Archives for category: Charter Schools

Christopher Lubienski is Professor of Education Policy and director of the Center for Evaluation and Policy Analysis at Indiana University. Among his publications is The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools. In this article, which appeared in The Tennessean, he points out that vouchers are unpopular as well as ineffective. So unpopular are they that they are usually sold another another name, like “education scholarships.”

He writes:

Recently, a panel of judges dismissed lawsuits against Tennessee’s private school voucher program passed by the General Assembly back in 2019. A month before that decision, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled in favor of its legislature’s efforts to implement a universal voucher program. These types of legal victories may seem like good news for parents’ rights, but they are also a reminder that the school choice movement is missing a key source of support: the voters.

School choice is continuing to expand across the United States. New Hampshire implemented a statewide voucher program in 2021, and this year Arizona legislators also adopted a universal voucher program.

But these successes often come in spite of overwhelming voter opposition to school choice programs. Arizona lawmakers had passed a similar measure in 2018, only to see the initiative soundly rejected by a 2-to-1 margin at the ballot box. This time around, policymakers successfully undercut an effort to put their initiative back before the electorate.

In Michigan, school choice advocates appeared to have ignored a deadline to place their proposal for a voucher program on the ballot. Since such measures had been overwhelmingly rejected by Michigan voters twice before, voucher proponents instead exploited a quirk in state law that allowed them to put the issue directly before the GOP-run legislature while preempting any veto from the Democratic governor. (Unfortunately for their plan, Michigan voters then flipped the legislature to Democratic control.)

This voter-avoidance strategy is clear with school choice programs across the U.S. According to the pro-voucher organization EdChoice.org, the U.S. has over 75 publicly funded private school choice programs, including vouchers and education savings accounts, as well as another 45 charter school programs. But all of these programs have been implemented by legislators, not the electorate. Following these legislative actions, judges, not voters, can get their say.

In fact, voters have been allowed to weigh in on school choice programs only nine times since 2000, and they almost always reject them, often by overwhelming margins. Only twice did school choice programs pass through the ballot box. In 2012 Georgia voters empowered their legislature with the ability to create charter schools. That same year, although they had clearly rejected it twice before, Washington voters passed a charter school referendum by the slimmest of margins following financial support from Bill Gates and associates for the measure.

This reflects an interesting conflict. Parents seem to like choice programs. Perhaps that’s not surprising, since people are often happy to receive public subsidies. But when asked, voters consistently and overwhelmingly reject these programs.

Policymakers and choice advocates have largely come down on the side of parent rights in endorsing school choice. Since this puts them in opposition to voters, they largely avoid the electorate on the issue.

But policymakers would do well to remember that this is not just a question of who controls education decision-making. After all, they are entrusted with the wise use of taxpayers’ dollars. And recent research is repeatedly showing that the voters may be on to something: that vouchers are not a good investment. Although publicly funded vouchers may be propping up some private schools that might otherwise go out of business, they are not really helping the people they purport to help. In fact, despite parent satisfaction, study after study shows that students using vouchers are falling behind where they would have been if they had remained in public schools. Thus, policymakers might think twice about defying voters on initiatives that actually cause harm to children.

It’s a curious approach for a movement that claims to be working for the grass roots.

You can view the post at this link : https://networkforpubliceducation.org/blog-content/christopher-lubienski-the-school-choice-movement-has-a-voter-problem/

Joshua Q. Nelson wrote a story for FOX News, saying that I was a hypocrite for sending my sons to private schools (more than 50 years ago) and ignoring the fact that I turned against school choice publicly in 2010. His source was Corey DeAngelis, who works for Betsy DeVos. He has attacked me so often on Twitter that I blocked him.

A little bit of research would have shown that I supported school choice from the late 1980s (when charters first emerged) until 2008 (when I started writing a book about my disavowal of conservative education ideology—charters, vouchers, standardized testing, merit pay, and high-stakes accountability).

My change of mind and heart was well covered, not only in The New York Times, but in The Wall Street Journal and other publications). And the book became a national bestseller.

Christina Pushaw, a close aide to Ron DeSantis, amplified the story in her Twitter account, as did the notorious Chris Rufo.

Since the story came out, I have received numerous death threats. Yesterday, I got another one, a long and garbled message with religious allusions, which ended by saying “Yes, we will be ‘slaying Goliath.’ You are Goliath.”

I think Joshua Q. Nelson should be aware that he was played by DeAngelis and correct his story.

Meanwhile, I am flattered that Ron DeSantis and Betsy DeVos and their minions read my tweets and perhaps my blog. I would like to recommend that they read my last three books, where I demonstrate the importance of public schools and the hoax of school choice, which originated as the battle cry of segregationists after the Brown decision.

