Archives for category: California

I recently posted Carol Burris’s analysis of a court decision in California that blocked the sneaky expansion of charters into districts outside the one where they were authorized; the new charters called themselves “resource centers” and were infiltrating districts that did not want them.

Here is a report by the San Diego Union-Tribune on the same decision.

California’s booming satellite charter school industry that has persevered through lawsuits, scandals and turf wars suffered a blow this past week when a state appellate court ruled hundreds of the campuses are illegally operating outside their districts.

At issue now is how 150,000 California students — including 25,000 in San Diego County — will continue their education. The court decision also puts at stake millions of dollars in revenue generated by the charters for privately run organizations.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal overturned a lower court decision in a lawsuit filed by the Anderson Union High School District near Redding claiming the Shasta Secondary Home School (now Shasta Charter Academy) illegally opened satellite charter campus, which are officially called resource centers, in its jurisdiction.

Filed Monday and set to go into effect Nov. 16, the appellate decision reverses the lower court ruling, which sided with the charter that was authorized by the nearby Shasta Union High School District. The lower court said it was legal to operate a resource center, as such schools are officially called, in the neighboring Anderson district to give its independent-study students who live there a chance to use computers, receive tutoring and work on assignments in a classroom setting.

Of the state’s 1,200 charter schools, 275 are “resource centers,” many of them storefronts where students show up from time to time. That means that unless this decision is overturned by the state’s Supreme Court, more than 20% of California’s charter schools will cease to operate or seek some other option to survive.

San Diego public schools will welcome the return of the students in these “non-classroom-based” charters:

Andra Donovan, general counsel for the San Diego Unified School District, offers another option: Returning to district and its expanded catalog of independent-study programs.

San Diego Unified “is fully prepared and has sufficient capacity to absorb those students currently attending these charter schools, with fully robust, higher quality independent study and online learning programs as well as traditional and blended programs,” Donovan said. “Our graduation rate far exceeds that of many of these them and our district provides integrated support not available from these charters.”

These “resource centers” are locations intended to coordinate online instruction, which has repeatedly been shown to be a farce, educationally, an easy way to collect credits without getting an education.

Some districts opened resource centers because it was easy money.

Online instruction offers flexibility to students who want an alternative to traditional schools, and big revenue to charter organizations and authorizers. Districts that approve the charters receive up to 3 percent of their revenue for oversight and other services.

The Julian Union district opened its first charter in 1999, and now enrolls some 4,000 students in its charter resource centers across the region. Fewer then 400 local students attend Julian’s district schools.

The tiny rural two-campus district earned nearly $800,000 in revenue from its Julian and Diego Valley charters in the 2014-15 year, when its total revenue was $6.2 million.

Former Julian Superintendent Kevin Ogden helped establish the district’s first charter school, which took in $18 million in revenue last year, and operates 14 programs in eleven facilities.

Ogden helped usher in Diego Valley and Harbor Springs charters, both of which operate resource centers in other districts through independent study programs that offer as much as four days a week of classroom instruction or as little as a few teacher meetings. The Grossmont lawsuit targets Diego Valley.

Ogden retired about two years ago to take a top job at the Lancaster-based Learn4Life, an organization that includes Diego Valley, its Diego Plus Education Corporation and other charters throughout the state.

Following Julian’s lead, dozens of far-flung charters and resource centers have been authorized by other small East County districts, including some that acknowledged the arrangements were forged mostly for the money.

Does anyone seriously believe that the students who receive diplomas from these sham institutions are getting a high-quality education? Is this the way the U.S. will compete in the global economy? Hey, reformers, this is a farce.

Carol Burris, a veteran high school principal in New York state, recently retired and became executive director of the Network for Public Education. She is currently completing a four-part series on charter schools in California and will write additional reports about privatization in other states.

She writes here about an important court decision in California that was released yesterday.

Just how important was this decision? It was a Court of Appeal decision that overturned the Superior Court decision in Shasta County. So, it is binding law throughout California and overturns the trial court’s incorrect decision (essentially that out of district in county resource center are allowed since not specifically prohibited by the charter schools act).

Carol Burris writes:

Readers who have been following our NPE series on charters in California are familiar with the storefront charters and not-for profit shells of K12 that are multiplying across the Golden State. Many of these charters have terrible graduation rates–some as low as 0%. Students rarely check in–some have the requirement of going to a center only once every 20 days.

Their explosive growth was a result of small elementary districts colluding with charter chains that operate charter “learning centers” in order to get revenue, even though the charters are not in their district, and sometimes not even in the same county. The charters promise these districts that they will not open in their district but rather in other districts which, in turn, lose both revenues and students.

