?

 

Working with his treasure trove of emails among charter operators, which he obtained via a public records request, blogger Michael Kohlhaas explains how the Charter Lobby managed to reduce the powers of the Office of Inspector General, whose investigations into corrupt charters had been a thorn in their side.

This is an important post. Read it in full. The charter lobby dedicates a lot of time and money to avoiding accountability and transparency.

He begins:

The Los Angeles Unified School District has a particularly powerful oversight office, the Office of the Inspector General, known in the trade jargon as OIG. And in 2018 the School Board failed to renew then-IG Ken Bramlett’s contract. According to LA Times education reporter Howard Blume, pro-charter board members Monica Garcia, Kelly Gonez, and Nick Melvoin voted against renewal, which was enough to deadlock the board and prevent Bramlett’s return. Blume also noted that Bramlett had aggressively investigated some charter schools, in some cases leading to criminal charges being filed, and that charter schools had been clamoring for limits on OIG’s ability to investigate them but he stopped short of saying that Bramlett’s fall from grace was due to charter school influence.

And later a bunch of overwhelmingly salacious details of a number of really appalling and quite serious hostile work environment complaints against some of Bramlett’s senior subordinates came out along with credible accusations that Bramlett had at best failed to take these complaints seriously. Regardless of the validity of the uproar, and it seems quite valid indeed to me, this had the effect of directing most of the media attention away from charter school involvement in Bramlett’s downfall. Not entirely, though. For instance, Kyle Stokes, education reporter with KPCC, did mention that charter schools had been seeking to limit OIG’s role in overseeing them, although in that same article noted that “sources who spoke to KPCC said that concern over charter oversight was not a factor in the board’s thinking”

But newly published internal documents from the Los Angeles Advocacy Council, a shadowy organization run by the California Charter School Association and about 20 local charter school leaders, paint a very different picture. In fact LAAC and the CCSA give themselves credit for taking advantage of the chaos at OIG in order to effectively remove oversight of charter schools from OIG’s purview.

Not only that but they claim to have kept quiet about the issue in order to protect their public image. In the same document they also claim that they were asked to do so by unnamed people in the District who promised CCSA and LAAC that “they would handle it, and they followed through” Given some statements in another document it’s not impossible that convicted felon and then Board member Ref Rodriguez was one of these unnamed people. The charterites were thrilled by the outcome of their work against OIG oversight, announcing that it “should be seen as a major win by and for the charter community.” Perhaps this media strategy underlay Stokes’s sources’ comment about charter involvement in Bramlett’s non-renewal.

Inspire Charter Schools does not inspire confidence in its academics, its finances, or its integrity. Inspire makes money by getting state money to underwrite home schooling, with state-subsidized field trips and lots of folderol.

Things got so bad that the Inspire chain was kicked out by the California Charter Schools Association, the powerhouse lobbyists for the charter industry. There is just so much embarrassment that the CCSA can tolerate and this is one of those rare occasions. In the past, CCSA has defended criminal charter operators, but drew the line at Inspire and called for an independent audit of its financials.

The California Charter Schools Association has expelled the Inspire home charter school network from its membership and is now calling for a third-party investigation, citing concerns about the network’s operational and governance practices.

At the same time, a group of county superintendents from across the state has asked a state agency to audit Inspire, though the scope of that audit request and the list of superintendents requesting it have not yet been finalized.

Meanwhile, a tiny California school district said it believes an Inspire school it oversees has been violating state law. The district, Winship-Robbins Elementary, said it may shut down the school if it fails to address several concerns that the district has about its finances, academics and organizational practices.

The California Charter Schools Association announced in a statement posted Tuesday on its website that the association and its Member Council have decided to revoke Inspire’s membership. They made that decision based on a review of Inspire that the association had launched in October after hearing concerns from other charter schools….

An investigation by The San Diego Union-Tribune in August found that Inspire has grown rapidly in recent years in numbers of schools and students while relying on heavy loan borrowing, consistently posting below-average academic performance and engaging in what several say are questionable organizational practices.

Inspire allots $2,600 or more of public school funds to each student annually to spend on a list of thousands of vendors who sell field trips, academic and extracurricular classes, curriculum and more, including items such as horseback riding lessons and ski passes.

Public scrutiny of Inspire grew after 11 people were criminally indicted in May in relation to another statewide charter network called A3. San Diego County prosecutors accused A3 executives of manipulating enrollment numbers and using charter schools to funnel more than $50 million into their own pockets.

Among other “unethical” practices, Inspire was poaching students from other charter schools with promises of free tickets to Disneyland!

Another critic is Terri Schiavone, the Founder and Director of Golden Valley Charter School in Ventura. Schiavone says her school is one of many that are losing students to Inspire Charter.

“They target a school and then they try to get as many of their teachers and students as possible,” Schiavone said.

Schiavone said families and teachers are enticed by incentives like using instructional funds to buy tickets to Disneyland and other theme parks. Schiavone says there is a lack of oversight and accountability.

No one is making sure teachers are checking up on students’ work, and Schiavone says parents can buy whatever they want from vendors who she says are not fingerprinted or even qualified.

