Archives for category: California

Dark money leads to dark actions.

The usual billionaires are funding a campaign to put pro-charter candidates on the Oakland school board.

Rather than openly debate the issues, they have attacked a school board member with negative ads and flyers.

Dark money is turning School Board races into ugly, partisan elections, not divided by party but by allegiance to either democratically controlled schools or privatization.

I hope you are not tiring of these stories about the intrusion of big money from corporate giants and billionaires into local school board races. Their goal is always the same: privatization and charter schools.

Here is the latest, from San Diego:

Who’s Behind the Big Money Takeover of San Diego County Schools?

It is the same story everywhere: The subversion of democracy as titans pour hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars into local contests. In the past, a citizen who wanted to serve on the local board could spend $10,000, $15,000, and run a respectable campaign.

But when billionaires like the Waltons, Bloomberg, Hastings, Arnold, Gates, etc, make your election their priority, they steal our democracy.

We need campaign finance laws that limit how much can be spent to foil the billionaires and DFER.

We keep reading this story in district after district, state after state, but we should not stop being outraged. There ought to be a law that prevents fabulously wealthy people from buying state and local school board elections. We know that their goal is not to improve the schools but to privatizatize them.

In Oakland, California, the privatizing organization is called Great Oakland public schools, and it has the chutzpah to call itself a “grassroots campaign.” It has raised half a million or so for pro-charter candidates. $300,000 came from billionaire Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City. Most of the rest came from two other billionaires, who have no interest in Oakland other than to support privatization and subvert democratic control of the schools.

Here is the story:

“If it were just a matter of raising money from parents, teachers, and community members, then school-board candidates James Harris, Huber Trenado, and Jumoke Hinton Hodge’s financial advantage over their opponents would be minimal. For example, the incumbent board chairman Harris has raised $11,836 from individual contributors for his re-election this year. That’s not much more than Chris Jackson, his challenger, who has scraped together $9,622.

“But Harris, Trenado, and Hinton Hodge benefit from two independent-expenditure committees funded by super-wealthy charter-school advocates, which have raised millions since 2014.

“These committees are on track to spend about half-a-million dollars to help Harris and Hinton Hodge keep their seats on the board, and to help Trenado unseat Roseann Torres.

“Critics worry, however, that this “outside money” distorts Oakland’s school-board races.

“It’s shocking to me how much they’re spending to get these specific candidates elected,” said Kim Davis, a parent whose kids attend Oakland public schools. “This is not a level playing field. More money means more mailers, more people knocking on doors, and more people making phone calls.”

“Gonzales, who was elected to the school board in 2014 to represent District Six, noted that a “typical school board race in years past was one where a candidate wouldn’t have to raise more than twenty-thousand, max.”

“But in 2012, Gonzales says the nonprofit organization Great Oakland Public Schools began raising and spending tens of thousands of dollars to support candidates who will advance its goals of growing the number of charters and providing them with greater access to publicly-funded resources. As a result, GO Public Schools changed the calculus of school-board elections and unleashed an avalanche of money, which other groups haven’t matched, and that dwarfs the sums that candidates can raise by themselves.

“They have relationships with corporate titans all over the country,” Gonzales said of GO Public Schools. “That’s why the school board has become a much more high-dollar affair.”

“According to campaign-finance records, the two committees supporting Harris, Trenado, and Hinton Hodge received most of their funding from a few billionaires, who have played key roles backing the charter-school industry.

“So far, the two committees — Families and Educators for Public Education, which was set up by GO Public Schools, and the Parent Teacher Alliance, run by the California Charter Schools Association — have spent $421,906 to support Harris, Trenado, and Hinton Hodge.

“The result is that, for every dollar spent to support Jackson, $17 have been spent to support Harris.”

Will the people of Oakland allow the billionaires to buy their school board? Or will they fight to keep their public schools public?

A loss for Bloomberg won’t hurt him. A donation of $300,000 from him is equivalent to one of us dropping a dollar in a Salvation Army bucket. But if he loses again and again, whether in Oakland or in Massachusetts, he might lose interest.

Carol Burris concludes here her fourth installment of the sad story of the charter school movement in California. What once was a movement intended to help and collaborate with public schools has been taken over by the power-hungry and the greedy, intent on displacing and destroying public education.

California is now the “wild west of charter schools” because of the state’s refusal to oversee the operations of these schools. Public money is handed out to almost anyone who wants it, and supervision is almost non-existent.

Burris writes:

The shine is off the charter school movement. Freedom from regulation, the sine qua non of the charter world, has resulted too often in troubled schools, taxpayer fleecing and outright fraud. Charters have become material for late-night comedians. That is never a good sign; just ask the proponents of the Common Core.