Although the legislature tried to rein in this predatory practice, the bill they passed was recently vetoed by Jerry Brown who opened two charter schools himself [when he was mayor of Oakland] and has an “anything goes” attitude towards charters–including for profits. Luckily, the court had more sense.

Yesterday The Court of Appeal called the practice a violation of the law. It is a stunning victory against these charters, which had the full support of the California Charter School Association (CCSA). CCSA, which is funded by billionaires such as Reed Hastings, Eli Broad, the Waltons and Doris Fisher, is now the most powerful lobby in the state. The Court of Appeal reversed a lower court decision and its decision covers the entire state.

You can read more about the decision and its implications here.

Congratulations to the Anderson Union High School District who had the guts to stand up for its taxpayers and students. Congratulations also to the San Diego law firm of Dannis, Woliver and Kelley that carefully argued a complicated law and to the California School Boards Association who lent their support.

Carol Burris is writing a four-part series about charter schools in California. She recently traveled to California to visit charter schools. She found it difficult to get information on certain charter schools, because some are not located in the district that authorized them. Transparency and accountability appear to be non-existent. A recent newspaper series about the online charter K12, Inc., demonstrated that it makes a handsome profit while delivering poor education. But the state has taken no action.

Public money meant for public schools is freely handed out to charters with no supervision or oversight.

She learned about a charter school called WISE, and it sounded good on paper:

The Wise Academy is tucked away on a Girl Scout camp on the Bothin Youth Center in Fairfax, Calif. Its students attend classes in yurts and barns. Wise, which stands for Waldorf-Inspired School of Excellence, follows the curriculum taught in Waldorf private schools — its students garden, enjoy a games class, and celebrate All Souls Day and Michaelmas.

Students must apply to attend, and its preliminary application makes it clear that parents are supposed to pony up cash. The full application demands that families provide all sources of income. The school’s donate button has a default donation of $2,000. A cash-strapped parent would quickly infer that their family “need not apply.”

How many students attend Wise Academy and how well do they achieve? For the taxpaying public, that is a mystery.

You cannot find this K-6 charter school, which has been in operation for three years, on the state’s Education Department website. Rick Bagley, the superintendent of the Ross Valley School District in which Wise is located, was never informed of its presence as required by law.

The state has thus far refused to monitor charter schools or hold them accountable.

A bill that would have banned for-profit charters in California was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015. An additional bill, which would have prevented financially troubled districts from authorizing charters in other districts, was vetoed by Brown last month. The president of the California State Board of Education, Michael Kirst, worked as a K12 consultant, before his appointment by Brown.

Tom Ultican teaches high school math and physics in California. He has watched the arrival of charter schools in his district with growing alarm.

He knows that their growth is a result of political connections. Nothing they do is innovative. They duplicate existing administrations. They add nothing of value.

He concludes they are a scourge and a failed experiment. Their time has come and gone.

I confess that I once believed that Governor Jerry Brown of California would be a great friend to public education.

I was wrong.

Jerry Brown is in the pockets of the powerful charter lobby.

He previously vetoed a bill to ban for-profit charters, soon after a series of investigative articles in the San Jose Mercury News showed that the for-profit online K12 Inc. schools were educationally disastrous bit highly profitable. From Governor Browm: let the profit-making continue!

This week, he vetoed SB 739, which would have established very modest regulation for charter schools that expand into other districts. Carol Burris explained it in this post:

“When the Van Zant story broke, the California Charter School Association agreed that the case raised legitimate concerns. However, legislation to address the problem of districts authorizing charters in other districts, and even other counties, was opposed by the California Charter School Association (CCSA) and vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014. A present bill on the governor’s desk, SB 739, would put a small restriction on a district’s ability to open independent learning center charters in other districts by ensuring that the sponsoring district is fiscally solvent (does not have a negative certification), thus decreasing the profit generating motive.”

The California Charter School Association wants no restrictions, no limitations, no transparency, no accountability. They want for-profit schools, and they refuse to clean their dirty house.

And Governor a Jerry Brown dances to their tune. How sad. He doesn’t need their support. He doesn’t need their money. He won’t run for office again. Yet he has succumbed to the privatization movement, those who would destroy our communities and the public education system.

El Camino Real Charter High School used to be a public school. It was always a good school. But now it’s embroiled in a financial scandal because its principal used the school credit card to charge lavish indulgences, including first class air travel, meals, hotels, and other items connected to his other job as a talent scout for a major basketball team.

The teachers are not happy.

