Archives for category: Charter Schools

You have read here that the Texas State Board of Education approved five charter chains to grow in the Lone Star State and nixed three chains. One of those approved is a Gulen charter chain that was rejected in Alabama and Nevada.

Another of those that were approved is the Learn4Life chain, a California-based chain of more than 60 charter schools.

Learn more about Learn4Life here.

Will Huntsberry wrote in the Voice of San Diego about Learn4Life last year. Its a sweet deal for its leaders, not so much for its students.

John Helgeson, a charter school executive, has a great deal for a public servant.

In 2007, he helped found Charter School Capital, a for-profit Oregon company that loans money to charter schools and buys school properties. In May 2015, he also started making $300,000 a year as an executive vice president at Learn4Life, a nonprofit network of more than 60 charter schools that serves roughly 45,000 students in California.

Charter School Capital lends money to Learn4Life schools and pockets the interest. While working at Learn4Life – which is funded almost entirely by California taxpayers – Helgeson maintained an ownership stake in Charter School Capital. In doing so, Helgeson discovered a way to collect not just one, but two paychecks from California’s cash-strapped public school system.

Learn4Life, which operates nine San Diego locations, serves a unique group of students. Many are at-risk and have dropped or failed out of traditional high schools. The schools are publicly funded and often located in strip-mall storefronts. Students usually come in to meet with a teacher once or twice a week and complete work packets.

Since 2014, Charter School Capital has loaned more than $6 million to two Learn4Life schools in San Diego alone. A charter school borrowing money from a for-profit lender is normal enough. To have a key employee who profits from both is not.

Just two months after Helgeson came on board at Learn4Life, the company increased its business with Charter School Capital. Charter School Capital purchased the 100,000 square-foot corporate headquarters of Learn4Life in July 2015 – making Charter School Capital the landlord of Learn4Life. Now Charter School Capital wasn’t just profiting on its loans to Learn4Life. It was also profiting on a lease. And so was Helgeson.

“It sounds like a classic conflict of interest, where someone is serving two masters,” said Jessica Levinson, former president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission and a professor at Loyola Law School.

Carol Burris wrote about Learn4Life in her comprehensive report Charters and Consequences. Its schools have enormous dropout rates and very low graduation rates. By traditional indicators, they would be considered failing schools. Some have graduation rates as low as 0%, though 10-20% is more typical.

The Texas State Board of Education has very low standards for charter schools. How can it set standards for students and teachers when its standards for charters are so rockbottom?

Michael Kohlhaas, a super investigator of public records in California, discovered that 22 charter schools in Los Angeles were rated “low performing” this year. If they get the same rating for a second year in a row, they must close, under the terms of the recently passed charter accountability law, AB 1505.

Among the low-performing schools are a couple of KIPPS, some Ref Rodriguez charters, and other highly touted but low performing schools.

Thomas Sowell at the Stanford’s Hoover Institution pointed to NYC’s high-scoring, high-attrition Success Avademy as his evidence for the miracle of charter schools. Los Angeles is not far from Palo Alto. Why didn’t he look there?

A new study of the federal CARES act funding found that private and charter schools received SIX TIMES the amount of funding as public schools from the federal coronavirus program. This may actually, as the report states, be an underestimate.

Mellissa Chang wrote:

A new analysis of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans by Good Jobs First points to an imbalance in CARES Act funding between public schools on the one hand and private and charter schools on the other.

GJF’s Covid Stimulus Watch has identified at least 6,600 charter and private schools that received an estimated $5.7 billion in PPP loans, which have been made available to private companies and non-profit organizations but not public entities. This data is now available on Covid Stimulus Watch through the facility ownership search category.

PPP loan disclosures from the Small Business Administration (SBA) were reported in dollar ranges, not exact values. Covid Stimulus Watch uses the midpoint of each range to estimate loan amounts. Data released by the SBA includes NAICS industry codes for each entity; however, early childhood, charter, and private schools all share the same NAICS code. To identify charter and private schools, we compared PPP loan data to school directories from the National Center on Education Statistics.

Our review revealed that approximately 1,200 charter schools and 5,400 private schools received an estimated $1.3 billion and $4.5 billion in PPP loans, respectively—averaging $855,000 per school. In contrast, other parts of the CARES Act allocate only $13.2 billion for all of the 98,158 public schools in the country, or $134,500 per school. In other words, private and charter schools are getting six times more per facility than public schools.

This gap will likely widen, as charter and private schools are also entitled to a portion of federal funding for public education. Additional analysis will be needed to determine the exact size of this gap, but there is clearly a significant disparity in CARES Act funding for different kinds of schools.

