Archives for category: Charter Schools

Pro Publica investigated the case of a child at Success Academy who was disruptive and learned that at a charter school, the chain is free to write its own disciplinary rules. The public schools are governed by regulations, but Success Academy is exempt from those regulations.

ProPublica told the story of Ian, whose mother left work repeatedly to find out why Success Academy had called the police about the child. It seems clear that the school was trying to persuade her to withdraw Ian. But she kept showing up. It also seems clear that Ian’s behavior got worse because of the school’s rigid discipline.

In a panic, if she floors it, Marilyn Blanco can drive from her job at the Rikers Island jail complex to her son Ian’s school in Harlem in less than 18 minutes.

Nine times since December, Blanco has made the drive because Ian’s school — Success Academy Harlem 2 — called 911 on her 8-year-old.

Ian has been diagnosed with ADHD. When he gets frustrated, he sometimes has explosive tantrums, throwing things, running out of class and hitting and kicking anyone who comes near him. Blanco contends that, since Ian started first grade last year, Success Academy officials have been trying to push him out of the school because of his disability — an accusation similar to those made by other Success Academy parents in news stories, multiple lawsuits that resulted in settlements and a federal complaint.

When giving him detentions and suspensions didn’t stop Ian’s tantrums, Blanco said, the school started calling 911. If Blanco can’t get to Ian fast enough to intervene, a precinct officer or school safety agent from the New York Police Department will hold him until an ambulance arrives to take him to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation — incidents the NYPD calls “child in crisis” interventions.

The experience has been devastating for Ian, Blanco said. Since the 911 calls started late last year, he’s been scared to leave his house because he thinks someone will take him away. At one ER visit, a doctor wrote in Ian’s medical file that he’d sustained emotional trauma from the calls.

Citywide, staff at the Success Academy Charter School network — which operates 49 schools, most of them serving kids under 10 years old — called 911 to respond to students in emotional distress at least 87 times between July 2016 and December 2022, according to an analysis of NYPD data by THE CITY and ProPublica.

If Success Academy were run by the city Department of Education, it would be subject to rules that explicitly limit the circumstances under which schools may call 911 on students in distress: Under a 2015 regulation, city-run schools may never send kids to hospitals as a punishment for misbehavior, and they may only involve police as a last resort, after taking mandatory steps to de-escalate a crisis first. (As THE CITY and ProPublica reported this month, the rules don’t always get followed, and city schools call 911 to respond to children in crisis thousands of times a year.)

But the regulation doesn’t apply to Success Academy, which is publicly funded but privately run and — like all of the city’s charter school networks — free to set its own discipline policies.

The consequence, according to education advocates and attorneys, is that families have nowhere to turn if school staff are using 911 calls in a way that’s so frightening or traumatic that kids have little choice but to leave.

“Sure, you can file a complaint with the Success Academy board of trustees. But it isn’t going anywhere,” said Nelson Mar, an education attorney at Legal Services NYC who represented parents in a 2013 lawsuit that led to the restrictions on city-run schools.

Success Academy did not respond to questions about the circumstances under which school staff generally call 911 or the criteria they use to determine whether to initiate child-in-crisis incidents.

Regarding Ian, Success Academy spokesperson Ann Powell wrote that school staff called EMS because Ian “has repeatedly engaged in very dangerous behavior including flipping over desks, breaking a window, biting teachers (one of whom was prescribed antibiotics to prevent infection since the bite drew blood), threatening to harm both himself and a school safety agent with scissors, hitting himself in the face, punching a pregnant paraprofessional in the stomach (stating ‘I don’t care’ when the paraprofessional reminded him that ‘there’s a baby in my belly’), punching a police officer and attempting to take his taser, and screaming ‘I wish you would die early.’”

Powell also provided documentation that included contemporaneous accounts of Ian’s behavior written by Success Academy staff, photographs of bite marks and a fractured window, an assessment by a school social worker concluding that Ian was at risk for self-harm, and a medical record from an urgent care facility corroborating the school’s account that a teacher had been prescribed antibiotics.

Blanco said that Success Academy administrators have regularly exaggerated Ian’s behaviors. When he was 6, for example, Ian pulled an assistant principal’s tie during a tantrum, and school staff described it as a choking attempt, according to an account Blanco gave to an evaluator close to the time of the incident. Each time Success Academy has sent Ian to an emergency room, doctors have sent him home, finding that he didn’t pose a safety threat to himself or others, medical records show. (Success Academy did not respond to questions about the assertion that staffers have exaggerated Ian’s behaviors.)

Blanco knows that Ian is struggling. No one is more concerned about his well-being than she is, she said. But villainizing her 8-year-old only makes the situation worse.

“It’s like they want to tarnish him,” Blanco said. “He’s just a child, a child who needs help and support.”

Blanco chose Success Academy because she wanted Ian to have better education that what’s available in his neighborhood public school.

Success Academy, which has avid support from many parents and is led by former New York City Councilmember Eva Moskowitz, promotes itself as an antidote to educational inequality, offering rigorous charter school options to kids who might not have other good choices. On its website, the network advertises its students’ standardized test scores (pass rates for Black and Latino students are “double and even triple” those at city-run schools) and its educational outcomes: 100% of high school graduates are accepted to college, the network says.

Success Academy administrators say that strict and consistent discipline policies are essential to kids’ learning. Students are required to follow a precise dress code and to sit still and quietly, with hands folded in their laps or on their desks. When students break the rules, the school issues a progressive series of consequences, including letters home, detentions and suspensions.