In a diverse society like ours, public schools bring children from different backgrounds together. They are essential for our democracy. They are the best choice.

Of course, parents are free to make private choices but they should not expect taxpayers to pay for their choice to send their child to a private school that discriminates against others.

Meanwhile, here is a reading assignment for Corey DeAngelis, Christina Pushaw, Chris Rufo, Ron DeSantis, and Betsy DeVos:

https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2021/01/14/the-dark-history-of-school-choice/

And three books:

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010)

Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (2013)

Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools (2020)

On a personal note: I am 84. I do not fear your threats. I write what I choose. I will not be intimidated.

Congressman Jamaal Bowman is an educator. He was principal of a middle school in The Bronx, New York City, serving high-needs students when he ran for Congress. He was re-elected in 2022. He is a strong voice in Congress for public schools,

He issued a press release calling on New York Governor Kathy Hochul to withdraw her budget proposal to increase the number of charter schools in New York City. He knows the damage this will do to the vast majority of students, who are in public schools.

He said:

For Immediate Release
Date:
February 3, 2023
Contact: wanjira@bowmanforcongress.com


NEWS: Rep. Bowman Statement on Governor Hochul’s Budget Decision to Divert Traditional Public School Resources


NEW YORK, NY – Yesterday, Governor Kathy Hochul released her FY2024 budget, which included a proposal to remove the regional cap on charter schools.

Rep. Bowman released the following statement in response:

“As a life-long educator and former middle school principal in the Bronx for over a decade, I witnessed firsthand the value and impact traditional public schools have on children’s lives and learning,” saidCongressman Jamaal Bowman Ed.D (NY-16). “As much as I want to applaud Governor Hochul’s funding of the Foundation Aid initiative, I am extremely disappointed by her proposal to remove the regional cap on charter schools which will dramatically divert critical resources from traditional public schools. With over 1500 public schools in New York City that serve over 1 million students, this effort will be destructive for the learning of our city’s children, especially for the almost 90% of minority children who are currently enrolled in public schools.”

“Let me be very clear. The core of the Foundation Aid was created to help provide more equitable and sustainable educational opportunities for children in our traditional public schools. Increasing the development of more charter schools is not what the Foundation Aid was designed for. District public schools are foundational to a functioning democracy, while charter schools – especially those run by large networks – often perpetuate the very inequities that prevent us from realizing the potential of our democracy.”

“There is a standard of excellence and equity that makes public schools the most viable option for all our children. The qualification and certification standards for teachers are high, ensuring the highest level of educational opportunities for our children. Students engage with a diverse community that reflects the demographics of this country early in their childhood development stages. Accessibility and affordability ensure that parents, caregivers, and families are partners in their child’s learning. From PTA initiatives and parent-teacher conferences to programs that create a true learning partnership with parents, public schools allow for many avenues where parents can purposefully engage in their child’s education.”

“I call on Governor Hochul to keep the charter school cap exactly where it is –which is much higher than it was initially supposed to be.”

 

About Rep. Jamaal Bowman
Congressman Jamaal Bowman was an educator and advocate for public schools for over 20 years and previously served as principal for the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action (CASA), a public middle school he founded in 2009 in the Baychester neighborhood of The Bronx. Rep. Bowman is a life-long New Yorker who lives in Yonkers with his wife and children.

When Republican Matt Bevin was Governor of Kentucky, the state legislature passed a bill in 2017 authorizing charter schools. The law mandated that Louisville open a charter school. When it came time to set up a funding mechanism for charters, Democratic Governor Andy Beshear vetoed it.

When it came time to open a charter school, no one applied. The usual chains were not interested in opening a charter without funding.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reported:

Last year, Kentucky lawmakers demanded that school district leaders in Louisville seek and approve at least one application for a charter school in 2023.

Just one problem: No one applied.

Jefferson County Public Schools’ charter school information portal shows just one group formally notified the district of their intent to apply. The group, however, did not end up actually doing that.

Kentucky Department of Education spokesperson Toni Konz Tatman similarly confirmed Thursday no one applied to open a charter school in Northern Kentucky – the second location mandated to have a charter. District leaders in that region get until July 1, 2024 under state law.

Erin Aubrey Kaplan writes in the Los Angeles Times about a successful public school—Baldwin Hills Elementary—that wants a co-located charter school to leave their space. Kaplan notes that there is a long history of feuding between public schools and charters, but this conflict is a first. The public school has parent and community support for reclaiming its space.

She writes that the fight is forcing a question:

Will the Los Angeles Unified School District find a way to support — even magnify — that rarest of success stories: a high achieving predominantly Black neighborhood school?

