Archives for category: Corporate Reform

Jan Resseger looks behind the daily news and ties together fast-moving events in the red states. The sudden proliferation of voucher programs is no accident, she writes, nor is it a response to public demands. It is a carefully crafted, well-funded strategy to defund public schools, to smash teachers’ unions, and to implement a rightwing ideology that does not benefit students or improve education.

She writes:

This week in Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds signed an Education Savings Account, universal voucher program into law. And last week in Utah, the same kind of voucher plan took the first step toward adoption when it was passed by Utah’s House of Representatives.

The Des Moines Register reports on Iowa’s new vouchers. The program will “phase in over three years and eventually allow all Iowa families to use up to $7,598 a year in an ‘education savings account’ for private school tuition. If any money is left over after tuition and fees, families could use the funds for specific educational expenses, including textbooks, tutoring, standardized testing fees, online education programs and vocational and life skills training. The $7,598 per private school student is the same amount of funding the state provides to public school students and is expected to rise in future years… The bill allows the Iowa Department of Education to contract with a third party to administer the education savings accounts, but the state has not yet issued a request for proposals from companies seeking to manage the funds.”

It would appear that the Iowa Legislature tried to calm the fears of the public school community by promising that, “Public school districts would also receive an additional $1,205 in funding for students receiving education savings accounts who live within the public school district’s boundaries.” But despite that promise, a drop in overall public school funding is expected: “By the fourth year, the (Legislative Services) agency estimates public school districts will receive $49.8 million in new per-student funds for private school students within the public district’s boundaries. The agency also expects a net decrease of $46 million in public school funding as a result of more students attending private schools.”

It is hard to keep track of all the states that now have school vouchers or are considering voucher programs and to know which states have the latest flavor of vouchers—Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Most ESA programs, unlike Iowa’s, don’t even require that families use the vouchers at private schools. In most places, ESA’s can be used for educational programs, for educational tools and materials like books and computers, and for homeschooling. In some states families can use the money for so-called micro-schools in which families come together and hire a teacher to work with children in someone’s home.

Why is there so much so much legislative activity about expanding vouchers? Several factors are important to consider, and many of them were the subject of economist Gordon Lafer’s analysis in The One-Percent Solution. Lafer’s book focused on the public policy that flowed from state legislatures after the Tea Party wave election in 2010, but his observations are still on point as we begin 2023. Lafer enumerates all the reasons why far-right ideologues and big corporate moneyed interests seek to undermine and privatize public schools: “At first glance, it may seem odd that corporate lobbies such as the Chamber of Commerce, National Federation for Independent Business, or Americans for Prosperity would care to get involved in an issue as far removed from commercial activity as school reform. In fact, they have each made this a top legislative priority… The campaign to transform public education brings together multiple strands of the agenda… The teachers’ union is the single biggest labor organization in most states—thus for both anti-union ideologues and Republican strategists, undermining teachers’ unions is of central importance. Education is one of the largest components of public budgets, and in many communities the school system is the single largest employer—thus the goals of cutting budgets, enabling new tax cuts for the wealthy, shrinking the government, and lowering wage and benefit standards in the public sector all coalesce around the school system… There are always firms that aim to profit from the privatization of public services, but the sums involved in K-12 education are an order of magnitude larger than any other service, and have generated an intensity of corporate legislative engagement unmatched by any other branch of government. Finally, the notion that one’s kids have a right to a decent education represents the most substantive right to which Americans believe we are entitled, simply by dint of residence… (F)or those interested in lowering citizens’ expectations of what we have a right to demand from government, there is no more central fight than around public education. In all these ways, then, school reform presents something like the perfect crystallization of the corporate legislative agenda.” (The One-Percent Solution, pp 128-129)