Once students are accepted through the Success Academy lottery, the network is required to serve them until they graduate or turn 21, unless they withdraw or are formally expelled…

In Harlem, Ian started struggling at Success Academy just a few weeks into first grade. He’d never been aggressive before he started school, Blanco said. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he’d attended kindergarten online. When schools went back to in-person instruction, he was a high-energy 6-year-old who couldn’t follow Success Academy’s strict rules requiring him to sit still and stay quiet. By the end of first grade, he’d been suspended nearly 20 times.

The more Ian got in trouble, the worse he felt about himself and the worse his behavior became, Blanco said. He started falling behind because he missed so much class time during his suspensions, according to his education records. At home and at school, he said that teachers disciplined him because he was a “bad kid.”

At first, Blanco worked hard to cooperate with the school, she said. She was worried by the change in Ian’s behavior, and she thought that school staff had his best interests at heart. But then an assistant principal called her into an office and told her that Success Academy wasn’t a “good fit” for Ian, Blanco said to THE CITY and ProPublica, as well as in a written complaint she sent to Success Academy at around that time. (Success Academy’s board of trustees investigated the complaint and did not find evidence of discrimination against Ian, according to a September 2022 letter to Blanco from a board member.)

“That didn’t sit right,” said Blanco, who is an investigator at Rikers Island and is accustomed to gathering paper trails. She asked the assistant principal to put the statement in writing, but he told her she had misunderstood, she said. (Success Academy did not respond to questions about this incident.)

Several times, when the school called Blanco to pick Ian up early, staff told her to take him to a psychiatric emergency room for an evaluation. But the visits didn’t help, Blanco said. “You could be sitting there for six, seven, eight hours,” waiting to talk to a psychologist. Because Ian never presented as an immediate threat to himself or others, hospital staff couldn’t do much but refer him to outpatient care and send him home, according to hospital discharge records.

Eventually, Blanco found an outpatient clinic that would accept her insurance to evaluate Ian for neurological and behavioral disorders. She said she begged school staff to stop disciplining Ian while she worked to get him treatment, but the suspensions were relentless. Once, he missed 15 straight days of school.

At the beginning of Ian’s second grade year, Blanco reached out to Legal Services NYC, where Mar, the education attorney, took her on as a client.

The school twice reported Blanco to child welfare services as a negligent mother. An investigator came to her home to interview her and Ian. She said she was humiliated.

One month after the child welfare visit, things got even worse. Blanco was in Queens, heading to work to pick up some overtime, when the school called to say that Ian had had another tantrum. This time, she was too late to bring Ian home herself. He was in an ambulance, on his way to Harlem Hospital….

Two weeks ago, Success Academy sent Blanco an email informing her that they requested a hearing to have Ian removed from school for up to 45 school days because he “is substantially likely to cause injury to himself and others while in the Success Academy community.”

Ian would be barred from Success Academy immediately, the email said, even though it could take up to 20 days to schedule the hearing, which will be held at the special education division of the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings. If the hearing officer agrees with Success Academy, Ian will miss the rest of the school year..

To Blanco, the hearing seems like just another way for the school to get rid of her son. She thinks about pulling Ian out of Success Academy all the time, she said, but it feels like there’s no good alternative. She doesn’t want to give up on the idea of him getting a better shot than the one she got at a failing neighborhood school.

“I want him to get free of this cycle of disadvantage,” Blanco said. “I want to fight for my son’s rights and let them know that you’re not going to treat my child this way. I’ve made it my mission. You don’t get to pick and choose who you give an education to.”


In several cities, charters get space by moving into a public school building and “co-locating” with the existing public school. The existing public school never likes giving up classrooms, but they are not allowed to say no. The deal is done by the school board or the mayor or some other authority.

The two schools in the same building are typically separate. The students do not have shared activities. The new charter gets spruced-up classrooms and the best of everything. The students in the public school lose space and get no improvements. The two schools are separate and unequal.

Recently, a teacher wrote to describe what happened to her/his school in Harlem after the richly-funded Success Academy co-located into the building:

in 2012 Success Academy was allowed to co-locate in a landmark Harlem building amidst protests from NAACP and several political figures. Over ten years later, the same public school has lost an entire floor of classrooms including a radio broadcasting space, cafeteria space, and auditorium usage. While the traditional public school (that serves every student who enrolls) continues to struggle with attendance, credit matriculation, and graduation rates etc. the charter is allowed to “thrive” by cherry-picking students and choosing to not backfill seats in the younger grades. Charter/public co-locations are separate and unequal treatment of students and are extremely detrimental to our traditional public school community that has originally occupied the building for over 100 years.

Carol Burris is the Executive Director of the Network for Public Education. She watched Secretary Cardona testify before various committees and was chagrined to see how ill-informed he was. She called to tell me what he said, and I was appalled by how poorly informed he was.

Why does he know so little about the defects of vouchers? Why has no one in the Department told him that most students who take vouchers are already enrolled in private and religious schools? Why has no one told him about the dismal academic performance of students who leave public schools to use a voucher? I suggest that his chief of staff invite Joshua Cowen of Michigan State University to brief the Secretary; clearly, no one in the Department has.

Why is he so ill-informed about the meaning of NAEP scores? How can he not know that “proficient” on NAEP is not grade level? Why does he not know that NAEP proficient represents solid academic performance? Why has no one told him that he is using fake data?

Why is he not speaking out loud and clear against vouchers, armed with facts and data? Why is he not speaking out against privatization of public schools? Why is he not speaking out against censorship? Why is he not speaking out against the Dark Money-funded astroturf groups like “Moms for Liberty,” whose main goal is smearing public schools? Why is the Federal Charter Schools Program still funding charter chains that are subsidized by billionaires?

