Archives for category: Connecticut

This story in the Middletown (Connecticut) Press shows that charters in the state debated whether it was ethical to take federal money intended to help small businesses and nonprofits that might go bankrupt. Some took the money, others decided against it. The Connecticut Charter Schools Association encouraged the state’s charter schools to go for the money. Among those that did were members of large charter chains supported by billionaires.

Note the comments of Rep. Bobby Scott, chair of the House Education Committee (and a DFER favorite), who sees no dilemma, and of Connecticut’s Rep. Jahana Hayes, who acknowledges the ethical problem.

Journalist Emilie Munson writes:

As the coronavirus reshapes education, over half of Connecticut’s 22 charter schools received Paycheck Protection Program loans this spring and summer, collecting a total of at least $12.5 million to $16.5 million in federal support unavailable to traditional public schools, a review of Small Business Administration data and school board minutes shows.

The popular forgivable loans proved a source of division among charter school administrators, some of whom thought it was improper for the schools to apply for the money, while others said it was irresponsible not to….

Bruce Ravage, founder and executive director of Park City Prep in Bridgeport, applied for a PPP loan in July, after learning more about the program and realizing he would be “crazy” not to, he said. The school recently was approved for a loan of $441,000, he said.

“We’re a business that serves a very, very needy population of students and I want to be sure that I have the resources available to provide whatever it is going to take,” Ravage said. “There are corporations that have a lot more money than us that applied for this.”

Tim Dutton, director of Operations at the Bridge Academy in Bridgeport, said his school chose not to apply for a loan because it did not lose revenue or lay off employees during the pandemic, and they knew they would receive federal emergency funding.

“The decision on the Paycheck Protection Program was really just the ethical one. I didn’t think it was about bailing out schools,” Dutton said. “PPP would not be appropriate as it would look like ‘double dipping.’”

On May 13, the school board of Great Oaks Charter School in Bridgeport voted against applying for a PPP loan, believing the school was likely ineligible because it was still receiving a steady stream of state and federal funding, school board minutes show. Just over a month later, the school was approved for a PPP loan of $350,000 to $1 million, SBA data shows…

When asked about PPP loans for charter schools, House Education and Labor chairman Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., said his priority is simply securing funding for public schools, adding he does not want to “draw red lines all over the place.”
A member of the committee and former 2016 National Teacher of the Year, Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5, said however she wants to “push for effective guardrails that prevent charter school waste, fraud and mismanagement.”
“Far too often, malicious actors in the charter school industry siphon much needed funds away from public education and from students in need,” Hayes said in a statement. “Public charter schools accessing both pots of relief funds amounts to double dipping and feeds into the skepticism and criticism that so many have surrounding charter schools. Applying for funds both as a school and a nonprofit drains resources from the public schools and communities that need it most, undermines student’s ability to learn, and threatens the very promise of equal education.”

Wendy Lecker is a civil rights attorney who writes often for the Stamford (Ct.) Advicate. she writes here about the disgraceful double dipping of charter schools in Connecticut, taking funds designated for public schools, then seeking and getting federal funds intended for small businesses.

Are charter schools to be defined as public schools or private businesses? When it’s time to get public money, they insist they are public schools, even though they are controlled by private boards. But when the money is for private businesses only, they line up to get the money. They are shape-shifters.

Lecker writes that the charters got their share of money intended for public schools:

With the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act, Congress provided federal aid to public schools, and specifically directed that charter schools receive aid as public schools. Connecticut public school districts and charter schools are receive comparable aid under the CARES Act’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (“ESSERF”). For example, New Haven will receive about $8 million, so a little more than $400 per student, and Amistad and Elm City charters, part of the Achievement First chain, will get similar per-pupil amounts. Bridgeport will receive about $9 million, or about $450 per student and Achievement First Bridgeport will be allocated a similar per-pupil amount. Hartford will get a little more than $10 million, or about $547 per student, and Achievement First Hartford will receive about the same per pupil. The per pupil amounts in Stamford’s public schools and charter school are similar as well. Stamford will receive $2.74 million for its approximately 16,600 students and Stamford Charter School for Excellence will receive a little more than $100 per pupil for its approximately 395 students — about the same as Stamford’s per-pupil allocation.

But that was not enough for the charters. They went for the federal Paycheck Protection Program to claim more money.

Lecker writes:

These charter schools, however, decided that when it comes to going after more federal dollars, it pays to be private entities as well. So each of these charters applied for and received significant forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans offered to small businesses in dire need as a result of the crisis.

