Archives for category: California

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.

Joel Warner writes an investigative article about the fight to bring transparency to California’s charter schools.

He describes the problems that many charter schools have encountered–or created–because of their lack of transparency. He might have added that they are not only non-transparent, they are also unaccountable in their use of public funds:

Since these charters are exempt from most school district laws, there’s nothing on the books compelling them to abide by California’s open-meeting and open-records rules. And these days, California is being singled out for lax oversight of its booming charter school industry. “I came away appalled,” says Carol Burris, executive director of the New York-based Network for Public Education, after a recent fact-finding trip to the state for a four-part series she’s writing on the state of charters in California. “I was really taken aback by how unregulated charters are in the state.”

Part of the problem, says Burris, is Governor Brown’s pro-charter stance; last year he vetoed a bill that would have banned for-profit charter schools in the state, a restriction that even many charter school advocates support. Another factor, says Burris, is that the California Charter Schools Association, which did not respond to a request for comment for this article, has become a powerful lobbying force against many reforms, thanks to major funding from deep-pocketed charter advocates.

Charter critics contend that the absence of regulations contributes to the scandals that have plagued California’s charter schools, including:

Charter operators who were found guilty of misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds.

A charter principal who moonlighted as an NBA scout on his school’s dime.

A charter teacher who claimed her boss told her to fly to Nigeria and marry her brother-in-law to make him a U.S. citizen.

Last year, a report by the Center for Popular Democracy, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Institute and Public Advocates Inc. concluded that charter school fraud and mismanagement had already cost California taxpayers more than $81 million. And last month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Public Advocates reported that more than 250 California charter schools – one-fifth of the state’s total – violated state law by excluding low-performing and other potentially undesirable students. In both reports, authors concluded that because of minimal oversight, such misconduct findings are likely to be “just the tip of the iceberg.”

Such troubles don’t just generate headlines; they impact students, says Sarah Vigrass, a longtime K-8 teacher at California Virtual Academies (CAVA), the state’s largest online charter school. In July, K12 Inc., the Virginia-based for-profit that manages CAVA, agreed to a $168.5 million settlement with California in the wake of a state Attorney General probe and a Mercury News investigation into whether the company had manipulated its success rates and attendance records. According to Vigrass, over the years she’s seen K12 reduce the quality and quantity of education materials it provides to its students – but she and her colleagues have no way of knowing why that might be happening.

Julian Vasquez Heilig, a professor at California State University, chair of the California NAACP education committee, and a board member of NPE, says in the article about Governor Jerry Brown:

“Does he want his legacy to be the anti-democratic privatization of our public schools?”

Charles Pierce is an incisive blogger for Esquire. Whenever he writes about schools, he is right on. In this post, he warns people in Massachusetts against a Question 2, which would expand the number of charters by 12 a year forever. Pierce knows that hedge fund managers and billionaires the funding this campaign, and the proposal is deliberately deceptive, appealing to people to improve their public schools. The real purpose, as we know, is to undermine public schools and fund privately managed schools that do not answer to the community that pays the taxes to support them.

Pierce quotes liberally from Carol Burris’s excellent report on the lack of oversight of charters in California.

He writes:

“There’s now a bill before Governor Jerry Brown that would tighten the public accountability standards for charter operators within the state. The evidence is now abundantly clear in a number of states: As it is presently constituted, the charter school movement is far better as an entry vehicle for fraud and corruption than it is for educating children. The fact that the charter industry is fighting to maintain its independent control over taxpayer funds is proof that the industry knows it, too.”

Please sit down before you read this column by Carol Burris about charter schools in California. Burris went to California to visit charter schools and meet with education officials. She has done careful research and concluded that charters in California are a massive rip-off of taxpayers. Burris, who recently retired as a high school principal in New York, is executive director of the Network for Public Education.