Additional Findings

Of the 5,400 private schools identified, 1,764 are nonsectarian and 3,426 have a religious affiliation. Of schools with religious affiliations, Catholic schools received the most money, with 1,715 schools taking home $1.3 billion—only $400 million less than the $1.7 billion given to nonsectarian schools.

Enrollment data for approximately 5,000 of the 6,600 schools was available from the National Center for Education Statistics. We estimate that a total of 2 million students—417,000 in charter and 1.6 million in private—are enrolled in these schools. The average number of students at each school is 387 and the average award amount per student is $3,520. According to the NCES, the average public school size is 528.

In other words, private and charter schools are getting more per facility even though their schools are smaller on average.

Additionally, the Paycheck Protection Program was not the only loan assistance program available to private and charter schools. The Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, which provides loans to cover operating expenses and revenue losses to business affected by the pandemic, was open to private and charter schools. So far, we have identified almost 300 charter and private schools which have “double-dipped” and received both PPP and EIDL loans. EIDL loans received by these schools amount to $46 million.

The $13.2 billion pot of money for public schools mentioned above comes from the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER).

So far, 36 states have disclosed their ESSER allocations. At this time, we are still processing this data and are unable to determine how much funding charter and private schools received through this ESSER program.

Whatever the final amount, it will further exacerbate funding inequities in the education system.

Carl J. Petersen is a parent in Los Angeles. He is supporting Scott Schmerelson for re-election to the LAUSD school board because of his experience with Scott’s opponent, who works for a charter school.

Bill Phillis, founder of the Ohio Coalition for Adequacy and Equity, reports on the cost of school choice, relying on the data compiled by former legislator Steve Dyer. This is interesting because polls regularly show that the public is fine with choice if the money does not get subtracted from local public schools. It does. It always comes right out of the budget of local public schools. School choice always means budget cuts for public schools. There is no separate pot of money for charters and vouchers.

Bill Phillis writes:

Charters and vouchers took away over one-half billion in local revenue from school districts in school year 2019-2020

$525,187,286* in local revenue was deducted from school districts for privately-operated alternatives to the public common system. Columbus property taxpayers subsidized charter and voucher students to the tune of $76, 548,933* during the 2019-2020 school year.

Article VI §2 of the Ohio Constitution requires the state to secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled four times that the system is unconstitutional. Yet the state removes hundreds of millions of dollars from school districts to fund the state’s pet projects. Incredible!

*Steve Dyer’s analysis

The Texas State Board of Education approved applications from five charter chains, including the Gulen chain (Royal Public Schools) operated by Soner Tarim, who was compelled to leave Alabama because of community protests. It rejected three charter chains, including Rocketship, whose “pedagogy” puts children on computers for half the day, overseen by inexperienced and low-wage teachers.

Among those approved were the Florida-based Doral chain, operated by the for-profit Academica corporate giant. Learn4Life is a California-based chain of drop-in centers with high attrition rates and low graduation rates.

Heritage Classical Academy, CLEAR Public Charter School and Rocketship Public Schools will not be able to open schools in Texas, after traditional public school usleaders and advocates argued the state could not afford to fund new charters during a destabilizing pandemic. The board’s actions are just the latest in a longstanding political debate in Texas over the growth of charter schools, funded by the state but managed privately by nonprofits.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath recommended the eight charter operators at the end of an in-depth process, including mandatory public meetings in target communities and interviews with state officials. The other five —Brillante Academy, Doral Academy of Texas, Learn4Life-Austin, Prelude Preparatory Charter School and Royal Public Schools — will be allowed to open schools next academic year, unless Morath or the board takes further action within the next 90 days…

Texas is one of the largest charter authorizers in the country, with 171 charter districts in operation as of June. Texas caps the number of charter operators, but doesn’t cap the number of schools each operator can open.

Charter opponents warned that the expansion of charter chains would drain badly needed funding from the state’s underfunded public schools, but the state commissioner of education Mike Morath (a software executive, not an educator) supported all the applications and promised that the charters would introduce much-needed innovation.

Never mind that charters in Texas and elsewhere are not noted for any innovations, other than “no-excuses” discipline. Never mind that the critics are right: the funding for the charters will decrease the money available to the state’s real public schools.

Texas seems to have a special affinity for Gulen charters, which are typically managed and staffed by Turkish men who are connected to the Turkish Imam Fethullah Gulen, who lives in seclusion in Pennsylvania.

Please sign up and join the discussion between Steve Suitts and me on Zoom on Wednesday September 16. We will be talking about Steve’s new book Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Movement. You will be amazed to learn of the true history of school choice. It is definitely not the “civil rights issue of our time,” as Trump and DeVos claim.