“It’s very desirable for some parents to enroll in schools in which nobody’s looking over their shoulder,” said Schiavone. “They can utilize whatever curriculum they want, including religious curriculum, which is illegal if using public dollars.”

Inspire found parents to defend the glory of home-schooling with public subsidy.

A few days ago, Inspire announced that its CEO and founder was taking a leave of absence. 

 

Last June, blogger Michael Kohlhaas received a huge trove of documents from the Green Dot Charter Chain in response to his request filed under the state’s Public Record Act. He has been reviewing these documents and releasing them.

In this post, he summarizes a Powerpoint presentation (and provides a link to the actual document) in which the California Charter Schools Association lays out its goals.

He headlines the post:

A SECRET POWERPOINT FROM THE CALIFORNIA CHARTER SCHOOLS ASSOCIATION REVEALS 2019 LOBBYING PRIORITIES AND STRATEGIES — IN PARTICULAR THEY CONSIDER POSITIONING THEMSELVES AS CHAMPIONS OF EQUITY AND EQUALITY BUT WORRY THAT THEIR SUPPORTERS MIGHT SEE THAT AS “MISSION CREEP” — THEY CONSIDER SUPPORTING EQUAL ACCESS TO HIGH QUALITY SCHOOLS BUT WORRY THAT SUCH A POSITION MIGHT ALIENATE THE “CHOICE WING” OF THEIR BASE — THEY LIST AMONG THE GREATEST THREATS THE BARE POSSIBILITY THAT CHARTER SCHOOLS MIGHT BE REQUIRED TO EARTHQUAKE PROOF THEIR BUILDINGS TO THE SAME STANDARD AS PUBLIC SCHOOLS — IN SHORT THIS IS A SEETHING STEW OF PRIVILEGE — AND ARROGANCE — AND CLUELESS SELF-EXPOSURE — IN OTHER WORDS MORE OF THE DAMN SAME STUFF!…

If you want to understand this powerful lobbying group, which spends millions of dollars every year to protect the charter industry and to block accountability and transparency, you have to read the post.

He adds:

As you must know by now the California Charter School Association is the premiere wingnut loony tunes mouth-frothing privatization advocacy organization in the state. And we’ve been learning an unprecedentedly awful1 lot about them since June due to a huge set of records2 released by Green Dot Charter Schools in response to a request I made of them under the California Public Records Act.

These records are so rich, so complex, so voluminous, that it’s taking me freaking forever to go through them, sort them, write about them, and I’m therefore laying them on you in increments. And the increment at hand is this powerpoint presentation, created by the CCSA in August 2018 to explain the next year’s goals and fears to their members. I have also exported this as a PDF for ease of use.3There are also JPEGs of the slides at the end of the post if that’s better.

And my goodness, what a revealing heap of steaming and pernicious arrogance we have here. Under recent wins, for instance, we learn that the CCSA “Conditioned Legislature to defeat a half dozen harmful policy and budget proposals in preparation for less reliable Executive branch.” That’s the California Charter School Association right there telling how they “conditioned” the Legislature in preparation for Gavin “Less Reliable than Jerry Brown” Newsom’s ascension to the throne.

And further down the line we learn the assumptions behind CCSA’s policymaking agenda for 2019, probably actually for always, but I don’t (yet) have the evidence. And again, what’s revealed is appalling but not surprising. For instance they pledge that “CCSA will seek compromise on legislation that minimally constrains flexibility but only in exchange for new entitlements.” This item casts the CCSA’s support of SB126, which makes it exceedingly clear that charters are subject to both the CPRA and the Brown Act, in an interesting light.

Perhaps in 2018 they thought that this new law only “minimally constrain[ed] flexibility” and that they were going to get a bunch of goodies in return. But I’m willing to bet they’re rethinking that concession now given that the fruits of a single CPRA request have subjected them to months of pain-writhing exposure, some scathing articles in the Los Angeles Times, and may ultimately end the career of theirmanchild knight in shining hair product, Nick Melvoin.

And their listing of what they see as the greatest threats against them for 2019 is very instructive as well. I’m not up on the details enough to comment on all of these but the ones I do understand are as appalling as the rest of it.

If you thought that the CCSA was discussing how to improve education for all of the state’s children, you would be wrong. Their discussion is about power and protecting the self-interest of their industry.

The charter Industry faction on the Los Angeles School Board wants to introduce a Jeb Bush-style evaluation system to rank and rate schools. It hasn’t worked anywhere else in the nation, so why not introduce it in Los Angeles.

Every other state has demonstrated that the school grading system ranks schools by the income of parents. Schools that enroll the poorest children get the lowest grades. Schools that enroll affluent children get the highest grades.

The purpose of school grades is to set schools up to be privatized.

Sara Roos, who blogs as Red Queen in L.A., writes that the school district does not need a Yelp system. She is right.

She points out that board member Jackie Goldberg wants the school system to help schools that are in need of support, not devise a system to call them “failures.”

The charter advocates are pushing the Jeb Bush Plan because it will help build the charter industry. It will do nothing for children.