He is a mild-mannered man, to be sure, but now is not the time to play nice when the enemies of public schools are using scorched earth tactics and lies. Now is the time for a well-informed, fearless voice to speak up for students, teachers, principals, and public schools. Now is the time to defend the nation’s public schools against the nefarious conspiracy to defame and defund them. Not with timidity, but with facts, accuracy, bold words, and actions.

Carol Burris writes:

Secretary of Education Cardona is a sincere and good man who cares about children and public education. However, his appearances before Congress to defend the Biden education budget have been serious disappointments. The Republican Party is now clearly on a mission to destroy public education. He must recognize the threat and lead with courage and facts. Unfortunately, he seems more interested in deflecting arguments and placating voucher proponents than facing the assault on public education head-on. 

During the April 18 budget hearing, the Republicans, who now control the committee, had four objectives: to slash education funding, to score political points at the expense of transgender students, to support vouchers, and to complain that student loan forgiveness was unfair. 

Although the Secretary pushed back on all four, his arguments were at times disappointingly uninformed. Whenever asked about proposed policies regarding including transgender students in sports, his responses were evasive and robotic. He objected to vouchers because they reduced funding for public schools but never mentioned that vouchers result in publicly funded discrimination. Overall, he missed valuable opportunities to seize the opportunity to lead with moral courage in defense of children, democracy, and public education.

Shortly into the discussion, the Secretary argued the case against budget cuts by disparaging the performance of our public schools and their students. He called NAEP reading levels “appalling” and “unacceptable,” falsely claiming that only 33% of students are reading at “grade level.”

As Diane explained in her blog on April 19, Secretary Cardona is flat-out wrong. As described on the website of the National Center for Education Statistics:

“It should be noted that the NAEP Proficient achievement level does not represent grade level proficiency as determined by other assessment standards (e.g., state or district assessments).”

He could have made far better (and more honest) arguments for why the budget should not be cut. A wealth of research shows the connection between funding and student performance. He could have explained how Title I funds help close the gap between resource-rich and resource-poor districts. He could have argued how important a well-educated citizenry is in preserving our democracy. Instead, he kept repeating that a “tsunami of jobs” was coming as though the only purpose of schooling was job training. 

Later on, Secretary Cardona defended the budget by citing the teacher shortage. However, he pivoted and argued that we did not have a teacher shortage problem but rather a “teacher respect problem,” with no explanation regarding how his budget would address that. 

I cringed when he said, “Research shows that the most influential factor in a child’s success is the teacher in front of the classroom.” No, Mr. Secretary, that is not what research shows. Research consistently shows that out-of-school factors like poverty far more influence variations in children’s academic outcomes than in-school factors. This is not to say that teacher quality does not matter—it is the most important in-school factor, but outside factors are more influential.

Sadly, Secretary Cardona’s incorrect assertion harkens back to Race to the Top thinking, resulting in ineffective and unpopular policies such as evaluating teachers by student test scores.  Much like his inaccurate remarks about NAEP scores, he used an argument from the Republican playbook–public schools and teachers are failing America’s students.

When he was recently grilled by the Education and Workforce committee on whether he favors vouchers, he still would not confront the issue head-on, repeating that he used school choice to go to a vocational high school. When pressed, he responded, “What I’m not in favor of, sir, is using dollars intended to elevate or raise the bar, as we call it, public school programming, so that the money goes to private school vouchers. What happens is, we’re already having a teacher shortage; if you start taking dollars away from the local public school, those schools are going to be worse.”

Vouchers indeed drain funding from public schools, but there are far more compelling reasons to oppose them, beginning with their ability to discriminate in admissions. A 2010 study published by his own department showed that 22% of students who got a SOAR voucher never used it. The top reasons included: no room in the private school, the school could not accommodate the child’s special needs, and the child did not pass the admissions test or did not want to be “left back.” Schools choose—an aspect of school choice that voucher proponents ignore. 

And he allowed Aaron Bean of Florida to cite 2011 SOAR graduation statistics from the American Heritage Foundation about the DC voucher program without challenging him with the findings of a 2019 Department of Education study of SOAR that showed voucher student declines in math scores and no improvement in reading when they move to a private school. The overwhelming majority of voucher students use them in the early years, making graduation rate comparisons a less meaningful statistic. Interestingly, the 2010 study found that students often left the SOAR system because there was no room for them in high schools. More than half of all voucher students who take a voucher do not continue in the SOAR voucher system. 

Was the Secretary poorly briefed? Or did he believe he would win over Republican committee members by using their arguments when defending the President’s budget?

Either way, one can only hope that when he meets with the Senate, he is better prepared and dares to say that public money belongs in public schools that educate every child.  We need a Secretary of Education that is willing to stand up, push back and use facts to dispute the Republican narrative that American education is broken, not a Secretary who reinforces it.

Nebraska was one of the few states that managed to resist privatization. But it is a well-known fact that the privatization industry cannot tolerate any state that devotes its resources to public schools open to all students. Nebraska had no charter schools, no vouchers, no Common Core, and no grounds for dissatisfaction: its scores on NAEP are strong.

But Nebraska is a red state, and the billionaires could not leave it be.The legislature passed a voucher bill, and Nebraska’s Stand for Children will fight to get it on a state referendum, as they are confident that Nebraskans will reject vouchers. That’s a good bet, as vouchers have never won a state referendum.


We have some very bad news to share with you, and there’s no way to sugarcoat it: Our legislature has passed Nebraska’s first school privatization bill.