The greatest blow to charter momentum, however, was delivered by the NAACP. When delegates’ voted for a moratorium on new charters, it unleashed the fury of the charterphiles. A piece on the pro-reform website Education Post was titled, “The NAACP Was Founded by White People and It Still Isn’t Looking Out for Black Families,” accusing the premier civil rights organization of being “morally anemic.” And yet, despite the vitriol and critique, the NAACP board of directors stood fast, supported its delegates, and issued a strong statement calling for charter reform.

The passage of Question 2 on the November ballot in Massachusetts, which would lift the cap on charter schools, once seemed a sure thing. Now support has plummeted. The ballot measure is down by 11 points, having lost support among Democrats, especially from the progressive wing.

The problems with loosely regulated charters can no longer be brushed aside.

In the past three posts of my series on California charters (here, here and here), I highlighted some of the serious problems that exist in a state with weak governing laws, a powerful lobby propped up by billionaires, and a governor who consistently vetoes bills aimed at charter reform. California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat who is usually progressive, has a blind spot when it comes to charters. The governor’s enthusiastic fundraising efforts on behalf of the two charters he started in Oakland came under scrutiny in the Los Angeles Times.

As a result, the problems with charters in the state bear an eerie resemblance to the those found in far more conservative states. As I spoke with Californians, I often felt quite depressed. The story line became clear—a state that generally holds progressive values financially abandoned its public schools with the passage of Proposition 13, thus crippling school funding. That was followed by a scramble to a charter solution to compensate for years of underfunding and neglect. That, in turn, opened the door to profit making schemes, corporate reformers hell-bent on destroying unions, and frankly, a lot of irresponsible educational models, such as storefront charters, boutique schools and “academies” linked to for-profits like K12.

There is hope, however, that California can alter its course. Despite all of the obstacles that stand in the way, there are Californians who want charter reform. They are exposing corruption, illegality, profit-making schemes and schools that are clearly not in the best interest of children. In this final piece, I will highlight some of their work.

Open the piece to see the links and to learn more about Burris’s reasons for optimism.

Carl Petersen is a candidate for the Los Angeles Unified School Board in 2017. He is also a close observer of school board meetings and a strong supporter of public schools.

In this post, he describes the last school board meeting, where five charters were not renewed. Three of them were part of the Fethullah Gulen charter chain called Magnolia (in Los Angeles), and the two others were Celerity charters. This was quite a shocker for the charters involved because the LAUSD has a long record of nearly automatic renewal of all charters (according to the article, 155 of 159 charters have been renewed).

Carl notes that despite the fact that most students in Los Angeles attend public schools, not charter schools, the agenda of every meeting is dominated by charter schools. It is as though the public schools disappeared and no one noticed.

He writes:

Last year, the charter industry invested “nearly $2.3 million” in “the nation’s most expensive school board elections” to ensure that they were free from the inconvenience of oversight. While the California Charter School Association (CCSA) has stated that they “are deeply concerned that this month District staff have recommended more charter renewal [denials] and material revision denials than they have in the last five years combined”, the recommendations against Magnolia and Celerity should not have been a surprise or seen as a change in policy. In 2014, the Board voted against two other Magnolia campuses “for fiscal mismanagement and a slew of other accounting irregularities.” Celerity had two charter renewal petitions rejected last November. The Board’s interest in the “financial shenanigans” at ECRCHS is a little more surprising, especially since their charter was renewed last year with at least two Notices to Cure outstanding. However, the publicity provided by the Los Angeles Daily News investigative reports most likely made the irregularities more difficult to ignore.

The is no way that the allegations against any of these charters could be considered nit-picking. Neither the LAUSD Charter School Division (CSD) nor the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) felt that Magnolia was providing all of the information that was requested of them. It is important to note that Magnolia had agreed to let FCMAT audit their operations to settle a previous dispute with the LAUSD over the renewal of some of their other charters. The organization holding the charter for Celerity was accused of being a shell. According to CSD testimony at the Board meeting, the Governing Board is controlled by a third party which refuses to cooperate in any way with LAUSD’s oversight. Up until reaching a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the District just prior to the meeting, ECRCHS had refused to terminate their principal after he was caught charging expensive meals, $95 bottles of wine, first class airfare and personal charges on the school’s credit card. Interestingly, the Governing Board was also accused of violating California’s Brown Act, which they appear to have done again when they appointed a team to negotiate the MOU at their meeting on Monday night even though this issue did not appear on their published agenda.

Here is the Board’s complaint about the Magnolia (Gulen) charter schools:

If the charter schools had their way, there would be no oversight at all, no supervision, and no accountability for anything they do.

Under Governor Jerry Brown and the state school board, that has the common practice. The California Charter Schools Association is shocked when any school board has the temerity to exercise any oversight, fiscal or academic.

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.