Taxpayers should be picketing too.

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education and experienced educator, traveled Calofornia to learn about charter schools. What she discovered was an industry that is growing by leaps and bounds, powered by billionaires’ dough, but rife with fraudulent practices that cheat students and taxpayers.

Although Arizona was once called the “Wid West” of the unregulated charter industry, California now appears to have captured that title. Big payoffs for the adults, poor education for students.

Carol’s article appears on Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet” blog at the Washington Post. After I read her introduction, I urged her to remember that the very worst states in relation to charters are scandal-ridden Ohio, Arizona (where nepotism and conflicts of interest are fine for charters, and for-profit charters don’t have to open their books to the public), and Michigan (where 80% of the charters operate for-profit).

This article is the second in a four-part series.

This post is a profile of Doris Fisher, the California billionaire who wants to privatize public schools and open corporate-run charters with no ties to the local community.

“As co-founder of the Gap, San Francisco-based business leader and philanthropist Doris Fisher boasts a net worth of $2.6 billion, making her the country’s third richest self-made woman, according to Forbes. And she’s focused much of her wealth and resources on building charter schools. She and her late husband Donald donated more than $70 million to the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) and helped to personally build the operation into the largest network of charter schools in the country, with 200 schools serving 80,000 students in 20 states. Doris’ son John serves as the chairman of KIPP’s board of directors, and she sits on the board herself.

“Doris’ passion for charter schools also fuels her political donations. While not as well-known as other deep-pocketed charter school advocates like Eli Broad and the Walton family (heirs to the Walmart fortune), Fisher and her family have quietly become among the largest political funders of charter school efforts in the country. Having contributed $5.6 million to state political campaigns since 2013, Fisher was recently listed as the second largest political donor in California by the Sacramento Bee – and nearly all of her money now goes to promoting pro-charter school candidates and organizations. While often labelled a Republican, she gives to Democrats and Republicans alike, just as long as they’re supportive of the charter school movement. According to campaign finance reports, so far this election cycle she’s spent more than $3.3 million on the political action committees of charter school advocacy groups EdVoice and the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), as well as pro-charter candidates. (Christopher Nelson, managing director of the Fishers’ philanthropic organization, sits on the board of CCSA, which, along with EdVoice, declined to comment for this article.)

“Fisher’s philanthropic and political efforts are not as straightforward as simply promoting education, however. Recent investigations have found that she’s used dark-money networks to funnel funds into California campaign initiatives that many say targeted teachers and undermined public education. It’s why many education activists worry about the impact her money is having on California politics – and on California schoolchildren.”

What is less well known than her passion for privatization is that spends millions in “dark money” to harm the state’s public schools.

“Even if some of the charter schools Fisher champions have been a success, she’s secretly supported efforts that critics regard as undermining the success of the public school system and teachers. A recent investigation by California Hedge Clippers, a coalition of community groups and unions, found that Fisher was one of a number of wealthy Californians who in 2012 used a dark money network involving out-of-state organizations linked to the conservative Koch brothers to shield their donations to controversial campaign efforts that year. The money was used to oppose Proposition 30, a tax on high-income Californians to fund public schools and public safety, and support Proposition 32, which, among other things, would have severely limited the ability of organized labor, including teachers unions, to raise money for state and local races.

“At the time of the campaign, none of these donations were public. In fact, fellow charter-school advocate Eli Broad publically endorsed Proposition 30 while secretly donating $500,000 to the dark money fund dedicated to defeating it. And Fisher herself had close ties to Governor Jerry Brown, a key proponent of Proposition 30. Brown’s wife Anne Gust Brown worked as chief administrative officer at the Gap until 2005 and is credited with helping to improve the company’s labor standards, and the Fishers were major financial supporters of Brown’s 2014 campaign to pass Proposition 1, the water bond, and Proposition 2, the “rainy day budget” stabilization act.

“I would imagine that it caused some domestic strife,” says Karen Wolfe, a California parent and founder of PSconnect, a community group that advocates for traditional public schools. “[Anne likely] thought she had the Fishers’ support on her husband’s crowning achievement, a tax to finally balance California’s budget and bring the state out of functional bankruptcy. This was absolutely his highest priority.”

“In total, according to the Hedge Clippers investigation, Fisher and her sons donated more than $18 million to the dark money group. It wasn’t the only time the Fisher family has worked with political organizations known for concealing their financial supporters. In 2006, current KIPP chairman John Fisher gave $85,000 to All Children Matter, a school-privatization political action group in Ohio that was slapped with a record-setting $5.2 million fine for illegally funneling contributions through out-of-state dark money networks. Instead of paying the fine, All Children Matter shut down and one of its conservative founders launched a new group: the Alliance for School Choice, which in 2011 listed John Fisher as its secretary. And last year, Doris Fisher contributed $750,000 to California Charter School Association Advocates, which funneled such donations to a local committee. The names of individual donors wouldn’t be disclosed until after the election.”