For the last seven years, Baldwin Hills Elementary School, a nearly 80-year-old campus in the Crenshaw district, has had to share digs with a charter, New Los Angeles Elementary.

New L.A. has about 200 students; Baldwin Hills twice that, but the neighborhood school’s sense of infringement isn’t just about the comparative sizes of the two student bodies.

BHE features ambitious programs. It houses a gifted magnet and serves as a “community school,” with “wraparound” healthcare and family support services. It’s also a so-called pilot school, which gives it the autonomy to offer unique classes such yoga, chess and orchestra. And it’s a designated STEAM campus — science, technology, engineering, the arts and math. In 2020, the state Department of Education designated Baldwin Hills, where 82% of the student body is Black, a distinguished school.

Not surprisingly, BHE parents and teachers tend to be organized, involved and deeply committed to growing what is regarded as an unqualified school success. To do that, they say, the school needs to get back space that was deemed nonessential and ceded to New L.A.: The charter, they say, must be relocated.

Back in October, members of Neighbors in Action for Baldwin Hills Elementary, a BHE parent-community-teacher coalition, sent a letter to LAUSD outlining their colocation complaints.

Sharing the campus, they wrote, “has greatly diminished the school’s ability to meet students’ social-emotional needs and mental health wellness, and hampered access to the academic programs that the school has been tasked with providing.”

Because of space constraints, Baldwin Hills is out a computer and robotics lab. Orchestra classes have been conducted on the playground blacktop. Students have to eat lunch hurriedly in a time-shared cafeteria. The bathrooms are overcrowded and sometimes unsafe.

In short, Baldwin Hills is an unfolding success story, in spite of colocation. “If we can do this in a stifled environment, imagine what we could do in a regular environment,” says Love Collins, a parent who switched her third-grader from a private school to Baldwin Hills.

The BHE coalition insists the district could find a way within the rules to relocate New L.A. (For it’s part, New L.A. claims to be looking elsewhere for a “permanent” school site.)

Community schools, for example, are supposed to be exempt from colocation, a rule the parents believe should apply at BHE despite the fact that Baldwin Hills wasn’t designated a community school until after New L.A. had moved in.

It’s a point that feels strengthened by recent developments. Two years ago, a new state law, AB 1505, gave school districts — charter school “authorizers” — expanded criteria in deciding whether to deny space to new charters or renew the leases of existing ones.

So far, LAUSD’s response has been underwhelming. Half a dozen district representatives came to Baldwin Hills for a town hall after the October letter, but as a second letter the coalition organizers sent to the district points out, none of their specific complaints or proposed solutions were addressed.

For months, the BHE group has solicited the support — or simply a call-back — from their LAUSD District 1 board member, George McKenna. When he was principal at Washington Prep, McKenna had a well-earned reputation for advocating for students of color and instituting a culture of high expectation. But neither he nor his staff has met with Neighbors in Action for Baldwin Hills Elementary.

“I very much support the parents and programs at Baldwin Hills Elementary, and always have,” McKenna says. “It’s a wonderful school.” What he doesn’t say is anything about the colocation conflict.

But the coalition is not scaling back the pressure for more definitive support.

“All we’re asking district to do is find another place to house [New L.A.], and don’t renew their contract at Baldwin,” says Jacquelyn Walker, a longtime teacher at Baldwin Hills who became its community school coordinator last year.

Underlying the many practical arguments here is a philosophical one: If Black lives truly matter, Baldwin Hills deserves — is, in fact, entitled to — as much space as possible.

With BHE, LAUSD has an organic model of Black success that the district should be nurturing, not stunting. In Walker’s words: “Allow us to thrive, give us the opportunity to do what we can do.”

The stakes for students of color are simply too high to do anything less.

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of Mercedes Schneider’s wonderful blog!

I learned about it last night, too late to mark the actual blog birthday.

Mercedes is one of the sharpest, smartest voices of the Resistance to privatization. She is a hero of the Resistance thanks to her incisive, brilliant exposés of “reform” hoaxes.

She is a high school English teacher in Louisiana. She has a Ph.D. in statistics and research methodology. She could have been a professor but she wanted to teach high school students.

I started my blog in April 2012; she started hers in January 2013. We exchanged emails, and we met when I came to speak in Louisiana. We became fast friends. Mercedes has been a regular at annual conferences of the Network for Public Education, where she most recently gave lessons on how to obtain tax forms and other public data about “reform” groups, which sprout like weeds, with new names, lots of money, and the same set of actors.

Mercedes is relentless. While teaching and blogging, she wrote four books over the past decade.

