Archives for category: California

Jennifer Hall Lee is a parent activist in Pasadena, California. She wrote this article about the different amounts of money available to different types of schools in Pasadena. Remember that one of the goals of American public education is “equality of educational opportunity.” How is this possible when children in public schools do not have access to the resources as children in other kinds of schools in the same community?

Here is an excerpt:

Let’s look at a few of the current annual fund goals for schools in the Pasadena area.

  • $75,000 is the annual fund goal for Eliot Arts Magnet Academy (a PUSD school).
  • $500,000 is the annual fund goal for an Altadena charter school.
  • $4.3 million is the annual fund goal for a Pasadena private school.

These annual fund numbers reflect the income levels of parents because when you set a goal for an annual fund you must reasonably expect that the goal can be reached. Annual funds in public schools derive monies primarily through parents and alumni.

 

The Los Angeles County Board of Education has denied renewal to a troubled charter school in the Inglewood school district.

The school has a long history of self-dealing, conflicts of interest, and a mixed academic record. This charter demonstrates that even “non-profits” can be very profitable to its owners.

The California Charter Schools Association is on high alert because of a change in state  law that allows local districts to weigh in on the future of charter schools, especially their fiscal impact on public schools and whether they duplicate what the public schools are already doing.

The Los Angeles County Board of Education voted Tuesday to close an Inglewood charter school with a lengthy history of financial problems and mixed academic performance that illustrated flaws in California’s oversight system.

The board’s unanimous decision marks the third time it has attempted to shut down a charter school run by Today’s Fresh Start, a nonprofit started by a wealthy couple, Clark and Jeanette Parker of Beverly Hills. The group currently operates two charters on three campuses in Los Angeles, Compton and Inglewood.

A Times investigation published last year found that although the Parkers have portrayed themselves as philanthropists, they have made millions from their charter schools.

The schools paid more than $800,000 annually to rent buildings the couple own, financial documents showed. They contracted out services to the Parkers’ nonprofits and companies and paid Clark Parker generous consulting fees, all with taxpayer money.

The couple spent tens of thousands of dollars on lobbyists and campaign contributions to many of the people responsible for regulating their schools, including school board members and state elected officials.

The Parkers have denied any wrongdoing, calling the claims against them baseless and manufactured by opponents of their schools.

The board’s Tuesday vote, which affects only the Inglewood charter, leaves the future of the school, its staff and its more than 400 students in doubt.

Jeanette Parker declined to comment following the decision.

Under current California law, Today’s Fresh Start can appeal the county’s decision to the State Board of Education. A possible appeal would most likely be heard before July, when a new law takes effect that significantly limits the state board’s power to approve charter schools that have been rejected elsewhere.

Decisions like the county board’s vote to close Today’s Fresh Start are rare. Los Angeles County is home to more than 350 charter schools, most of which are routinely renewed every five years by the local school districts where they are located. Only six schools appealed renewal denials to the county in 2017-18 — the last time appeals were heard — and three were denied.

In their recommendation to close the school, consultants hired by the county voiced concern about students’ stagnant performance on the state’s standardized English language arts tests and said the school hadn’t met the necessary academic criteria to be renewed. On both English and math tests, students’ scores increased between 2015 and 2017 and spiked upward in 2018 before declining last year. The overall picture, they wrote, was “troubling.”

The consultants also raised questions about the nonprofit’s management and fiscal practices, adding that many of their concerns had surfaced more than a decade ago when the county board last tried to close one of the organization’s schools.

“It should be noted that concerns regarding conflicts of interest and self-dealing were significant bases for revocation 12 years ago,” the report stated. “Those concerns regarding conflicts of interest and self-dealing have continued to follow [Today’s Fresh Start] to this day.”

 

Earlier this year, LAUSD board member Scott Schmerelson revealed that 82% of the charter schools in Los Angeles have empty seats (no waiting lists).

Yet because of California’s charter-friendly environment, the privately managed schools continue to open.

A report in 2017 found that charters in Los Angeles are proliferating where they are not needed. 

The report points out that traditional school districts can’t build new schools when real or potential enrollment fails to justify expansion. But those rules don’t apply to charter schools, which can open anywhere and qualify for state funding or subsidies to build or lease facilities. The report says public funds helped open and sustain at least 450 charters in areas with plenty of existing classroom space.

“Paying for more schools than are needed wastes taxpayer dollars,” the report says. “Furthermore, an oversupply of schools serves to undermine the viability of any individual school.”

The latter argument has been made repeatedly by L.A. Unified officials, who say that rapid and widespread charter growth is one of several factors threatening the solvency of the nation’s second-largest school system.

The report’s lead researcher, Gordon Lafer, an associate professor at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center, attributes the problem to a lack of clarity and vision in state policy.

Thomas Ultican, the chronicler of the Destroy Public Education movement, writes here about the calculated destruction of the Oakland Public School District, which has suffered at the hands and by the wallets of billionaires.

In 2003, the district had a deficit of $37 million.

The state forced the district to take out a loan of $100 million.