How sad that a woman worth more than $2 billion would secretly fund campaigns to block funding of the public schools that enroll 90% of children in California. What is she thinking?

The Bond Buyer reports that charter schools in California are seeking access to bonds for school construction, putting them into direct competition with public schools for the same money. Public schools have the advantage of stability and longevity; charter schools come and go with frequency. Public schools have higher bond rating than charter schools. Caprice Young, quoted in the article below, is a former president of the California Charter School Association, a powerful and wealthy lobby, and she now is CEO of Magnolia charters, which is part of the Gulen (Turkish) school chain.

The Bond Buyer reports (behind a pay wall):

LOS ANGELES — As California charter school enrollment has increased, so have conflicts over their access to school construction bond funds.

Enrollment at charter schools increased from 3.4% of the state’s K-12 population in 2005-06 to 9.2% in 2015-16, according to an Aug. 2 report from the state Legislative Analyst’s Office. The number of schools has grown from 560 to 1,207 over the past 10 years, according to the LAO report.

Some of these conflicts over state and local bond funds have come to the fore in Southern California, home to a large share of the state’s charters.

Rather than being subject to a state-oriented compliance-based accountability model, charter schools develop local charters, which are legal agreements between schools and their authorizers, and must comply with the terms of their charters, according to the LAO report.

The schools are exempt from most state regulations, but must meet three basic state requirements: provide nonsectarian instruction, charge no tuition and admit all interested California students up to school capacity.

Increases in charter school enrollment and declines in birth rates have caused Los Angeles Unified School District’s student enrollment to fall to 542,000, a 100,000 drop in a six-year period, according to school district figures released last year following an independent audit.

Charter schools were designed to offer parents an alternative, but in California, they fall under the jurisdiction of the school district in which they are located, which loses state per-student funding for each student that enrolls in a charter.

There has been friction between the district and charter schools over bond funding.

Los Angeles Unified officials say there is a level playing field, but charter school advocates disagree.

A district spokeswoman pointed to three school buildings occupied by Aspire charter schools. The buildings are brand new construction among the 130 new school buildings that have risen on school district property.

The school that Aspire Juanita Tate Academy occupies was built using $33.8 million of the district’s Measure R and Measure Y bond money, from voter approved measures that authorized a combined $7.855 billion of general obligation bonds.

The remaining $30.3 million came from grants funded by state general obligation bonds.

Aspire Firestone Academy and Aspire Gateway Charter Academy’s school buildings — both located on the same campus — were built using $59.5 million of the district’s Measure R, K, and Y money, local bond measures that together authorized $11.2 billion of debt. They also used $25.9 million from state bond funds.

None of the above Aspire schools were built using what the district calls the Charter School Bond Allocation, according to Los Angeles school officials.

The California Charter Schools Association filed a lawsuit against LAUSD on January 11 claiming that the school district has reduced an agreed upon allocation amount from 2008’s $7 billion Measure Q. The petition for writ of mandate asked Los Angeles Superior Court to compel LAUSD’s compliance with the California Public Records Act and void the school board’s decision to cut $88 million dollars from the charter school facility allocation under Measure Q.

The actual 2008 bond measure did not include a dollar amount for the charter school allocation, according to Emily Bertelli, a CCSA spokeswoman. But a separate document adopted by LAUSD’s board at the same time said that it would allocate $450 million to charter school projects – and they have since reduced that funding allocation more than once, she said.

In November 2015, CCSA sent a letter to the LAUSD board objecting to another reduction and requesting records justifying the reduction and showing how bond proceeds have been spent for charter schools. That day, LAUSD cut $88 million dollars from Measure Q for charter facilities, reducing the funds allocated for charters to $225 million and breaking its commitment to voters, according to a case summary on CCSA’s website.

“We have only just started to issue Measure Q bonds,” said John Walsh, LA Unified’s deputy chief financial officer. “We have issued just south of $650 million – and it is a $7 billion program. We don’t just earmark the first $450 million to go to charter schools.”

The language of Measure Q does say money will be allocated for charter schools, Walsh said, though not a specific amount.

Under the state’s 2000 Proposition 39, which allowed the state’s school districts to pass bonds with a 55% voter approval rate instead of the previous two-thirds threshold, districts were mandated to offer unused space at schools to charter schools.