In 2014, her first book was A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of Public Education, a vivid portrayal of the cast of characters who pursued privatization and teacher-bashing while calling themselves “reformers.” Might as well have called themselves “destroyers,” because that’s what they are.

In 2015, she published Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, with a foreword by Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education.

In 2016, she published School Choice: The End of Public Education?, with a foreword by Karen Lewis, the late and much-loved President of the Chicago Teachers Union.

In 2020, she gathered her advice about research and published A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies.

In her blogday post, she reflected on some positive developments in the past decade

Of course, the fight continues, but allow me to celebrate a few realities:

  • Bobby Jindal is no longer governor of Louisiana, and his 2016 presidential ambitions were a flop.
  • John White is no longer Louisiana state superintendent. In fact, he is not a superintendent anywhere at all.
  • Michelle Rhee is no longer DC school chancellor. She, too, is chancellor of nowhere at all.
  • Hanna Skandera is no longer NM school chief. She, too, is school chief of nowhere at all.
  • Joel Klein holds no sway over NYC schools. Chief of nowhere.
  • Teach for America (TFA) is losing its luster. Though it tries to reinvent itself, the bottom line is that the org depends upon class after class of willing recruits– a well that appears to be hitting bottom.

Yes, the fight continues. But today– today I take a moment to celebrate just a wee bit.

Happy Blogday to me.

I celebrate Mercedes too and happily name her to the honor roll of this blog.

Love you, Mercedes! May you keep on making a difference.

Independent researchers have demonstrated repeatedly that charter schools in Texas do not get better academic outcomes than public schools. The average charter school ranks below the average public school. Yet charter schools continue to proliferate, for two reasons: one, the governor, lieutenant governor and legislature firmly believe that the private sector is better than anything public; two, charter schools are a honey pot for entrepreneurs, who see a chance to get public money with minimal accountability or oversight.

Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer reported in 2016:

We estimate the impact of charter schools on early-life labor market outcomes using administrative data from Texas. We find that, at the mean, charter schools have no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings. No Excuses charter schools increase test scores and four-year college enrollment, but have a small and statistically insignificant impact on earnings, while other types of charter schools decrease test scores, four-year college enrollment, and earnings. Moving to school-level estimates, we find that charter schools that decrease test scores also tend to decrease earnings, while charter schools that increase test scores have no discernible impact on earnings.

This article appeared in the San Antonio Express-News. The business community in San Antonio has been very supportive of turning public money over to private-managed charter schools.

Just over two years ago, Universal Academy, a Texas charter school with two campuses in the Dallas area, made a surprising move.

In November 2020, a nonprofit foundation formed to support the school bought a luxury horse ranch and equestrian center from former ExxonMobil Chairman Rex Tillerson. The 12-building complex features a show barn “designed with Normandy-style cathedral ceilings,” a 120,000 square foot climate-controlled riding arena and a viewing pavilion with kitchen and bathrooms.

RELATED: IDEA Public Schools signed $15M lease for luxury jet despite being under state investigation

Last summer the Texas Education Agency granted Universal Academy permission to create a new elementary campus on the horse property’s manicured grounds. It will offer students riding lessons, according to a brochure, for $9,500.

Sales prices aren’t public in Texas, but the 100-acre property had been listed for $12 million when Tillerson, who also served as secretary of state under former President Donald Trump, bought it in 2009. Because of the foundation’s nonprofit status and its plans to offer equine therapy, the parcel has been removed from the tax rolls.

School board President Janice Blackmon said Universal hopes to use the facility to start a 4H chapter and Western-style horsemanship training, among other programs that take advantage of its rural location. “We’re trying to broaden the students and connect them to their Texas roots,” she said.

Splashy purchases like the horse arena are receiving increasing public scrutiny as charter schools continue to expand aggressively across Texas. Under state law, charter schools are public schools — just owned and managed privately, unlike traditional school districts.

An analysis by Hearst Newspapers found cases in which charter schools collected valuable real estate at great cost to taxpayers but with a tenuous connection to student learning. In others, administrators own the school facilities and have collected millions from charging rent to the same schools they run.

In Houston, the superintendent and founder of Diversity, Roots and Wings Academy, or DRAW, owns or controls four facilities used by the school, allowing him to bill millions to schools he oversees. DRAW’s most recent financial report shows signed lease agreements to pay Fernando Donatti, the superintendent, and his companies more than $6.5 million through 2031.

In an email, superintendent Donetti at DRAW said the property transactions were ethical, in the best interest of DRAW’s students and properly reported to state regulators. He said his school was “lucky” he was able to purchase the property because of challenges charters can face finding proper facilities.

Also in the Houston area, at ComQuest Academy Charter High School, the superintendent and her husband also own the company to which the school pays rent.