In return, the state took control of the district.

After six years of state control, the district’s deficit increased from $37 million to $89 million.

Unfortunately for Oakland, the billionaire Eli Broad decided to turn the district into his petri dish.

Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown welcomed the state takeover.

The Broadies romped.

A California central coast politician named Jack O’Connell was elected California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2002. He selected Randolph Ward, a Broad Academy graduate, to be Oakland’s state administrator. When O’Connell ran for state superintendent, his largest campaign donors had been Netflix CEO Reed Hastings ($250,000), venture capitalist John Doerr ($205,000), and Eli Broad ($100,000). Brown described the state takeover as a “total win” for Oakland.

The Broadies of Oakland

2003-2017 Broad Academy Graduates and Superintendents of OUSD

Broad Academy graduates are often disparagingly called Broadies.

The OUSD information officer in 2003 was Ken Epstein. He recounts a little of what it was like when Ward became the administrator:

“I remember a school board meeting where Ward and the board were on stage. Each item on the agenda was read aloud, and Ward would say, “passed.” Then the next item was read. In less than an hour, the agenda was completed. At that point, Ward said, “Meeting adjourned” and walked out of the board room and turned out the lights, leaving board members sitting in the dark.”

When Ward arrived in Oakland, the district was in the midst of implementing the Bill Gates sponsored small school initiative which is still causing problems. The recently closed Roots that caused so much discontent in January was one of the Gates small schools. Ward opened 24 of them (250-500 students) which in practice meant taking an existing facility and dividing it into two to five schools. He closed fourteen regularly sized schools.

When Ward arrived in Oakland there were 15 charter schools and when he left for San Diego three years later there were 28 charter schools…

Kimberly Statham, who was a classmate of Ward’s at the Broad Academy, took his place in 2006. The following year a third Broad Graduate, Vincent Mathews took her place.

After a short period of no Broadie in the superintendent’s seat, Antwan Wilson was hired in 2014. Shortly after that, the New York Times reported that the Broad Foundation had granted the district $6 million for staff development and other programs over the last decade. The Broad Center also subsidized the salaries of at least 10 ex-business managers who moved into administrative jobs at the district office.

Kyla Johnson-Trammell, an Oakland resident who and educator with OUSD, was named to replace Antwan Wilson in 2017. When he left to lead the Washington DC’s schools, he left a mess in Oakland. Mother Jones magazine says Wilson saddled the district with a $30 million deficit. They continue, “A state financial risk report from August 2017 concluded that Oakland Unified, under Wilson, had ‘lost control of its spending, allowing school sites and departments to ignore and override board policies by spending beyond their budgets.”’

The preponderance of the problems in OUSD are related to the state takeover, FCMAT and the leadership provided by Broad Academy graduates.

The usual billionaires have selected several of the OUSD board members and showered them with donations from out-of-district and out-of-state.

The fundamental problem is Oakland has a dual education system with 37,000 students in public schools and 15,000 in charter schools. It costs more to operate two systems. Every school district in California that has more than 10% of their students in charter schools has severe financial problems. Oakland has the largest percentage of charter school students in the state with 29% so financial issues are the expectation.

This is an education crisis that was manufactured by the super wealthy and implemented by neoliberal politicians.

 

 

Summit Public Schools, a Bay Area chain of charter schools that receives tens of millions of dollars from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Gates Foundation, found a way to skirt the intention of California’s recently passed charter transparency bill, SB 126. They held a board meeting 12/12/19 and only allowed six members of the public in the boardroom. Summit’s CEO said it was because allowing more of the public to join in person would “create an inappropriate working environment.” The rest of the 40 or so students, parents, and teachers who drove 30 miles to attend the meeting were shuttled into in a nearby Summit charter school to watch over video.
One provision of SB 126 requires charter management organizations with multiple campuses to establish two-way video-conferencing from each campus for their board meetings — with the intent of making these board meetings accessible — so that families, students, and teachers don’t have to travel hundreds of miles if they are not able to attend in person. It appears that Summit is using this provision to decrease transparency and democracy by preventing members of the public from being able to attend charter board meetings in person.
This was an important meeting because, last month, out of nowhere, Summit announced it was closing one of its schools, Summit Rainier, at the end of the school year, with seemingly little plan for what would happen to Rainier students. Summit educators, who recently unionized, have demanded to bargain for weeks about the impacts of this closure on Summit students, families, and teachers.
Students from Summit Rainier wanted to attend the meeting but were told to watch it in an adjoining room by video.
Student journalists wrote this article about being excluded from what should have been an open public meeting of the Summit board.
They got a lesson about what democracy is not.

Numerous community members prepared to attend today’s Summit Public Schools board meeting to discuss the closure of Summit Rainier but faced a surprise. Upon entering Home Office, where the board was meeting, they found out they had limited access to speaking to the board in-person. 

CEO Diane Tavenner informed the crowd a total of six people could enter the board meeting and the rest would have to watch from an overflow room at Summit Prep, a school building adjacent to the SPS Home Office. 

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.