Amistad Academy was approved for a loan of $2.7 million. So Amistad, a charter with a little more than 1,000 students, will receive a forgivable loan for more than the entire ESSERF allocation for Stamford Public Schools’ more than 16,000 students. Elm City’s loan is for $1.24 million; Achievement First Bridgeport’s loan totals $1.4 million, Achievement First Hartford’s loan is for $2.36 million and Stamford Charter School for Excellence’s loan is for $520,648. All these loans are forgivable, thus unlikely to be repaid.

In total, these loans total more than $8.2 million, covering 4,544 students. To compare, New Haven’s $8.5 million in ESSERF aid has to spread over 20,6675 students.

Public schools are in dire financial straits. Charters are not.

Lecker writes:

Are these charter schools really private small businesses in dire need? Last year, claiming charter schools were public schools, Dacia Toll, CEO of the Achievement First charter chain, complained that her schools were “starving” without more state funding. Looking at the most recent publicly available federal tax documents, Amistad has more than $30 million in net assets and reserves. Elm City, another Achievement First school, has more than $34 million in net assets and reserves, Achievement First Bridgeport has more than $6 million and Achievement First Hartford has almost $2 million. Stamford Charter School for Excellence has more than $2 million in net assets and reserves.

Meanwhile, public school districts across the state are facing massive funding cuts — some predicting cuts as high as 30 percent of their budgets. They also face steep increases in costs associated with reopening — from ensuring a clean and safe environment, to addressing the increased academic, social and health needs of their students. And now, with Gov. Ned. Lamont’s order that public schools reopen fully, in person, in the fall — without any promises to increase state aid — public school districts are in an even more precarious financial position. Public school districts are funded by local, state and, to a small extent, federal dollars. They have no options to tap into money intended for private businesses. Because public schools are public.

When charter schools are allowed to act as both private businesses and public schools, taxpayers end up paying twice. In these dire financial times, there are surely better uses for public funds than to double pay to pad the reserve funds of well-resourced charter schools.

The greed of the charter industry is shameful.

The New York Times reports that the Sackler family, one of the nation’s wealthiest families, busily transferred assets to themselves as the opioid crisis worsened

The Sacklers derived most of their billions from Purdue Pharma, prominent manufacturer and marketer of Oxycontin.

Jonathan Sackler is a major supporter of charter schools. He underwrote charter schools in Connecticut, created ConnCAN, then 50CAN, and the many state affiliates of that group. At this very moment, GeorgiaCAN is pushing charters on the receptive Atlanta school board (whose president is ex-TFA).

The Times reports:

As scrutiny of Purdue Pharma’s role in the opioid epidemic intensified during the past dozen years, its owners, members of the Sackler family, withdrew more than $10 billion from the company, distributing it among trusts and overseas holding companies, according to a new audit commissioned by Purdue.

The amount is more than eight times what the family took out of the company in the 13 years after OxyContin, its signature product, was approved in 1995. The audit is likely to renew questions about how much the Sacklers should pay to resolve more than 2,800 lawsuits that seek to hold Purdue accountable for the opioid crisis.

The family has offered to contribute at least $3 billion in cash as part of a settlement to resolve thousands of lawsuits brought by state and local governments against Purdue. But 24 states, led by Massachusetts and New York, have refused to sign onto the agreement, arguing that the Sacklers should pay more.

The new report, a 350-page forensic accounting prepared by Alix Partners, a consulting firm that Purdue has hired to help guide the company through Chapter 11 restructuring, was filed in bankruptcy court in White Plains, N.Y., Monday evening.

Sarah Darer Littman wrote about Jonathan Sackler’s long involvement in the charter school movement.

She says he brought his knowledge of marketing opioids to the charter school industry.

He is on the Board of Directors of the Achievement First charter school network. Until recently, Sackler served on the board of the New Schools Venture Fund, which invests in charter schools and advocates for their expansion. He was also on the board of the pro-charter advocacy group Students for Education Reform.

Through his personal charity, the Bouncer Foundation, Sackler donates to the abovementioned organizations, and an ecosystem of other charter school promoting entities, such as Families for Excellent Schools ($1,083,333 in 2014, $300,000 in 2015according to the Foundation’s Form 990s) Northeast Charter School Network ($150,000 per year in 2013, 2014 and 2015) and $275,000 to Education Reform Now (2015) and $200,000 (2015) to the Partnership for Educational Justice, the group founded by Campbell Brown which uses “impact litigation” to go after teacher tenure laws. Earlier this year, the Partnership for Educational Justice joined 50CAN, which Sackler also funds ($300,000 in 2014 and 2015), giving him a leadership role in the controversial—and so far failing cause—of weakening worker protections for teachers via the courts.