Her story begins like this:

You can find a charter in a mall right near a Burger King, where students as young as 12 meet their “teacher on demand.” Or, you can make a cyber visit to the “blended learning” Epic Charter School, whose students are required to meet a teacher (at a convenient, to be determined location) only once every 20 days. There is an added bonus upon joining Epic: Students receive $1,500 for a personal “learning fund,” along with a laptop computer. The enrollment site advertised that students could boost that fund by referring others to the charter chain.

A superintendent can expand his tiny rural district of 300 students to 4,000 by running “independent study” charters in storefronts in cities miles away, netting millions in revenue for his district, while draining the sometimes unsuspecting host district of students and funds. If he is clever, he might arrange a “bounty” for each one opened, while having a side business selling services to the charters. Charters can even provide lucrative investment opportunities for tennis stars and their friends. And then there is the opportunity to “cash in” on international students at a jaw dropping $31,300 per student.

Please read this in its entirety. Charters in California are a national disgrace. They cheat students and taxpayers. Why does the legislature and Governor Jerry Brown permit this sleaze?

We know that Governor Brown opened two charters when he was mayor of Oakland, so perhaps he is partial to charters. We know that the California Charter School Association is the most powerful lobby in Sacramento.

But why would the leaders of the state cheapen and destroy their state’s public schools by allowing this charade to siphon off public dollars?

Caroline Grannan writes here about the rise and fall of a Big Reform Idea called “the parent trigger,” championed by an organization called Parent Revolution. Ben Austin started Parent Revolution as a way to empower disgruntled parents to take control of their low-scoring public school and turn it over to a charter operator. Austin led the charge for new legislation to codify Parent Revolution’s big idea (Gloria Romero claimed credit for writing the legislation; she became executive director of DFER after leaving the legislature). Parent Revolution attracted millions of dollars from the usual billionaires, including Gates, Broad, and Wasserman.

After many favorable articles, editorials, and massive publicity, what has PR accomplished?

Not much.

Grannan writes:

“Parent Revolution (PRev) started in Los Angeles in a blaze of publicity in 2009, predicting with great fanfare and much enthusiastic press coverage that it would transform many “failing” public schools into charter schools. PRev created the “parent trigger,” whereby a 50%+1 majority of parents at a school can sign a petition forcing “transformation” of the school, or forcing the school to close. PRev lobbying led to a California law in early 2010 allowing parent triggers statewide.

“Despite the fanfare, in those seven years, PRev has succeeded in turning only one school into a charter school – Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto (San Bernardino County), Calif., in 2012. That effort ripped the school community apart — splitting up friendships, creating deeply hostile factions and even leading to schoolyard fights among the kids. Reports on the results of the charterization are wildly mixed, and the mainstream media, which descended on Adelanto eagerly to cover the battle, lost interest in following up afterward.

“Parent Revolution began in 2009 under the auspices of Los Angeles’ Green Dot charter school chain, launched by the mercurial, once-admired Green Dot founder Steve Barr. The intent appeared to be to enable Green Dot to take over schools.

“Barr’s name is no longer mentioned in connection with PRev, possibly because of his checkered history, including a rapidly squelched flap about misuse of funds and some much-publicized failed projects. The story of Barr and the Green Dot charters he founded has been marked by rifts, feuds and separations, as has the story of PRev itself. Since PRev began operating on a statewide and then national scope, there has never again been public discussion of Green Dot taking over a parent trigger school.

PRev has run parent triggers in a few schools around Los Angeles, claiming to have achieved some changes less drastic than charterization. In one case, its petitions got the principal fired – and all but one or two teachers left the school in protest, with many parents objecting that they hadn’t meant to get rid of the principal or drive out the teachers.

“There’s never anything but the most vague and sketchy press follow-up of PRev efforts. Reports pop up in the press trumpeting PRev efforts that are never heard from again. I started following PRev to begin with because former PRev Executive Director Ben Austin told the press he had operations going in my school community in San Francisco. Yet there has never again been a sighting of PRev operations here.