And Accelerated Learning Academy, a charter school based in Houston, is still trying to get a tax exemption on one of the two condominiums it bought just over a decade ago in upscale neighborhoods in Houston and Dallas. The school claims it has used the condos for storage, despite a nearby 9,600 square foot facility.

The battles between school districts and charter networks have become increasingly pitched, as they are locked in a zero-sum battle for public dollars.

Last year in Houston, about 45,000 students transferred from the ISD to charter schools, resulting in a loss to the district of a minimum of $276 million. That figure includes only the basic allotment received by the districts, excluding special education funding or other allotments.

In San Antonio, the two largest school districts are Northside ISD and North East ISD. More than 12,000 Northside students transferred to charter schools in the 2021-2022 school year, as did just under 8,000 from North East ISD. That means Northside lost at least $75 million, while North East lost $50 million, using the same basic allotment figures.

Each side cries foul about the other’s perceived advantages: charters are able to operate with less government and public scrutiny, while school districts benefit from zoning boards and can lean on a local tax base for financing.

Georgina Perez, who served on the State Board of Education from 2017 until this year, noted arrangements such as these would never be permitted at traditional school districts.

“If it can’t be done in (school districts), they probably had a good reason to disallow it,” she said. “So why can it be done with privately managed charter franchises?”

Lawmaker: ‘Sunshine’ is best cure

The largest charter network in Texas was a catalyst for the increased public scrutiny of charter school spending.

IDEA Public Schools faces state investigation for its spending habits, including purchases of luxury boxes at San Antonio Spurs games, lavish travel expenditures for executives, the acquisition of a boutique hotel in Cameron County for more than $1 million, plans to buy a $15 million private jet and other allegations of irresponsible or improper use of funds. The allegations date back to 2015 and led to the departure of top executives — including CEO and founder Tom Torkelson, who received a $900,000 severance payment.

Over the years lawmakers have steadily tightened rules for charter governance. A 2013 bill included provisions to strengthen nepotism rules; a 2021 law outlawed large severance payments. That bill was sponsored by Rep. Terry Canales, a South Texas Democrat whose district has some of the highest rates of charter school enrollment in the state.

“There’s a lot of work to be done for the people of Texas when it comes to charter schools,” Canales said. “Sunshine is the best cure for corruption. And the reality is it seems to be sanctioned corruption in charter schools.”

Considering the increased scrutiny, “It’s a myth that charter schools today are unregulated,” said Joe Hoffer, a San Antonio attorney who works on behalf of many charter schools. “Every session, more and more laws get passed.” If anything, he said, charter schools often have to jump through more regulatory hoops than local schools.

Yet acquiring property remains a gray area.

Charter schools that can’t purchase their own property typically must lease it and pay taxes. A 2021 state law authored by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, a San Antonio Democrat who operates a charter, made such arrangements tax-free. But the Texas Supreme Court later blocked parts of the law, and it has been applied differently by counties across the state.

It’s unusual for school districts to lease their facilities; typically they are publicly owned or constructed. Local school districts are governed by nonpartisan elected boards, and when the board decides to purchase real estate, it must notify the public of the contract and voters can petition the district to block it. If a project requires bonding or new taxes, it must be put on the ballot.

At charters, by comparison, the governing board is appointed, not elected, so it does not answer to local voters. The main public scrutiny comes later, when the information about the sale must be disclosed in annual required filings with the Texas Education Agency.

The state education agency has the authority to review charter real estate transactions and sometimes does. In Dallas, Golden Rule Charter School is under state investigation for a real estate deal and possible nepotism. The school declined to release details because the investigation is pending.

But such reviews are often cursory, if they happen at all.

When charters report a real estate transaction to the education agency, Hoffer said, they typically just receive a letter back saying it has been recorded, with a clause reminding the schools that state regulators have the authority to return for an audit or demand the deal be re-done.

Critics say it isn’t enough. “The problem that a lot of us have had with charters is that they are considered public schools and they are taxpayer-funded, but they don’t have taxpayer scrutiny,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat and former trustee at Eanes ISD. “It’s a real lack of accountability.”

Some deals benefit administrators

According to its website, Horizon Montessori Public School operates four campuses in the Rio Grande Valley, one on Sugar Cane Drive in Weslaco. Until recently, records show, the property and its two commercial buildings were owned by Superintendent Alim Ansari.

Hidalgo County appraisal records show Ansari also apparently lived in a 4,800-square-foot home at the back of the 2.85-acre parcel, a portion of which was granted a homestead limitation on its taxes.