Just as Arthur Sackler founded the weekly Medical Tribune, to promote Purdue products to the medical professional who would prescribe them, Jon Sackler helps to fund the74million.org, the “nonpartisan” education news website founded by Campbell Brown. The site, which received startup funding from Betsy DeVos, decries the fact that “the education debate is dominated by misinformation and political spin,” yet is uniformly upbeat about charter schools while remarkably devoid of anything positive to say about district schools or teachers unions.

Charter chains are known for their lavish rallies, paid organizers, and “swag.”

These are techniques learned from the Sacklers and Purdue, writes Littman.

The description of “lavish swag” will sound familiar to anyone who has witnessed one of the no-expenses-spared charter school rallies that are a specialty of Sackler-funded organizations like Families for Excellent schools. Then there is the dizzying array of astroturf front groups all created for the purpose of demanding more charter schools. Just in Connecticut, we’ve had the Coalition for Every Child, A Better Connecticut, Fight for Fairness CT, Excel Bridgeport, and the Real Reform Now Network. All of these groups ostensibly claim to be fighting for better public schools for all children. In reality, they have been lobbying to promote charter schools, often running afoul of ethics laws in the process.

Take Families for Excellent Schools, a “grassroots” group that claims to be about parent engagement, yet was founded by major Wall Street players. In Connecticut, the group failed to register its Coalition for Every Child as a lobbying entity and report a multimillion-dollar ad buy expenditure and the costs of a rally in New Haven. 

In Massachusetts, Families for Excellent Schools-Advocacy (FESA) recently had to cough up more than $425,000 to the Massachusetts general fund as part of a legal settlement with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, the largest civil forfeiture in the agency’s 44-year history. Massachusetts officials concluded that FESA violated the campaign finance law by receiving contributions from individuals and then contributing those funds to the Great Schools Massachusetts Ballot Question Committee, which sought to lift the cap on the number of charter schools in the state, in a manner intended to disguise the true source of the money. As part of the settlement, the group was ordered to reveal the names of its secret donors. Jonathan Sackler was one of them.

In addition, Purdue heiress Madeleine Sackler directed the pro-charter film “The Lottery” about Eva Moskowitz and her Success Academy charter chain.

The Sacklers have used their vast wealth, derived from the opioid crisis, to burnish their family reputation and to destroy public schools.

As the Times reports, they are doing their best to get their money out of the company before it is bankrupted by lawsuits.

 

 

 

In the era of Bush-Obama education policy, it became conventional wisdom to blame schools for the effects of poverty. Civil rights lawyer Wendy Lecker explains that the test-and-punish regime continues by blaming schools and punishing them for chronic absenteeism. 

She writes:

NCLB measured school quality based on standardized test scores and relied on sanctions such as school turnaround, takeover and privatization. After almost two decades under NCLB, and the acknowledgment that the metric was inaccurate and the prescriptions were ineffective, the federal government decided to try a tweaked version of its failed test-and-punish regime.

The ESSA system employs multiple “indicators” of school quality. Each indicator provides schools and districts with points that together dictate what types of sanctions are imposed. The dashboard showing the schools’ and districts’ points for each indicator are also published online.

Nowhere on this dashboard is the state graded for whether or not it adequately funds Connecticut public schools, even though nationwide evidence proves a causal connection between school spending and student achievement.

One indicator under Connecticut’s ESSA plan is chronic absenteeism. The rationale Connecticut provides for including this indicator is the research and data demonstrating an association of chronic absenteeism to student academic achievement and high school graduation. What the ESSA plan does not detail are the causes of absenteeism.

A new study from Wayne State University tracks the incidence of chronic absenteeism across U.S. cities. The researchers found that nationwide, certain factors are significantly correlated with chronic absenteeism, namely: long-term population change, asthma rates, poverty and unemployment rates, residential vacancy rates, violent crime rates, average monthly temperature, and racial segregation.

Thus, although under Connecticut’s accountability system, chronic absenteeism is an indicator of school quality, and can contribute to a school or school district being subjected to increasingly draconian sanctions, none of the factors listed above that are significantly correlated with chronic absenteeism has anything to do with school.

Common sense in federal education policy would be nice for a change.

A headline from the  Boston Globe, just posted (I don’t have a link because, although I am a subscriber, the Globe website does not permit me to log in.)