Just a while ago, 33 senators voted to pass LB 753. But we aren’t deterred; we’re determined. Over 300,000 students attend a public school in Nebraska. And there are hundreds of thousands of Nebraskans who, like us, support public schools and will stand up for what’s right.

If you’re one of those Nebraskans (and we think you are), please support our work today for Give To Lincoln Day. A gift of $20 or more will send the school privatizers a strong message: NOT IN NEBRASKA.

Give Now

Right now, somewhere not in Nebraska, DeVos and other billionaires who backed this bill are undoubtedly celebrating. Our state was one of the last to fall for their privatization schemes.

And fall we will, if Governor Pillen signs LB 753 into law. The conventional notion that public dollars should be invested in the common good and in common schools will, at that point, only be true in North Dakota, where the governor recently vetoed an eerily similar piece of legislation.

While the mega-donors like DeVos break open their champagne, our team at Stand For Schools is still hard at work – fighting to advance public education in Nebraska for ALL and getting fired up for the Support Our Schools Nebraska effort.

Please support our work today with a gift of $20 or more for Give To Lincoln Day. We can honestly say we’ve never needed your help more than we do today. Our team is ready to win this fight – whether it’s in a courtroom or at the ballot box – but we can’t do it without you.

Help Us Fight Back

PS: You can read our organization’s full statement about the the Nebraska Legislature passing LB 753 here.

Copyright © 2023 Stand For Schools, All Rights Reserved

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 95166
Lincoln, NE 68509

Here is Stand for Schools statement, released today:

Today’s passage of LB 753 marks a dark new era for schooling in Nebraska.

The Legislature’s Education Committee considered proposals this year to make school lunches free, broadly prohibit discrimination, include student voices in curriculum decisions, and increase the poverty allowance in TEEOSA. But instead of improving the schools that serve 9 out of 10 children in our state, instead of addressing the needs of over300,000 students attending Nebraska public schools, 33 senators chose todayto prioritize giving tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations by sending tax dollars to unaccountable private schools.

They did so despite overwhelming and constantly mounting evidence that the implementation of tax-credit voucher schemes does not improve access to private schools or academic outcomes but rather marks the beginning of a devastating dismantling and defunding of public education, as it has in dozens of other states.

Policymakers who voted to pass LB 753 made the wrong choice. Statewide polling consistently shows a strong majority of Nebraskans firmly oppose school privatization measures. From Omaha to Ogallala, and Spencer to Sidney, Nebraskans take pride in our public schools because we know they are the head and heart of our urban and rural communities.

Like our fellow Nebraskans, Stand For Schools remains committed to a vision of public education that is welcoming to all students regardless of their race, religion, gender, or ability. Realizing that vision is neither easy nor politically expedient. It is, for instance, far easier to lean on out-of-state bill mills and think tanks than it is to grow our own nonpartisan solutions to nonpartisan Nebraska problems. It is far easier to demonize the education professionals who work hard in our public schools every day than it is to address crisis-level staff shortages by recruiting and retaining the qualified teachers and school psychologists our students need. It is far easier to restrict the ability of school districts to raise revenue than to finally, fully fund our K-12 public education system. And it is far easier to offload the duties of educating the next generation of Nebraskans to unaccountable private schools than to do the hard work of providing a free, fair, equitable, and excellent public school system that works for all.

Today, 33 senators chose what was easy over what was right. The consequences of their decision will be far-reaching and long-lasting. The hours the Legislature spent debating LB 735 will not compare to the years it will take to undo the damage done to public schools and the harm caused to students, their families, and their communities.

Thankfully, there are hundreds of thousands of Nebraskans who aren’t afraid of hard work, who are undeterred by today’s decision and determined to make it right. Stand For Schools is proud to join them. Together with the Support Our Schools Nebraska coalition, we will work to put LB 753 on the 2024 ballot and ensure voters’ voices are heard: Not in Nebraska.

Indiana blogger Steve Hinnefeld reports on the gains of the billionaire-funded school choice industry in the last session of the Indiana legislature. The Republican dominated state is all in for enriching both charters and vouchers, without any proof of success.

Hinnefeld writes:

Indiana’s private school voucher system was the big winner in the 2023 legislative session, but charter schools came in a close second. They secured sizeable increases in state funding to pay for facilities and transportation, along with – for the first time – a share of local property taxes.

As Amelia Pak-Harvey of Chalkbeat Indiana explains, the success followed an all-out lobbying and PR effort in which charter supporters teamed with voucher proponents. Advocates insist charter schools are public schools, and private schools certainly aren’t. But the joint effort was effective.

The Republican supermajority in the General Assembly rewarded charter schools with:

  • An increase to $1,400 from $1,250 per pupil in “charter and innovation network school grants,” intended to make up for the fact that charter schools haven’t been able to levy property taxes.
  • A new law that says school districts in four counties, Lake, Marion, St. Joseph and Vanderburgh, must share increases in their local property-tax revenue with charter schools.
  • A requirement that districts in the same four counties share with charter schools if their voters pass a referendum to raise property taxes to pay for operating expenses.
  • $25 million in fiscal year 2024 for facilities grants for charter schools. That’s in addition to the “charter and innovation school network grants” listed above.

All told, the budget and student funding formula will provide about $671 million in state funds over the next two years for brick-and-mortar charter schools and another $112 million for virtual charter schools. That doesn’t include the local property tax funding that charter schools in four counties will receive.

House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, said at the start of the session that expanding school choice would be a priority. Growing the voucher program was on the table from the start, but it wasn’t until the last day of the session that charter school funding bills took their final shape.