In addition to serving as Ansari’s home, records from the Texas Education Agency show that between 2015 and 2020, the superintendent leased his Weslaco property to Horizon for classroom and office space, collecting $118,000 a year in rent during the period. In 2020, Ansari-the-landlord signed a new five-year contract with his school for the property, for $168,000 annually, according to education agency records.

A home can be seen on the same piece of property as the Horizon Montessori Public School on Sugarcane Drive in Weslaco on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. The home belonged to the superintendent of the public charter school who leased his Weslaco property to Horizon for classroom and office space, collecting $118,000 a year in rent from 2015-2020. State and local records show Ansari sold the campus and residence last June. The buyer was a nonprofit organization called South Texas Educational Technologies, which according to its tax records conducts business as Horizon Montessori. Ansari is its chairman. State and local records show the foundation purchased the property from Ansari for $1.9 million, or more than twice the $840,000 at which Hidalgo County appraised it. Records show the foundation used a private appraiser to value the parcel.James Hord/Contributor

State and local records show Ansari sold the campus and residence last June. The buyer was a nonprofit organization called South Texas Educational Technologies, which conducts business as Horizon Montessori, according to its tax records. Ansari is its chairman.

State and local records show Ansari’s foundation purchased the property from Ansari for $1.9 million — or more than twice the $840,000 at which Hidalgo County appraised it. The foundation used a private appraiser to value the parcel.

Ansari did not respond to multiple phone and email messages. James Hayes, a CPA who sits on Horizon’s board and who also is paid $48,000 a year by the charter for accounting services, declined to comment.

Related-party arrangements are rare among modern charters, said Hoffer, the attorney who represents some of them. In some cases, he said, new schools might be forced to make such deals temporarily because they did not have the creditworthiness to borrow money to purchase facilities.

Pioneer Technology and Arts Academy, which has several campuses in the Dallas area, paid about $5 million in rent in the 2021 fiscal year to two companies, one a nonprofit and one a for-profit. Records show Superintendent Shubham Pandey has stakes in both.

Just under $3.5 million went to the nonprofit controlled by two board members of Pioneer, including Pandey. Another $1,296,418 went to Pandey’s for-profit business, PNC Partners, with more than $3 million total reported in the previous three years.

In an email, Pandey said that Pioneer’s goal all along was to transfer the school buildings from his for-profit ownership to a nonprofit. Three campuses were taken over by the nonprofit in 2019, while three others were transferred last year. Future campuses will be owned by the nonprofit, he said, and he no longer collects rent checks from the school.

But the nonprofit did not exist when Pioneer was given its charter, and its initial application did not mention future plans to transfer assets to a nonprofit.

At ComQuest Academy Charter High School, the Houston-area charter, Superintendent Tanis Stanfield and her husband, Glenn, said they don’t earn a profit from the rent it pays their company, Peachwood Station LLC

Peachwood collected $91,000 in rent in 2021. Documents also say the company provided an additional $117,000-worth of rent for free.

Tanis Stanfield said the couple followed the law and provided the needed space at a steep discount to the school she ran. “State charter funding for facilities was not available for the campus acquisition,” the superintendent wrote in an email.

School-owned condos?

In 2017, the Chronicle reported on Accelerated Learning Academy’s purchase of a 1,119-square-foot condo unit in the 22-story Cosmopolitan, a glassy high rise near Memorial Park, for $427,000. The school then bought a 1,340-square-foot condo in downtown Dallas’s Metropolitan Club the same year, appraisal records show.

The school claimed both of the residential units were needed for storage space. The Dallas Appraisal District accepted that explanation, though the school already had a 9,600-square-foot, nearly empty campus in nearby Lancaster, and granted the condo a full property tax exemption. Records show Accelerated sold the condo in 2021.

The Cosmopolitan condominium building at 1600 Post Oak Blvd where Accelerated Learning Academy purchased a 1,119-square-foot condo unit, claiming they needed the space for storage, photographed Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, in Houston.

Harris County appraisal officials have been more skeptical about the school’s use of the unit for educational purposes: “Personally, I cannot imagine that the state of Texas would allow the use of state funds to purchase this property,” the agency’s exemptions coordinator wrote in 2013, noting the Cosmopolitan’s deed restrictions prohibited condos from being used for businesses.

Accelerated has continued to seek a tax exemption. The appraisal district’s 2018 field inspection showed some plastic totes scattered throughout the unit.

“Very nice condo with granite and hardwoods,” the inspector noted. The exemption was again denied because the property did “not meet the tests prescribed by the tax code.” Records show Accelerated paid about $9,000 in property taxes on the unit last year.

Another example is the A.W. Brown Leadership Academy, which has two campuses in the Dallas area that serve about 1,000 students. Property records show it owns eight properties, several worth millions that have sat unused — even as taxpayer money has gone to repay the loans used to buy them.

