Archives for category: Charter Schools

Jan Resseger describes a grassroots effort to stave off the persistent assaults on public schools by the Republican-controlled legislature and state officials. Ohio has a large and low-performing charter sector, as well as a well-funded voucher sector that has produced no gains for students.

The privatization movement has harmed the public schools that most students attend without providing better schools. While the nation has struggled to survive the pandemic, Ohio’s legislators have remained focused on expanding their failed choice plans.

Resseger describes the work of the Northeast Ohio Friends of PublicEducation and their decision to create a website to educate the public.

Resseger writes:

In this leaderless situation with schools struggling everywhere, no matter their efforts to prepare, questions of policy have just sort of faded away—except that the privatizers are doggedly trying to co-opt the chaos in every way they can. In Ohio, the Legislature has taken advantage of the time while the public is distracted by COVID-19 to explode the number of EdChoice vouchers for private schools at the expense of public school district budgets, to neglect to address the injustices of our state’s punitive, autocratic state takeovers of the public schools in Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland, and to put off for over a year discussion of a proposed plan to fix a state school funding formula so broken that 503 of the state’s 610 school districts (80 percent) have fallen off a grossly under-funded old formula.

In recent years, most Ohio school districts have been getting exactly as much state funding as they got last year and the year before that and the year before that even if their overall enrollment has increased, the number poor children has risen, or the number of special education students has grown. And all this got even worse under the current two-year state budget, in which school funding was simply frozen for every school district at the amount allocated in fiscal year 2019. That is until this past June, when, due to the revenue shortage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Governor cut an additional $330 million from the money already budgeted for public schools in the fiscal year that ended June 30, thus forcing school districts to reduce their own budgets below what they had been promised. With much hoopla in the spring of 2019, the new Cupp-Patterson school funding plan was proposed. A year ago, however, research indicated (see here and here) that—partly thanks to the past decade of tax cuts in Ohio and partly due to problems in the new distribution formula itself—the new school funding proposal failed to help the state’s poorest schools districts. The analysis said that a lot of work would be required to make the plan equitable. New hearings are planned this fall, but nobody has yet reported on whether or how the Cupp-Patterson Plan has been readjusted.

In this context, discussions in the Northeast Ohio Friends of Public Education focused on our need to help ourselves and the citizens in our school districts find our way. What are the big issues? What information will help us explore and advocate effectively for policies that will ensure our schools are funded adequately and that funding is distributed equitably? In Ohio, how can we effectively push the Legislature to collect enough revenue to be able to fund the state’s 610 school districts without dumping the entire burden onto local school districts passing voted property tax levies? How can we help stop what feels like a privatization juggernaut in the Ohio Legislature? And how can federal policy be made to invest in and help the nation’s most vulnerable public schools?

The idea of a website emerged, with the idea of highlighting four core principles—with a cache of information in each section: Why Public Schools? Why More School Funding? Why Not Privatization? and Why Educational Equity? Although we have noticed that much public school advocacy these days emphasizes what public school supporters are against, we decided to frame our website instead about what we stand for as “friends of public education” even though our opposition to charter schools and private school tuition vouchers is evident in our website.

Educating the public is a crucial step in reclaiming the narrative from entrepreneurs, libertarians, and cultural vandals.

Some charter schools are like day lilies–they open, they close. Charter advocates say that their instability is a feature, not a bug. They decry the public schools that serve families for generations. Better to have market forces at work. Then you get a situation like the one in Fort Myers, Florida.

The Lee County school board yanked the authorization from the Collegiate Charter School after district staff found serious disorder: overflowing trash bins, kids walking around unsupervised, and only two teachers running the whole operation. District staff said they didn’t know who was working in the school. When staff visited the school, they found two teachers responsible for three classrooms. How do you do that? One teacher responded that she stands between the two classes. This is apparently innovative teaching, but the school board didn’t think so.

The charter was approved last April, even though it did not yet have a facility. That’s what the law says. Just approve the charter and see what happens.

Choice advocates always said that parents know best. Why would parents put their children into a school that is understaffed and chaotic?

The Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance is led by Professor Paul Peterson, an advocate for school choice. It would not be off the mark to say that PEPG exists to promote the DeVos agenda. Soon after she was confirmed, PEPG invited her to speak, and her speech was disrupted by Harvard students not affiliated with PEPG. Peterson has been the mentor for a generation of pro-school choice academics, including Jay Greene (University of Arkansas, Department of Education Reform), Patrick Wolf (same, also served as “independent evaluator” of Milwaukee and DC voucher prigrams), and Martin West (Harvard Graduate School of Education). Peterson recently appeared at the White House to support Trump’s call to reopen schools and co-wrote an oped with Dr. Scott Atlas (both are senior fellows at the rightwing Hoover Institution). Dr. Atlas supports Trump’s views that mask-wearing should not be mandatory, that children and adolescents don’t get the virus, th ast schools should reopen without delay, and that lockdowns are unnecessary. In many articles about Dr. Atlas, Peterson is his reliable defender.

The event today asks whether teachers unions can be part of the solution. Michelle Rhee and George Parker. Parker was head of the Washington Teachers Union when Rhee was chancellor. When he stepped down, he went to work for Rhee. He now works for a charter school lobbying group. More than 90% of charters are non-union.

Fall 2020 Colloquium Series: Can Teachers Unions Be Part of the Solution?

The PEPG Colloquium series continues Thursday, Sept. 24, with “Can Teachers Unions Be Part of the Solution?,” a talk by Michelle Rhee, Founder and CEO, StudentsFirst, former Chancellor for District of Columbia Public Schools, and George Parker, Senior Advisor, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, former President, District of Columbia Teachers Union.

Thursday, Sept. 24
12-1:15 p.m.
Register to attend the Zoom webinar

Thomas Ultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics, has been researching the tentacles of the Destroy Public Education movement in various cities.

In this post, he reviews the plutocrats’ lavish spending in California. It’s tapered of since 2018, he writes, but it’s still enough to outspend and overwhelm citizens who want to have a role in choosing their local school board.

The biggest battle in the state this year is the competition to control the board of the Los Angeles Unified School district. Ultican gives a succinct overview of the candidates, then examines the spending of the plutocrats.

The issue in L.A., again, is whether the plutocrats will win control so they can expand the charter sector or whether advocates of public education will overcome the money spent by the plutocrats and limit privatization.

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

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

Learn more about Learn4Life here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mellissa Chang wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Findings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Phillis writes:

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

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

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

*Steve Dyer’s analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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