PRev moved to the national stage, lobbying to get laws allowing parent triggers in various states. Because my ability as a volunteer to keep tabs on every PRev activity is limited, I can’t give a complete count of what states PRev lobbied in and what states passed parent trigger laws, but the efforts and the story that the parent trigger was spreading nationwide were widely and enthusiastically covered in the press.

“During those campaigns, PRev had paid staffers pose as school parents and testify before lawmakers – as was known to happen in Florida and Texas – and PRev claimed routinely and falsely that it had successfully transformed many schools in California, as reported in the Florida press.”

In short, after spending millions of dollars, PRev took over one public school.

PRev now plans to advise parents on how to choose a school.

PRev has been yet another disastrous failure for corporate reform.

The parent trigger fires blanks.

At 10 am, Pacific Time (1 pm EST), there will be a teleconference discussion of the need for charter school accountability in California. You can listen in.

Will California adopt laws to stop the graft and fraud in the unregulated, unsupervised charter industry? Or will the state keep handing out taxpayers’ money to anyone who wants to open a school and then let them do whatever they want, with no oversight?

California Teachers Association August 31, 2016
1118 10th Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

Contacts: Claudia Briggs at (916) 325-1550 or Mike Myslinski at (650) 552-5324


Parents and Community Groups Call on Gov. Brown to Sign Legislation to Increase Accountability and Transparency at California’s Public Charter Schools

Media Teleconference Panel Thursday to Outline Impact on Students from Charter Fraud, Waste of Taxpayer Funds

SACRAMENTO – A coalition of parents, lawmakers and elected leaders, education leaders and community groups will come together in a media teleconference Thursday to call on Gov. Jerry Brown to support co-sponsored legislation that increases accountability and transparency at California charter schools. Recent news headlines and academic studies have documented the waste, fraud and abuse by privately-managed charter schools, which have cost taxpayers millions while hurting students. CTA and other civil rights groups have sponsored and supported numerous pieces of legislation to ensure equal access for all students.

Teleconference speakers include:

Ø State Treasurer John Chiang to talk about the need for tighter laws to address fraud and waste in California’s public charter schools.

Ø Assembly Member Mike Gipson, author of AB 709, which addresses the need for transparency and accountability and is now on the governor’s desk awaiting action.

Ø Carol Kocivar of the California State Parent Teachers Association will talk about the need for all students to have equal opportunity to attend a charter school.

Ø Dr. George McKenna, Vice President of the LAUSD School Board, to talk about the impact on students in the state’s city where the charter movement is expanding and promises to expand significantly in the coming years.

Ø Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent Mike Matsuda will share experiences from Anaheim and the negative impact on students and communities.

Ø Bob Lawson from In the Public Interest will discuss recent findings showing the public appetite and support for tighter measures to eliminate fraud, waste and discriminatory practices that keep students from accessing non-traditional public schools – charter schools.

Ø Amy Roylance, parent of a student at the Livermore Valley Charter School, who had to withdraw her students on the first day of school this year. The charter is being investigated by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office for financial fraud and potential criminal charges.

Ø Victor Leung of the ACLU to discuss their recent report, Unequal Access.

WHAT: National Media Teleconference

WHEN: Thursday, September 1, 2016
10:00 a.m. PST

WHERE: Call 888-500-6951; Enter Conference ID: 7802692

Please dial in 5-10 minutes prior to start time.


The 325,000-member California Teachers Association is affiliated with the 3 million-member National Education Association.

The Education Law Center reminds us that the California Supreme Court made the right decision on teacher tenure (Vergara) but passed up a chance to make funding equitable across the state. One would think that there should be a right to go to a public school that is adequately and equitably funded. But not yet.


On August 23, the California Supreme Court denied petitions for review in two cases asking the courts to declare state education laws unconstitutional. Campaign for Quality Education (CQE) and Robles-Wong v. State claimed the state’s school funding system violated the state constitution, and Vergara v. State challenged laws on teacher tenure, dismissal, and seniority.