 

The Supreme Court is letting a lawsuit proceed against the maker of the rifle used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

The justices rejected an appeal Tuesday from Remington Arms that argued a 2005 federal law shields firearms manufacturers from most lawsuits when their products are used in crimes.

The court’s order allows a survivor and relatives of nine victims who died at the Newtown, Connecticut, school in 2012 to pursue their claims.

Wendy Lecker is a civil rights attorney who writes frequently for the Stamford (CT) Advocate.

In this article, she takes issue with a public-private partnership that fails to address the state’s woefully School finance system.

Ray Dalio, a billionaire who wants to do good, has created a partnership with the state government that will operate outside public scrutiny. Dalio and the state will each contribute $100 million and raise another $100 million. This amount, she writes,  will barely scratch the surface of the state’s neediest children and schools.

Controversially, the Partnership insists on being exempt from Connecticut transparency and ethics rules. Supporters maintain that “innovation” is required to solve entrenched problems like poverty and struggling public schools, and addressing these sensitive issues can only be done in private.

When it comes to public education, the issues have already been addressed in a public forum- the CCJEF trial. The trial judge made thousands of public findings of fact in his 2016 decision in Connecticut’s school funding case, all based on evidence presented during the months-long public trial.

Among his findings are that Connecticut’s poorest districts have significantly lower levels of children who attend high quality preschool, and that preschool provides significant lasting benefits, particularly for poor children, such as: reduced grade repetition and special education identification rates, decreased behavioral problems, higher graduation and employment rates, higher lifetime earnings, reductions in involvement with the criminal justice system, reductions in the probability of being on welfare, and improved health measures.

The evidence at trial also proved that, despite higher need, Connecticut’s poorest districts could not afford an adequate supply of guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, reading interventionists, special education teachers, and teachers and services for bilingual students. The lack of these essential services prevented these districts from successfully serving their neediest children. Districts often had to spend their Alliance District money, funds intended to be “extra,” to try to pay for at least some of these basic services and staff; and had to divert money intended for general education to cover growing special education costs.

This persuasive public evidence came from people who work in and belong to the communities shut out of the secretive Partnership for Connecticut leadership. They are the ones with the knowledge of what these communities lack and need.

The trial court findings paint a picture of districts in triage mode, trying to plug gaping holes caused by inadequate state education funding.

Unfortunately the same judge who reached these findings did not order the state to remedy the injustice, which only the state can do, not a public-private philanthropy operating behind closed doors.

Rhode Island Officials—Governor Gina Raimondo and State Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green—are looking at the expansion of the no-excuses Achievement First Charter chain as part of the “solution” to the low-scoring Providence public school district.

Achievement First is a national charter chain known for high test scores, high suspension rates, and high teacher turnover. It was launched in Connecticut, funded in large part by Jonathan Sackler of Purdue Pharma, the opioid king, and significant contributions by hedge fund managers and philanthropists.

Let’s do the math.

Providence public schools enroll nearly 24,000 students. Two-thirds are Hispanic, 9% are white, 79% are low-income. Achievement First reports similar demographics in its two schools in Providence.

With now three schools in the state since opening in the 2013-2014 school year, Achievement First cites that the Rhode Island Department of Education in 2016 gave approval to Achievement First to grow to a high school — and add an additional K-8, giving Achievement First the ability to serve 3112 students — up from the current 1150 students in Providence and Cranston.

AF has 464 students in itselementary school, and 201 in its middle school in Providence. That was last year (2018-19), so the numbers might be higher this year.

So here is the question: If Achievement First expands by adding another elementary school and a high school, if its enrollment grows to serve a total of 3112 in two Rhode Island cities, how exactly does that uplift the Providence school district?

Suppose AF grows from its current enrollment of about 700 in Providence. Suppose it doubles its enrollment to 1,500 in Providence. That’s less that 10% of the students in the city.

What about the other 93% of the students?

What plans do the Governor and the State Commissioner have for them?

How does it transform Providence if a charter chain withdraws the students it wants and the funding for them from the struggling public schools?

To learn more about this charter chain, read this 2017 study from Yale. Thisstudy of Achievement First in Connecticut and New York says that its schools are highly segregated and get remarkably high test scores, but do so with a heavily white teaching staff strictly disciplining Black and Hispanic students, and with unusually high teacher turnover. The study is titled, “Achievement First, Children Second?” and suggests that AF’s strict discipline “may harm student development.”