As Chalkbeat reported, a $500,000 campaign by charter supporters, including catchy TV and Facebook ads attributed to the Indiana Student Funding Alliance, certainly helped. The Institute for Quality Education, an Indianapolis organization that promotes vouchers and charter schools, helped pay for the ads. Its political action committee, Hoosiers for Quality Education, gave over $1.3 million to Republican campaigns in 2020-22. Another pro-charter group, Hoosiers for Great Public Schools, gave over $1 million. Arguably no other special interest did more to keep the Statehouse in solid GOP control.

Both PACs are largely funded by out-of-state billionaires: the Walton family of Arkansas for Hoosiers for Quality Education and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings for Hoosiers for Great Public Schools.

The Student Funding Alliance campaign initially focused on getting a share of a planned property-tax operating referendum for Indianapolis Public Schools. IPS dropped plans for the referendum, and the call for “parity” in school funding shifted to the legislature, where it had a ready audience.

Charter schools get about the same per-pupil state funding as district schools. They get more federal money. But they haven’t been able to raise money with property taxes. That will now change for charter schools in the four designated counties, and that’s two-thirds of the charters in the state. By my count, 56 of Indiana’s nearly 100 brick-and-mortar charter schools are in Indianapolis (Marion County) and nine are in Lake County.

In almost every other instance, government entities that levy property taxes – school districts, cities, counties, townships, etc. – can be held accountable via elections. If you don’t like how the school district is spending your tax dollars, you can vote out the school board. That won’t be the case with charter schools, which are privately operated nonprofits with appointed boards.

Expanding school choice was a key part of GOP legislators’ education program, but it wasn’t the only part. The supermajority also passed what the ACLU referred to as a “slate of hate”: laws to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth, set the stage for banning books and prosecuting school librarians, ban teaching about sex in early grades, and force schools to out trans kids to their parents.

Governor Greg Gianforte of Montana—a hard-right Republican best known for punching out a journalist during his campaign—signed two charter school laws. Public education groups, including representatives of rural schools, are furious.

Retired teacher and librarian Dana Carmichael, who lives in Whitefish, Montana, explains “the real agenda” behind the charter legislation:

Critics of Montana public schools, are recycling student achievement boogeymen and offering charter schools as the solution. In cities where charter school enrollment is the highest, based on percentage of total school populations, there is no significant change in reading or math scores. In fact, Montana scores statewide are higher than these charters in New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, San Antonio, Detroit, and D.C. If these charters are the benchmark, our public education exceeds it.

The largest communities in Montana already have alternative high schools and private schools. Public schools of all sizes also have access to Montana Digital Academy and other online course offerings. Scholarships are more prevalent than ever with legislative rules changes for private and corporate tax incentives for donations up to two million dollars….

Another article by “Rural Ed Voices” thinks charter schools can positively impact rural areas, and holds up Idaho charter schools as examples. They highlight a school created to teach native language as a shining star for the Shosone-Bannock tribe. But Montana tribes already have native language programs in public school classrooms. A STEM school is believed to be successful because they cut transportation and food service costs by attending four days per week. Sound familiar?

Many of our rural schools currently have four-day weeks. So why the big push for charter schools? The real agenda is to undermine the tenure protections and teachers’ retirement system, as charter schools would not participate in either of these systems. Our private schools already eschew these protections, which is why salaries lag behind their public employee counterparts.

Fewer rules and regulations might be what charter proponents want you to buy, but HB-562 wants to create a new government entity called the Community Choice School Commission, (p. 1, line 24). All seats would be appointed one for one by the governor, house majority and minority speakers, senate majority and minority speakers, and the state superintendent of schools. Notice how the majority of these appointees would be beholden to officials elected by individual voting districts?

And what of the existing Office of Public Instruction and the Board of Public Education? If state tax dollars are being used for charter schools capable of contracting with for-profit “entrepreneurial education” shouldn’t these schools be responsible to the current oversight structure of our public schools? Even our registered homeschools report to county superintendents.

If this rule is adopted by the Senate, I believe charter schools will become exclusive entities within our communities. But exclusivity does not mean better, as the charter experiment bears out in 44 other states. We know how to improve schools. Our local school boards have the power to create smaller class sizes at all grade levels and help raise standards of excellence for students and teachers. Private citizens can run for these boards or volunteer with early grades to help close gaps in reading and math skills. Let’s strengthen our communities to strengthen our schools.

Looking for a silver bullet to “fix” schools ignores the interconnectedness of communities. Schools mirror where they exist. The real solutions are to help families with jobs/wages that root them to the community and combat the poverty cycle too often to blame for trouble in the schools.

Investing in education is a good thing. Creating country club schools is not.

Despite her good advice and common sense, the legislature passed the two bills into law and the governor signed them.

Michael Mulgrew of the United Federation of Teachers released a statement calling for charter school accountability. Charter schools have a well-funded lobbying operation in New York. Their lobby has won significant victories, like forcing the City of New York to pay for private rentals for charters, even when the charter corporation owns the building! You can be sure the lobbyists will be working overtime to kill every accountability measure proposed here.

A sponsored message from the United Federation of Teachers

It’s time to hold charter schools accountable

By Michael Mulgrew

Now that the overdue state budget has been resolved, it’s time for the Legislature to turn its attention to a major issue in state education policy — the lack of accountability and transparency in the state’s charter schools.

Charter schools in New York State received more than $3 billion a year in taxpayer dollars without any real accountability about how they spend the public money or repercussions when many act like private schools and exclude the state’s most vulnerable students.

It’s time for Albany to pass a legislative package to bring real oversight to the charter sector.

The Accountability and Transparency bill, sponsored by Sen. Brad Holman-Sigal and Assembly Member Michael Benedetto, would require charters to demonstrate actual financial need in order to get free public space or rental subsidies.