It is hard for public school advocates to mobilize nationally against the expansion of vouchers. Voucher battles are fought state by state because public education and the funding of public education is a state-by-state issue. Advocates are likely to focus on public education legislation in their own state and not to pay attention to what’s happening elsewhere. And citizens are not likely to pay much attention to what is happening in the legislature. Once again, Gordon Lafer identifies the problem: “(M)any of the factors that strengthen corporate political influence are magnified in the states. First, far fewer people pay attention to state government, implying wider latitude for well-funded organized interests… Apart from labor unions and a handful of progressive activists, the corporate agenda… encounters little public resistance at the state level because hardly anyone knows about or understands the issues… So, too, corporate lobbies’ financial advantage is magnified in the states. Citizens United marked a sea change in state as well as federal politics.” (The One Percent Solution, pp. 34-36)

Christopher Lubienski, a professor of education policy at Indiana University who has studied the impact of school privatization and the politics around privatizing public schools, recently published a reminder that school privatization is driven by the power of the corporate agenda. Expansion of vouchers has never been an expression of voters’ overall preference: “School choice is continuing to expand across the United states…. But these successes often come in spite of overwhelming voter opposition to school choice programs… According to the pro-voucher organization EdChoice.org, the U.S. has over 75 publicly funded private school choice programs, including vouchers, and education savings accounts, as well as another 45 charter school programs. But all of these programs have been implemented by legislators, not the electorate… In fact, voters have been allowed to weigh in on school choice programs only nine times since 2000, and they almost always reject them, often by overwhelming margins. Only twice did school choice programs pass through the ballot box. In 2012, Georgia voters empowered their legislature with the ability to create charter schools. That same year… Washington voters passed a charter school referendum.”

Who are the far-right advocacy groups and think tanks powerfully promoting Education Savings Account vouchers? They include the usual suspects: the American Legislative Exchange Council and a state- by-state group of think tanks that are ALEC’s partners in the State Policy Network, EdChoice, the Goldwater Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Institute for Justice, which provides two model laws—“Education Savings Account Act: Publicly Funded,” and “Education Savings Account Act: Tax-Credit Funded“—so that state legislators can merely adapt a canned statute to their own state’s particular needs. SourceWatch reports corporate funding streams for these and other far-right think tanks that promote vouchers—funding from the Koch Brothers, the Bradley Foundation, and investments from the Donor’s Capital Fund, a powerful investor of corporate dark money since the 2010, U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United.

In the past two years, the campaign to undermine public schooling and promote the expansion of vouchers has developed a new strategy to convince parents that their children in public schools are being brainwashed by critical race theory and surrounded by discussion of gender and sexual orientation. In a new report published by the Network for Public Education this week, political scientist Maurice Cunningham traces the money behind what may appear to be a spontaneous emergence of parents’ groups—Parents Defending Education, Moms for Liberty, and No Left Turn in Education. Cunningham points to clues that these are not local grassroots groups of parents; their websites, for example, betray a big investment in communications. And while, for example, the founders of Parents Defending Education (PDE) claim to be a bunch of working moms, Cunningham explains: “PDE took in $3,178,272 in contributions and grants in 2021… Donor’s Trust, a dark money donor associated with the Koch network donated $20,250 to PDE in 2021. The Achelis & Bodman Foundation which funds voucher and charter school programs and targets public education, contributed $25,000. Searle Freedom Trust, another right-wing donor with ties to Donors Trust, contributed $250,000 in 2021. We don’t know all the names on the checks, but we do know that those checks had to be pretty large, that the attorneys and consultants sit at the hierarchy of right-wing operatives, and that the board members and staffers are connected to the highest levels of conservative donors including the Koch network.”

The same people who are promoting vouchers are working to scare parents with the huge, culture war campaign driven by identifiable funders and a mass of dark money supporting an education marketplace and undermining parents’ confidence in public schools. But as Christopher Lubienski, the scholar who has studied the effect of the privatization of public education reminds us, expanding vouchers has not improved the outcomes for our children: “(R)ecent research is repeatedly showing that… vouchers are not a good investment. Although publicly funded vouchers may be propping up some private schools that might otherwise go out of business, they are not really helping the people they purport to help. In fact… study after study shows that students using vouchers are falling behind where they would have been if they had remained in public schools. Thus, policymakers might think twice about defying voters on initiatives that actually cause harm to children.”