Steve has been involved in civil rights work throughout his career. He was founding director of the Alabama Civil Liberties Union; executive director of the Southern Regional Council; and vice president of the Southern Education Foundation. He is also the author of a biography of Hugo Black, a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Justice who played a large role in history.

You can sign up here.

Steve and I will talk for an hour, and then we will open the floor for your questions.

Peter Greene assures is that Trump and DeVos are a disaster for education. We know that. No one could be worse. They want to blow up public schools. No question.

But he’s worried that Biden will bring back the staffers from the Obama era of high-stakes testing, charter love, and Commin Core. In particular, he’s worried about Carmel Martin, a perennial favorite of Democratic neoliberals.

My one encounter with Carmel occurred at a panel discussion at the progressive Economic Policy Association in D.C. about one of my books. I lacerated charters, vouchers, and high-stakes testing, as well as the continuity between NCLB and Race to the Top. Carmel vigorously defended all that I criticized.

Like Peter Greene, I’m worried that Obama-era education staffers will return to restore the failed ideas of NCLB and Duncan’s disastrous reign.

Trump must go, and we must keep up the pressure to insist that Biden produce a fresh vision for federal education policy that discards the failures of the past 20 years.

More of the same is unacceptable.

In an effort to fire up his base, Trump identified three of the most extreme rightwing Senators as next in line for a Supreme Court appointment. One is Ted Cruz of Texas. During the 2016 campaign, Trump claimed that Ted Cruz was a key figure in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Apparently he told author Bob Woodward that he placed the story in the National Enquirer, even picked the photo of Cruz to run on the first page. If Trump should win, that’s the end of abortion, federal support for health care, and gay rights, as well as public schools, environmental protection and every progressive accomplishment of the past 50 years. Expect universal vouchers for religious schools and an explosion of charter schools. Expect a dramatic contraction of federal protection for civil rights. We can’t let it happen. We can’t throw away nearly a century of modernism.

President Trump on Wednesday named Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Josh Hawley (Mo.) to his shortlist of potential nominees for the Supreme Court should he win a second term.

Trump’s announcement, aimed at firing up conservatives eight weeks before the election, reflects the degree to which he has supercharged the politicization of the judicial branch, plunging the court system more deeply into the partisan fray than at any time since five Supreme Court justices appointed by Republican presidents delivered the White House to George W. Bush in 2000.

All three senators have been plotting potential 2024 presidential campaigns of their own. Each man has been crystal clear that he would support overturning reproductive rights codified in Roe v. Wade, strike down the Affordable Care Act in its entirety and rule against LGBTQ rights if given the chance.

Tom Torkelson, former leader of the free-spending IDEA Network, has landed in San Antonio, where he hopes to flood the city and its surrounding districts with charter schools and obliterate public schools that belong to the community. Torkelson hopes to place 150,000 students in charters, draining funding from public schools.

Not long ago, the IDEA corporate chain bought out Torkelson’s contract for $900,000. Torkrlson will be the new CEO of a local group called Choose to Succeed. “Choose to Succeed backs a portfolio of charter operators they deem high-performing including IDEA, KIPP Texas, Great Hearts Academies, and BASIS Schools.”

Torkelson will grow the charter sector and crush the local public schools, which will be nothing more than dumping grounds for the kids who can’t meet the demands of the “high-performing” charter schools that have such requirements as passing AP exams.

IDEA, you may recall, wanted to lease a private jet for its executives (but backed off because of bad publicity), treated them to firs-class air travel, spent $400,000 a year for premium seats at professional basketball games, was gifted with nearly $250 million by Betsy DeVos from the federal Charter Schools Program. IDEA picked up nearly $5 million from the Walton Family Foundation. Money, money, money!

As the largest charter school network in Texas fights to keep its momentum to open new campuses amid backlash caused by its controversial spending decisions, its ex-CEO has landed in San Antonio.

Tom Torkelson, who co-founded IDEA Public Schools and led the network for two decades before stepping down in April, is now CEO of Choose to Succeed, a nonprofit organization that since 2011 has been a driving force and relentless cheerleader for charter expansion here.

The group has helped raise more than $100 million to recruit high-performing charter networks to plant schools in San Antonio. Its initial focus — creating educational alternatives in the city’s low-income areas — soon widened to include every part of the city. Leaders of traditional public school districts have pushed back with increasing vigor in recent years, arguing against the need for new charters but unable to slow their growth.

Will public education survive in San Antonio? It’s doubtful.