Charters would have to disclose their assets, and any school with $1 million or more would be ineligible for such assistance. The bill would also cap the salaries of charter officials.

In addition, the measure would ensure that charter schools enroll and retain the same percentage of the most vulnerable children — English language learners and special education students, among others — as the public school district where they are located.

The bill would withhold funding from charters that fail to enroll appropriate numbers of these students, and meeting these targets would become a key component of any charter renewal decisions. Repeated failure to meet reporting requirements would be grounds for termination of a charter.

The Grade Expansion bill, sponsored by Sen. Shelley Mayer and Assembly Member Benedetto, would prevent charters from expanding their grade levels without any substantial review of their operations.

Under current law, charters originally authorized to offer kindergarten to fifth grade can add middle school grades, and even eventually high school levels, by simply applying for a revision of their current authorization. Under this bill, each expansion would require the same level of scrutiny as a new authorization.

The Charter Authorizer bill, sponsored by Sen. John Liu and Assembly Member Benedetto, would address the current imbalance between charter school authorizers that allows some schools to evade strict licensing standards.

Under current law, the state’s Board of Regents, local school districts, and the State University of New York (SUNY) can all authorize the creation of a charter school, but only the Regents can actually issue a charter.

When the Regents review a charter request, they can order changes in the charter’s operating plan to ensure that the school meets the needs of its students and complies with state law. In most circumstances, no charter will actually be issued until the charter’s sponsors meet the Regents’ requirements.

But the SUNY Trustees are in effect permitted to disregard the Regents’ demands and have allowed the renewal of charters with high numbers of uncertified teachers or low numbers of students with disabilities or English language learners.

The charter school movement began with bold promises of remaking the educational landscape. The reality is that charters’ “success” has mostly come at the expense of public school children and families.

Some charter chains have built up huge reserves from private donations, pay inappropriate salaries to their executives, and yet still demand public space and resources. These demands are particularly infuriating from charters that manage to evade requirements to enroll the neediest students even as they divert huge resources from public institutions.

Charter schools claim to be public schools and suck up huge sums of public money. But real public schools serve all students, and meet stringent requirements of law and regulation. It’s time to start holding charter schools to the same standards.

Retired teacher Fred Klonsky points out the stark difference between national Democratic education policy and the views of Chicago’s new Mayor Brandon Johnson. He would love to see the party follow the lead of Mayor Johnson, who was a teacher in the public schools and an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union.

The national Democratic Party was once a strong champion of public schools, it once understood the importance of resources and funding for needy students and schools, it was once skeptical about the value of standardized testing.

All of that changed, however, after the Reagan report “A Nation at Risk.” (In a recent article, James Harvey explained how that very consequential report was distorted with cherry-picked data to smear the nation’s public schools.)

Democratic governors jumped aboard the standards-and-testing bandwagon, led by Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas. When Clinton became president in 1993, his major education legislation was Goals 2000, which put the Democratic Party firmly into the standards-and-testing camp with Republicans. Clinton was a “third way” Democrat, and he also enthusiastically endorsed charter schools run by private entities. His Goals 2000 program included a small program to support charter start-ups. That little subsidy—$4-6 milllion—has grown to $440 million, which is a slush fund mainly for big charter chains that don’t need the money.

George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation was supported by Democrats; it encompassed their own party’s stance, but had teeth. Obama’s Race to the Top rolled two decades of accountability/choice policy into one package. By 2008-2020, there was no difference between the two national parties on education. From Clinton in 1992 (with his call for national standards and testing) to NCLB to Race to the Top, the policies of the two parties were the same: testing, accountability, closing schools, choice. And let us not forget the Common Core, which was supposed to lift test scores everywhere while closing achievement gaps. It didn’t.

Democrats nationally are adrift, unmoored, while Republicans have seized on vouchers for religious and private schools that are completely unregulated and unaccountable. Despite evidence (Google “Josh Cowen vouchers”) that most vouchers are used by students who never attended public schools and that their academic results are harmful for public school kids who transfer into low-cost, low-quality private schools, red states are endorsing them.

Mayor Johnson of Chicago represents the abandoned Democratic tradition of investing in students, teachers, communities, and schools.

Fred Klonsky writes:

In his speech yesterday, Mayor Johnson addressed the issue of schools and education, an issue that as a retired career school teacher, is near and dear to my heart.

“Let’s create a public education system that resources children based on need and not just on numbers,” Johnson said.

I hope so.

Some have predicted that the election of Brandon to be mayor of a city with the fourth largest school district in the country might represent a shift in Democratic Party education policy.

Chicago under Mayors Daley and Emanuel gave the country Arne Duncan and Paul Vallas who together were the personifications of the worst kinds of top-down, one-size-fits-all curriculum, reliance on standardized testing as accountability and union busting.

Corporate school reform groups like Democrats for Education Reform and Stand for Children dominated the Democratic Party’s education agenda for two decades.

Joe Biden’s Department of Education has mostly been silent on these issues.

If Chicago’s election of Brandon Johnson does reflect a national shift, let alone a local one, it must do it in the face of a MAGA assault on free expression, historical truths and teacher rights.

None of this will be easy.

So, yes. I wish the Mayor the best and will do what I can to help.

NBC News reported on the takeover of Woodland Park, Colorado, by rightwing extremists. Woodland Park is a mostly white district with 8,000 residents. Colorado is a bluish state. The governor is a Democrat, as are the two Senators. But the state, like other states, has deep red districts. The new board wasted no time in pushing their ideological agenda, which apparently concerns even some Republicans.