AF likes to boast that if its schools can achieve great test scores, so can all schools. One way to test the proposition would be to turn an entire district over to AF. One candidate would be Central Falls, Rhode Island, the smallest urban district in Rhode Island, which registered the lowest test scores in the state. There are only 2,657 students in the whole district. Since the state is taking over Central Falls, why not invite Achievement First to demonstrate what it can do with an entire district, every single child…no exclusions, no cherry-picking. This would be a valuable lesson for all of us.

Democratic State Senator Sam Bell called for the removal of Achievement First management after news spread about a pattern of abusive behavior towards students.

Achievement First is based in Connecticut and practices “no excuses” discipline.

“Dismantling the Achievement First Rhode Island network needs to begin with removal of the Achievement First Corporation from any managerial involvement with the schools. Closure would be too disruptive to the students, and converting the schools into public schools is a better approach,” Bell told GoLocal.

Bell sites a range of issues, including physical abuse of students. in Rhode Island, Achievement First operates under the names Achievement First Iluminar Mayoral Academy and Achievement First Providence Mayoral Academy.

Bell’s demand comes at the same time that the Mayor of Providence is trying to expand the Achievement First chain in his city.

In January of this year, the head of Achievement First Amistad High School in New Haven was caught on video shoving a student. This was one of a number of episodes linking faculty to physical contact with students.

The defenders of the chain say that Achievement First gets high test scores, and it appears that those scores matter more than abusive adults manhandling students.

 

The Connecticut State Board of Education hired a new state commissioner who pledged to raise the graduation rate, close the achievement gap, and “Ensure that all students have increased access to opportunities and advantages that they need to succeed in life.”

What’s wrong with that? Isn’t that what every new commissioner promises? Has any new commissioner in any state achieved those goals?

Ann Cronin, veteran educator, explains why these are tired cliiches and what a visionary approach would look like. 

First, would be to change the term “graduation rate”  to something like the graduating of well-educated high school students. Currently, graduation rates make good headlines but can mean very little in terms of student learning.

“Credit retrieval” is a common practice in public schools with low graduation rates. “Credit retrieval” allows students to make use of often dubious computer programs that, in no way, equal courses in academic subjects, yet  the students get credit for the academic courses. In doing so, students increase the graduation rate for their schools but do not have adequate learning experiences.

Charter schools have another way to increase their graduation rates. They “counsel out” students who are likely to not graduate before they get to be seniors which leaves only a pre-selected group as seniors and, unsurprisingly, they all graduate. And lo and behold, the charter school has a high graduation rate. For example, one year at Achievement First’s Amistad Academy in New Haven, 25 students out of 25 in the senior class graduated, but 64 students had been in that class as ninth graders.

A visionary way to increase the number of students who receive a high school education is to not count the number of students who receive high school diplomas but rather count how many of the students who begin a school as ninth graders complete the coursework necessary for graduation. For example, some innovative public high schools hold Saturday classes with actual teachers instead of plugging kids into commuter programs. The applause should be given to high schools who deliver a quality education to all the students who begin their high school education in the school not to the schools who either give credits without the academic content and skills or who dismiss those who won’t make for a good statistic.

Read her essay to see her critique of “closing the achievement gap,” which is impossible when the gap is based on standardized test scores which are designed to have a gap.

Civil rights lawyer Wendy Lecker writes here about the persistence of racial segregation in Connecticut.

She writes:

The racial imbalance law applies to all public schools. It was enacted prior to the existence of charter schools but it was amended after the Connecticut charter school law was written. A 1996 revision of the law specifically included charters as a method to reduce racial isolation.

 

Despite the intent and plain language of the racial imbalance law, charter schools, which are now among the most racially isolated schools in the state, are specifically excluded from SDE’s report. This is particularly troubling since Connecticut law defines charter schools as public schools subject to all federal and state laws to which public schools are subject. Charter schools can be granted a specific exemption from some laws but only if they request that in their application. If the legislature intended to exempt charters from the racial imbalance law, it could have amended the law and done so explicitly. But that is not the case.

Moreover, in approving charter schools, the commissioner of education has a statutory obligation to consider the effect of any proposed charter school on the reduction of racial, ethnic and economic isolation in the region in which it is to be located. A charter school is to be put on probation if it “fails to achieve measurable progress in reducing racial, ethnic and economic isolation.” Yet, as a Connecticut Voices for Children report noted in 2014, the majority of charters are “hyper-segregated:” having a student body that is more than 90 percent students of color. In addition, most charter schools tend to underserve bilingual students (e.g. ELL) and students with disabilities.

However the State Education Department has decided to exempt charter schools from the law that requires diversity.