Education Law Center, joined by civil rights organizations, filed amicus (friend of the court) briefs in both cases, arguing that the Supreme Court deny review — and effectively end — the Vergara tenure case and accept review in CQE Robles-Wong to allow the school funding case to proceed to trial.

In a 4-3 decision in CQE Robles-Wong, the Court denied review of lower court rulings and, instead, affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the complaints for “fail[ure] to state a claim for which judicial relief may be accorded,” thereby denying plaintiffs a trial on the merits of their claims.

The Court majority denied review without comment. But, three Justices would have accepted the case for review, two of whom wrote strong dissents. In his dissent, Justice Liu wrote,

It is regrettable that this court, having recognized education as a fundamental right in a landmark decision 45 years ago (Serrano v. Priest), should now decline to address the substantive meaning of that right. The schoolchildren of California deserve to know whether their fundamental right to education is a paper promise or a real guarantee.

In Vergara, the Court denied review of the Court of Appeal decision, which found plaintiffs had failed to show a causal connection between the challenged statutes and an alleged inferior educational opportunity. The civil rights brief opposed the Vergara plaintiffs’ claims and explained to the courts that fair and sufficient funding is essential to providing a high quality teacher workforce in California’s school districts. The brief also recounted the expansive research showing that adequate educational resources yield better results for students.

“The California Supreme Court got it right in denying review in Vergara,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and a leading education rights litigator. “The media attention on Vergara, however, overshadowed Robles Wong, a ruling with far more impact on the educational opportunities afforded California’s public school children.”

Mr. Sciarra added that, “in Robles Wong, the Supreme Court allowed an Appellate Court ruling to stand which effectively holds that public school children cannot vindicate their fundamental right to an education under the California constitution in the California courts. The ruling also prevents courts from hearing evidence and deciding on the constitutionality of California’s school finance system — among the most inadequate in the nation.”

California has the largest public education system in the nation, serving over 6 million K-12 students—one in eight U.S. students. Nearly half of those students qualify for federal free and reduced priced lunch, the benchmark for student poverty.

Education Law Center Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter
Education Justice, Director
973-624-1815, x 19

Greg Richmond, president and chief executive of the National Association of Charter Authorizers, wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times calling on the state to overhaul the selection of those that can authorize charter schools. At present, the process is a free-for-all, and almost anyone can open a charter school. Local boards are authorizers; county boards are authorizers; if both of them turn down an applicant, the applicant can appeal to the state board and overturn the local and county boards.

California is awash in charter schools. According to a recent report by the ACLU, at least 20% of them engage in illegal discrimination to keep out the students they don’t want.

California also has had a steady parade of scandals, of charter owners who line their pockets with taxpayers’ money.

Will the state clean up the sector? Will it establish accountability and transparency, both for authorizers and for the charter schools? Or will the powerful California Charter School Association fight reform legislation every step of the way, calling in the debts owed by legislators who accepted their campaign cash?

Peter Greene analyzes the Vergara case, now case closed after the California Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from its billionaire backers.

Reformers say that getting rid of teacher tenure will spur innovation. Peter says, “What?” What teacher will dare to be different when they may be fired at any time for any reason.

Reformers say that getting rid of teacher tenure will attract more bright young people to teaching. Peter says, “What?” More people will be drawn to teachers if there are no job protections?

Peter refers to a mass email by Jeanne Allen at the pro-choice, pro-charter, pro-voucher Center for Education Reform in D.C., and he writes: :

“Yes, being able to hire and fire teachers at will would totally drive innovation because… reasons? It’s the Dread Pirate Roberts School of Management (“I’ll probably kill you today.”) But then, Allen also assumes that hiring and firing are only based on years of experience– wait– hiring is based on years in the classroom??!! In fact, firing is pretty much always on turning out to be bad at teaching. Now, maybe she means layoffs based on years of experience, but as we see in places like Chicago, that’s not even true everywhere. At any rate, we know that the traditional system promotes stability and protects the district’s investment in teaching staff.”

Be sure to read the comments, where Jeaane Allen responds and Peter parries.