WOODLAND PARK, Colo. — When a conservative slate of candidates won control of the school board here 18 months ago, they began making big changes to reshape the district.

Woodland Park, a small mountain town that overlooks Pikes Peak, became the first — and, so far, only — district in the country to adopt the American Birthright social studies standard, created by a right-wing advocacy group that warns of the “steady whittling away of American liberty.” The new board hired a superintendent who was previously recalled from a nearby school board after pushing for a curriculum that would “promote positive aspects of the United States.” The board approved the community’s first charter school without public notice and gave the charter a third of the middle school building.

As teachers, students and parents began protesting these decisions, the administration barred employees from discussing the district on social media. At least two staff members who objected to the board’s decisions were later forced out of their jobs, while another was fired for allegedly encouraging protests.

These rapid and sweeping shifts weren’t coincidental — instead it was a plan ripped from the MAGA playbook designed to catch opponents off guard, according to a board member’s email released through an open records request.

“This is the flood the zone tactic, and the idea is if you advance on many fronts at the same time, then the enemy cannot fortify, defend, effectively counter-attack at any one front,” David Illingworth, one of the new conservative school board members, wrote to another on Dec. 9, 2021, weeks after they were elected. “Divide, scatter, conquer. Trump was great at this in his first 100 days.”

The leaders of the Woodland Park School District are enacting an experiment in conservative governance in the middle of a state controlled by Democrats, with little in the way so far to slow them down. The school board’s decisions have won some praise in heavily Republican Teller County, but opposition is growing, including from conservative Christians and lifelong GOP voters who say the board has made too many ill-advised decisions and lacks transparency.

“I think they look at us as this petri dish where they can really push all their agenda and theories,” said Joe Dohrn, a Woodland Park father who described himself as a staunch Republican and “very capitalistic.” “They clearly are willing to sacrifice the public school and to put students presently in the public school through years of disarray to drive home their ideological beliefs. It’s a travesty.”

Teachers grew particularly alarmed early this year when word spread that Ken Witt, the new superintendent, did not plan to reapply for grants that covered the salaries of counselors and social workers.

At Gateway Elementary School in March, Witt told staff members he prioritized academic achievement, not students’ emotions. “We are not the department of health and human services,” he said, as teachers angrily objected, according to two recordings of the meeting made by staff members and shared with NBC News.

Someone in the meeting asked if taxpayers would get a say in these changes, and Witt said that they already did — when they elected the school board.

Over the past two years, school districts nationwide have become the center of culture war battles over race and LGBTQ rights. Conservative groups have made a concerted effort to fill school boards with ideologically aligned members and notched dozens of wins last fall.

In Colorado, conservatives started making gains earlier because school board elections are held in off years. Woodland Park offers a preview of how quickly a new majority can move to reshape a district — and how those battles can ripple outward into the community. Some longtime residents say that the situation has grown so tense, they now look over their shoulder when discussing the school board in public to avoid confrontation or professional consequences.

David Rusterholtz, the board’s president, believes that chasm predates his election in November 2021.

“This division is much more than political — this is a clash of worldviews,” Rusterholtz said at a board meeting in January. He concluded his remarks with a prayer for the district: “May the Lord bless us and keep us, may His face shine upon us and be gracious to us…”

When asked to respond to criticism from school personnel and parents, Illingworth, the board’s vice president, replied in an email: “I wasn’t elected to please the teacher’s union and their psycho agenda against academic rigor, family values, and even capitalism itself. I was elected to bring a parent’s voice and a little common sense to the school district, and voters in Woodland Park can see I’ve kept my promises.”

As the school year winds down, many of the Woodland Park School District’s employees are heading for the exit, despite recently receiving an 8% raise. At least four of the district’s top administrators have quit because of the board’s policy changes, according to interviews and emails obtained through records requests. Nearly 40% of the high school’s professional staff have said they will not return next school year, according to an administrator in the district.

The board’s critics have pinned their hopes on the next election in November — when three of the five school board members are up for a vote — to claw back control of the community’s schools.

“This is an active case study on what will happen if we allow extremist policies to start to take over our public education system,” said David Graf, an English teacher who recently resigned after 17 years in the district. “And the scariest part about it, they knew that this community would bite on it.”

The new board approved the district’s first charter school without any public notice. The approval of Merit Academy was listed on the board agenda as “board housekeeping.”

The district’s teachers union complained in an email to middle school staff that the board’s action was “underhanded, and at worst illegal.” A parent sued, aiming to force the board to follow open meetings law. A trial court judge did not rule on the legality of the board’s actions but ordered the board to list agenda items “clearly, honestly and forthrightly.”

In response to the teachers’ complaints, Illingworth accused the union of attempting to organize a “coup,” and instructed then-Superintendent Mathew Neal to make “a list of positions in which a change in personnel would be beneficial to our kids” and “help the union see the wisdom in cooperation rather than conflict.”

Illingworth’s emails spread after parents obtained them through open records requests. Subsequent board meetings attracted boisterous crowds, as teachers accused board members of creating a hostile environment, while other community members spoke in favor of the board for supporting “school choice” and quoted Scripture. A handful of parents, including some lifelong Republicans, tried to organize a recall, but failed to get enough signatures to force a vote.

The district’s superintendent resigned and was replaced by Ken Witt, who had been active in conservative politics in Jefferson County, CO., schools.

A week before Witt was hired, on Dec. 13, students in a class called Sources of Strength, which is part of a national suicide prevention program, asked their teacher what should they know about him as the sole finalist for the superintendent job.

Sara Lee, a longtime teacher at Woodland Park High School, responded, “You should Google him.”

The students did, and they didn’t like what they learned.