Records show A.W. Brown’s real estate holdings include nearly 50,000 of commercial office space purchased with bonds in 2017. Appraised at more than $4 million, the property has been tax-free since 2018 and is vacant. Taxpayers pay for the bonds. A.W. Brown spokesman Charles Roberts said the school is still deciding how to use it.

The charter also owns a 3,400-square-foot house with an in-ground pool on 6 acres in Duncanville, identified as an office and valued at $630,000, plus 99 acres next to it, valued at more than $4 million by the appraisal district. Those were purchased more than a decade ago from professional basketball player Larry Demetric Johnson, records show.

The school has paid no taxes on either since 2014, according to appraisal records. In the fall of 2022, the school announced its plan to turn the more-than 100 acres of land into a community garden and farm for students “to learn more about agriculture and entrepreneurship,” said Roberts, the school spokesman.

In response to questions from Hearst, Roberts said the charter would be starting “an internal audit of facility purchases.” He declined to comment further.

edward.mckinley@chron.com

eric.dexheimer@chron.com

At ex-Governor Cuomo’s urging several years ago, the Legislature passed a law requiring the New York City Department of Education to provide free space to charter schools, and if no space was available, to pay their rent in private space. This requirement gave rise to the dreadful practice of “co-location,” in which a new charter school was crammed into an existing public school. The public school typically lost space for class size reduction, performances, special education services, and everything else that was not designated as a classroom. Meanwhile, the charter school got fresh new furniture and the best of everything. There was no collaboration between the schools under the same roof.

A few days ago, charter advocates were stunned when the Department of Education rejected three requests for co-location by the rich and politically powerful Success Academy charter chain. The Wall Street Journal immediately published an editorial blasting Mayor Eric Adams (whose campaign was bankrolled by charter billionaires) and who put charter advocates on the city’s school board. The decision was made by Chancellor David Banks and never reached the pro-charter city board.

For Eva Moskowitz of Success Academy, this was a surprising rejection. She is accustomed to cowing politicians (she has her own PAC) and getting her way.

Charter fans and the pro-charter media blame “the unions,” their usual enemy, but this isn’t correct. Parents and educators in these communities contacted their legislators and won their support. And the legislators and local officials killed the deal.

Congressman Jamaal Bowman stepped up to oppose the co-location in a school that he knew. He wrote a thread on Twitter (@JamaalBowmanNY) that began:

The @NYCSchools proposal to open and co-locate a new @SuccessCharters school in Building X113 is absolutely outrageous. The Panel for Education Policy has to vote against this plan, and I urge my colleagues and neighbors to get loud in opposition. Here’s why: 🧵

As a former educator & principal of a middle school in the same district as X113, I’ve seen up close how the educators there have done a tremendous job serving their students & families. Our community is incredibly grateful for the love they pour into their work every day.

I’ve also seen how charter schools can harm students, educators, and traditional public schools in our communities. We can’t let that happen at X113.

Big charter networks have a history of draining students & funds from traditional public schools, and violating the rights of their students. Last year, Success Academy had to pay out $2.4 million in a federal court settlement for pushing out students with disabilities.

The plan will decrease available space for the existing schools at Building X113 – both district-run public schools – and prevent them from lowering class sizes adequately. Class size matters. We’ve got to demand schools get the resources & physical space to meet student needs.

As many charter school expansions do, this destructive plan will also disproportionately harm students with disabilities. The plan does not include sufficient analysis of what intervention rooms are necessary to provide students with IEPs with the services they need.

Another surprise: the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post got the story right. The story recognized that the pressure to block the co-locations came not from the union but from parents. The Post has been a vocal supporter of charters, and Murdoch himself has contributed to them.

Elected officials helped kill a plan to open three new charter schools in existing public schools or other city-owned buildings — after hearing fierce opposition from local parents.

Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson — who last week spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new DREAM Charter High School in Mott Haven — suggested Tuesday that her hand was forced against the planned Success Academy in Williamsbridge.

“Parents of School District 11 spoke to us loud & clear. The deep rooted history of disinvestment at the Richard R. Green Campus must be recognized. So much progress has been made,” she tweeted.

A City Hall insider also cited “a lot of pushback” from community members opposed to the new charter schools.

“They vote and they hold folks accountable,” the source said.

Schools Chancellor David Banks’ unexpected withdrawal of the proposal came even though Mayor Eric Adams packed the board in charge of the decision with pro-charter allies.