The political theorist Benjamin Barber warns that school choice does not really provide freedom for families: “We are seduced into thinking that the right to choose from a menu is the essence of liberty, but with respect to relevant outcomes the real power, and hence the real freedom, is in the determination of what is on the menu. The powerful are those who set the agenda, not those who choose from the alternatives it offers. We select menu items privately, but we can assure meaningful menu choices only through public decision-making.” (Consumed, p. 139)

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

Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer reported in 2016:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawmaker: ‘Sunshine’ is best cure

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

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

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

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

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

Yet acquiring property remains a gray area.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some deals benefit administrators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School-owned condos?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

edward.mckinley@chron.com

eric.dexheimer@chron.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary Rubinstein started his teaching career as one of the earliest “corps members” of Teach for America. Over time, he became disillusioned with the organization’s grandiose claims and boasts. He is now an award-winning career high school teacher of mathematics in New York City.

He wrote about TFA’s latest woes:

Between 1990 and 2013, Teach For America grew in size and influence from a tiny inconsequential alternative placement provider to a $300 million a year political powerhouse. But the last ten years have been rough on TFA. In 2016 they fired about 15% of their staff. Then their recruitment figures dropped year after year until 2022 when they had their fewest number in nearly 20 years. And now Chalkbeat reports that TFA is set to fire another 25% of their staff in the coming months.

As an alumni of TFA (Houston 1991), I’ve been following the ups and downs of this organization for 32 years. At least to me, it is not a mystery why TFA is crashing and burning.

The first reason is that they have neglected their fundamental task, which is to properly train the new recruits. Every year their training seems to get worse until now they seem to have given up on trying to train the corps members at all. I had a ‘mole’ in TFA a few years back, someone who was once a student at the high school I work at. When I asked them about what they learned about lesson planning, they told me that they were never required to create a lesson plan for the entire institute.

Poorly trained teachers become failing teachers in the Fall and many of them quit and those who don’t quit are certainly not giving TFA good word of mouth. Eventually the pipeline dries up, which is exactly what is happening. Yes, with $300 million, TFA will always be able to recruit some new corps members, but without the positive buzz, they won’t be able to be as selective about who they admit.

Another cause of TFA’s current problems is that about 15 years ago they made a Faustian bargain with the so-called reformers like Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan. TFA jumped on the teacher bashing bandwagon, rode that wave for a while getting several alumni into leadership positions in several large districts. But all those leaders failed and got fired and TFA seems to have gone down with the ship.

And with all these issues to overcome, TFA would need a great leader. Unfortunately their CEO who has been in charge for about eight years, Elisa Villanueva-Beard (EVB) has just not been up to the task. To understand why, listen to this four minute interview she did a few weeks ago.

Her response was completely incoherent. It sounded like what you would get if you played Mad Libs and every blank had to be filled with ed reform buzz word.

“We’re living in an outmoded system that really needs to be ‘reimagined.'” Sounds like it comes from Trump’s Secretary Of Education Betsy DeVos in 2017.

‘We know that that [teacher quality] is still the biggest indicator of success for a child’s outcomes’ from Michelle Rhee in 2017

‘Science of reading’ from Obama’s other secretary of education John King. https://www.the74million.org/article/science-of-reading-john-king-close-literacy-gap/

‘High Dosage Tutoring’ This fits well with a new TFA initiative where they are having college students tutor students. What’s ironic about this is that for years the ed reformers insisted that class size did not matter and now TFA is saying that one-on-one tutoring is an efficient use of money.

‘They [kids] need us to have high expectations, have deep love and belief in them’ is a favorite of Joel Klein, a big TFA advocate. Elissa mentions this in every interview I have ever heard with her. How great it would be if low expectations was even one of the top twenty things that causes students to struggle.