They discovered that Witt, as president of the school board in neighboring Jefferson County, supported a plan in 2014 to ensure the district’s curricula would promote patriotism and not encourage “social strife.” Witt said students who protested the board policies at the time were “pawns” of the teachers union. After he and two other conservative members of the board were recalled, Witt became executive director of an organization that oversees charter, online and other schools and helped launch Merit Academy.

The teacher, Sara Lee, had taught high school for 25 years, 18 of them in the district. The board reassigned her to an elementary school to punish her for sharing information about Witt. She resigned and was promptly hired by another district.

Please open the link and keep reading. The story gets worse. Parents and teachers tried to persuade Witt to reapply for mental health funds to support counselors and social workers. He refused, insisting that such problems should be handled by parents, not schools. The district’s mental health supervisor, unable to persuade him to ask for the funds, submitted her resignation.

Perry Bacon, Jr. is a relatively new columnist at the Washington Post. He joined the Post a year ago and writes about national and state politics and race. His latest column in the Post startled me and perhaps others, because the Post editorial board has been an enthusiastic supporter of the worst kinds of punitive corporate reform. The Post editorial board frequently defended No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the teacher-bashing by Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan. Seldom was a contrary view expressed, except on Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet blog, which was a haven for critics of the failed reforms based on testing, punishment, and privatization.

The article begins:

America’s decades-long, bipartisan “education reform” movement, defined by an obsession with test scores and by viewing education largely as a tool for getting people higher-paying jobs, is finally in decline. What should replace it is an education system that values learning, creativity, integration and citizenship.

Joe Biden is the first president in decades not aggressively pushing an education agenda that casts American schools and students as struggling and in desperate need of fixing. He has not stated that “education is the civil rights issue of our time,” a sentence said by presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. His administration has backed policies, such as an expanded child tax credit, that view giving people more money, not more education, as the main way to reduce poverty.

There is a push from experts and politicians across partisan lines, including from Biden, to get employers to stop requiring college degrees for so many jobs. There is also a growing defense of college students who study English, literature and other subjects that don’t obviously lead to jobs in the way that, say, engineering does.

An education gospel is being dismantled, one that was 40 years in the making. In 1983, the Reagan administration released a report called “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.” It warned that America’s status as an economic powerhouse was under threat because its students were doing so much worse than those from other industrialized nations on standardized tests. That report put education reform on the national agenda and explicitly tied it to economic growth.

But this education fixation wasn’t just about the economy. The two parties couldn’t agree on racial policy. Democrats wanted more funding and explicit policies to help Black people and heavily Black areas to make up for past discrimination, and the Republicans largely opposed them.
What Democrats and Republicans could agree on was making education a priority. So Republican politicians, particularly Bush, pumped more money into schools, as Democrats wanted. And Democrats broadly adopted the view that education was the main way for Black people to make up for the effects of racism, thereby shifting responsibility for Black advancement from the government to individual African Americans, as Republicans wanted.

Eventually education, particularly getting a college degree, became viewed as the primary way for economic advancement for not just Black people but people of all races who weren’t born into the middle class.
The result was a bipartisan education fixation for much of the period between 1990 and 2016. It included the expansion of charter and magnet schools as an alternative to traditional public schools; an obsession with improving student test scores; accountability systems that punished schools and teachers if their kids didn’t score well; increased government spending on college loans and grants as part of a movement to make college essentially universal; and a push for Black students in particular not to just get college degrees but ones in “STEM” fields (science, technology, engineering and math) that would help them get higher-paying jobs.

This agenda was racial, economic and education policy all wrapped into one.

The problem is that this education push didn’t work. While the number of Americans who have graduated from high school and college have skyrocketed in the past three decades, wages and wealth haven’t grown nearly as much. Black people in particular haven’t seen economic gains matching these huge increases in education levels.

The remainder of the column nails the point: the education reform movement of the past few decades is a failure. It’s time for fresh thinking, centered on the idea that education is first and foremost about learning, not test scores.

But if the real aim of education policy is no longer really economic and racial policy, what should its goals be? Neither party seems to have a clear answer. Most Democrats defend teachers, a core party constituency, and extol public schools and community colleges, trying to shed the Democrats’ reputation as the party for graduates of Ivy League schools. But they don’t have a broader theory of education policy.

The Republicans are doing something much worse. At the state level, they are largely abandoning public schools and instead aggressively pushing universal voucherlike programs for K-12 education to help as many families as possible to enroll their kids in private and/or religious schools. They are also casting K-12 public school teachers and in particular college professors as propagandists who impose liberal values on students. At the college level, Republicans are trying to force out left-leaning faculty and push campuses to the right.

I certainly prefer the “teachers, professors and public schools are good” perspective (the Democratic one) over “teachers, professors and public schools are bad” (the Republican one). But neither is a real vision for American education.

Here’s one: Our education system should be about learning, not job credentialing. Schools and universities should teach Americans to be critical thinkers, not automatically believing whatever they heard from a friend or favorite news source. They should make sure Americans have enough understanding of economics, history and science to be good citizens, able to discern which candidate in an election has a better plan to, say, deal with a deadly pandemic. They should foster interest and appreciation of music, arts and literature.

They should be places where people meet and learn from others who might not share their race, class, religion or ideology. Our schools and universities should of course also provide people the core skills for jobs that actually require higher education. They should provide a path to becoming a doctor, lawyer, professor or any profession that requires specialized training without going into debt.

What our education system should not be is 16 years of required drudgery to make sure that you can get a job with stable hours and decent benefits — or a punching bag for politicians who have failed to do their jobs in reducing racial and economic inequality.