Pennsylvania has an outdated charter school law that funds charter schools generously. For a long time, the legislature was controlled by Republicans whose billionaire donors wanted to encourage charter schools and defund public schools. The state is also extravagant in funding virtual charter schools, many of which operate for profit. All the virtual charters are low-performing.

The Keystone Center for Charter Change, established by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, has led a campaign to revise the charter law, especially the funding formula. 89% of the school districts in the state have joined their program for reform.

.@PennsManor Area SD becomes Pennsylvania’s 445th locally elected, volunteer board of school directors to pass a resolution calling upon the General Assembly to pass charter reform.

Keystone Center for Charter Change Website
More than 440 school districts have adopted a resolution calling upon the General Assembly to meaningfully reform the existing flawed charter school funding system to ensure that school districts and taxpayers are no longer overpaying or reimbursing charter schools for costs they do not have. The map and list below will show which school districts have approved a resolution.
If your school board has not yet adopted a resolution, you can find a copy of the resolution and instructions on how to submit the resolution after adoption below.

Writing in The Progressive, Carol Burris raised an important question: Where are the 1.3 million children who didn’t return to school after schools reopened? Burris is the executive director of the Network for Public Education.

As she points out, the lobbyists for the privatizers claim that they must be in charter schools or voucher schools, but Burris shows this is not accurate. Some may be homeschooled; but the data on the number of children being homeschooled is inadequate to know how many children are being tutored at home.

Burris writes:

Between the fall of 2019 and 2021, 1.3 million children left the American public school system, according toEducation Week. For those who care about the welfare of children, this sharp decline is worrisome. We know that enrollment declineswere the steepest in large cities, where our neediest students reside and where COVID-19 was more devastating.

How many have dropped out, working in the underground economy or languishing at home without schooling? The honest answer is that there is no comprehensive accounting of where (or if) all of those 1.3 million children are now being schooled.

However, what should be a national concern centered on the welfare of children has instead become promotional material for those who wish to eliminate public schools. The libertarian right and its allies, including the Center for Education Reform, have chalked up the decline to a story of unhappy public school parents exercising school choice. But is it?

According to a 2020 report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), “hundreds of thousands of families switched to charter schools during the first full school year of the pandemic.” On the surface, that is correct. But the report avoids the elephant in the room—the kinds of charter schools that gained enrollment during this period.

The 2020 charter enrollment spike that NAPCS reported was largely due to increased enrollment in low-quality online charter schools, as I detailed in an analysis for The Washington Post. Enrollment in these schools increased by 175,260 students during the 2020-2021 school year, representing more than 70 percent of the NAPCS’s reported enrollment growth.

The increase in enrollment in online charter schools that occurred during the early years of the pandemic is part of a long-term trend. In 2013, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) started tracking the online school sector. In the pre-pandemic years, between 2013 and 2020, online schools accounted for 25 percent of charter enrollment growth, according to the center’s data.

In 2022, NAPCS published another report that presented a dizzying array of data, some of which contradicted the previous year’s report, to make the case that charters had retained the students they gained in the pandemic shift.

According to that report, in fall 2021, there were only 1,436 fewer students in charters compared to 33,308 fewer students in public schools than there were in fall 2020. The most recent NCES numbers tell a different story: According to that data, charter school enrollment dropped by 5,323 students in 2021, while public school enrollment increased by 83,323 students—small shifts but nevertheless important to note.

So, did charter school enrollment go up during the pandemic? Yes. Was this a seismic shift? No….

Leaders of the anti-public school movement promote bootleg homeschools and “micro-schools” as innovative alternatives to public schools, using declines in test scores as the rationale for abandoning the public system. Ironically, however, homeschoolers are not required to provide any evidence of student learning in most states. This includes Arizona, whose ESA voucher program is taxpayer-funded with no standards. Parents can awarda high school diploma based on any criteria they want. According to Ed Choice, the average Arizona ESA account value on January 17, 2023 exceeded $15,500 per year per student. (On January 18, the site updated that figure to $11,332.)

This is akin to an insurance company giving the parent of an ill child a payout to spend on a cure—with no stipulation that the parent goes to a licensed physician or that anyone reports back on the child’s health.

Certainly, there are responsible homeschoolers who have developed sound programs to educate and socialize their child. But without requirements to provide sound evidence of learning, a sudden spike in homeschooling should be a cause for alarm, not celebration.

While libertarian advocacy groups call for a “de-centralized network of schools,” to resemble what existed for American schooling in the nineteenth century, before Horace Mann, the truth is that before it became a universal system of “government funded and operated schools,” schooling in America was an uncoordinated, free-for-all that left most children undereducated, which is exactly where the contemporary school choice movement is headed.

Instead, what we should be concentrating on is locating those 1.3 million children and ensuring they are both educated and safe.