“There are ways that we have used bond funds through the district’s facilities program to the advantage of charter schools,” Walsh said.

Allowing Aspire Schools to occupy the new buildings is one example of that, according to district officials.

L.A. Unified doesn’t approve a pot of money for charter schools, but handles funding on a project-by-project basis, Walsh said.

The danger for charter schools is that its relationship with a school district depends on the make-up of the school board.

There is an issue around competition for students, said Caprice Young, chief executive officer of Magnolia Public Schools, which operates ten independent charters.

“We have been thankful in California that we have a great partnership with the state treasurer’s office, which allows us to issue bonds that are tax-exempt,” said Young, who served on the Los Angeles Unified school board from 1999 to 2003 before founding the California Charter School Association in 2003.

Charter schools can issue revenue bonds through the California School Finance Authority, a conduit issuer that falls under the umbrella of the state treasurer’s office. School districts can also share the proceeds of general obligation bonds issued for school construction.

“With CSFA we pay for the bonds out of operating funds and that can be a lot more expensive,” Young said. “If we are given access to San Diego or Los Angeles GO bonds, there is a revenue stream from property taxes that we don’t have availability to. It cuts out a huge portion of public schools when we are not included.”

When school districts tax the public to create school facilities, charter schools should be included, Young said.

“And the way dollars are allocated needs to be fair and reasonable,” she said.

The difference in interest rates from issuing charter school bonds, which are typically rated BBB at the highest, and more often below investment grade, tend to be more in the 7% to 9% range versus the low 1% to 3% interest rates that LAUSD and SDUSD GOs are pricing at in today’s low interest rate environment, she said.

More than 60% of charter schools and charter school enrollment is in Los Angeles County, the San Francisco Bay Area, and San Diego County, the LAO report said.

In the San Diego Unified School District, enrollment has stabilized at around 132,000 since 2007-08, but that is down from its peak of 142,260 in 2001-2001, according to district documents.

San Diego Unified has been largely a benevolent partner to its charter schools, charter school advocates said, though CSMA filed a lawsuit against that district too, at one point.

San Diego schools designated $350 million from its $2.8 billion Proposition Z of 2012 for charter school construction. “Facilities are a major challenge for all schools, but they are a particular challenge for charter schools,” said Miles Durfee, Southern California regional director for the California Charter Schools Association.

The law states that charter schools should get an equitable share of all bond issuances, Durfee said.

When Proposition Z passed, charter schools made up 12.5% of San Diego’s enrollment, but enrollment has grown to 15%, Durfee said. He thinks charter school’s share of the Proposition Z money should also grow. The percentage change would give charter schools an additional $20 million.

The language of Proposition Z says the percentage dedicated to charter schools could be reevaluated , but the language of the bond measure does not indicate a time frame, according to San Diego school officials.

Durfee said $40 million of the charter school allocation of Proposition Z has been spent on projects that are underway or almost complete and $304 million has been allocated to charter schools, but not spent. That leaves $6 million of the charter school pot not dedicated to a project.

That leaves San Diego charter schools that want to expand without many options.

The district established a Charter Schools Facilities Committee to advise on projects proposed by individual charter schools prior to consideration by the Board of Education.

Local charter school leaders help determine the best use of capital resources to address the facilities needs of local charter schools, according to San Diego school officials. Additionally, a representative of the charter schools is a member of the Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee for the bond program.

Unlike traditional schools, if a charter school faces a financial crisis it doesn’t get bailed out by the state; it just closes, Young said.

“Charter schools have to be nimble and they have to have balanced budgets, which isn’t the case for traditional school district schools,” Young said.

A charter school has to purchase a property immediately after it identifies it as a good location, and build right away, Young said.

“If we don’t buy the land, someone else will,” Young said. “If we don’t build right way, we have an operating expense that is not being offset by revenues from students.”

A charter school does not have the luxury that a district has to take its time acquiring a property and then take years to build a school, Young said. If it operated in that manner, she said, a charter school would close.

A charter high school in Los Angeles abruptly announced it was closing its doors One month after school began. It is closing because it couldn’t attract enough students. The school had a ninth and tenth grade but hoped to add two more grades. There was not enough demand.

Next time you hear about those elusive waiting lists–waiting lists of 3,000, 40,000, one million–to get into charters, think of this story.

City Charter Schools has a partnership with the charter school organization Bright Star Schools, which has offered to absorb as many students that wish to go there, Braimah said. In addition, school officials have identified “a long list of schools” that have openings to help students transition, she said.