And to end with “where we leave no kids behind” from the education visionary George W Bush whose policy did more damage to schools and students than anything else, even Race To The Top, in the past 20 years.

For the CEO of a $300 million a year organization with 33 years of work in education to spew twenty years of empty cliches in four minutes is definitely a bad sign for the future of this stumbling organization.

I actually feel a little bad for them. It would have been so easy to just have a more positive message. Rather than saying that real teachers are so lazy they can’t even muster up some high expectations, TFA could have said something like “Teachers are heroes in this country and we want our corps members to learn from them and aspire to be like them.” TFA could have also encouraged their alumni who wanted to lead schools to do so by climbing the ranks and become assistant principals and then principals of district schools. Instead they bought into the mirage of the charter networks who, in various ways, cheat to get their results.

Is it too late for TFA to make a comeback? If they don’t do some serous soul searching, there is not chance I think.

And certainly some of the 1000 disgruntled employees who are about to get fired can corroborate the misguided policies that have landed TFA in this mess. Contact me if you want to speak out.

Writing in Forbes, Peter Greene explains why state takeovers fail. Greene retired as a teacher after 39 years in the classroom. They fail and fail, but state legislatures won’t stop imposing them on struggling school districts that need help. The usual traits of a “failing” school or school district: high poverty, high numbers of limited-English proficient students, high numbers of students with disabilities. Funny, one seldom, if ever, finds a school or district in an affluent white neighborhood that needs to be run by the state.

Greene writes:

Since policy writers and thinky tanks first started pushing the idea of identifying “failing” schools, the search has been on for a way to fix those schools. A popular choice has been the school takeover model, where the state strips the local school district of authority and then waves some sort of magic wand to make things better.

The Obama administration used School Improvement Grants as a tool, offering federal funds to schools that were “failing,” but those funds came with very strict rules about how they could be used. This is a good example of the Takeover By Puppetry model, in which the local officials are left in place, but they are only allowed to make certain government-approved moves or must only implement consultant-approved steps. The SIG program spent in the neighborhood of $7 billion. USED’s own report found that it “had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.”

That report, to which Greene refers, was released in the last day of the Obama administration’s eight-year term. It gave an F to a major part of the failed “Race to the Top.” $7 billion spent, nothing to show for it.

The more direct takeover approach has also been tried. Tennessee formed the Achievement School District; in this model, the state takes control of “failing schools” and lumps them into a state-run district. The initial promise was that schools from the bottom 5% would be catapulted into the top 25%. After a few years, they were not even close to achieving their, so they rewrote the goal. The head of the ASD moved on to another job. Versions of the ASD have been tried in several states and in cities (e.g. Philadelphia) and in almost all cases, they’ve been rolled back or shut down because they cost a lot of money and achieve few worthwhile results.

Greene lists five reasons that state takeovers fail. Open the link to read them all.

1) The Wrong Measure of Failure

How are we going to decide which schools are in need of taking over? The most common answer is by standardized test scores–which is a lousy answer. This bad definition is important because it biases the process in favor of bad solutions. A school may have a hundred problems, but if all we’re focused on is the test scores, too may real problems will be unaddressed. Worse, many important elements of children’s education will be swept aside to make room for more test prep–the exact opposite of what students in struggling schools need. This is like calling AAA because you’re stranded beside the road with three flat tires, a busted radiator, an empty gas tank, and failing brakes–and AAA sends someone to wax the car.

2) The Wrong Diagnosis

Takeover programs focus on school governance. The thesis of a takeover is that the school board, the administration, and probably the teachers, are the root of all the problems at the school. If we just take them out of the way and replace them with shinier people, then everything will just fall into place. Somehow, all these people who work in the district either don’t know how to raise test scores, or they just don’t care. Resources for the district, issues in the community, systemic lack of support for the school, poverty–none of that is on the table. The belief is that when the old bureaucracy (including unions) is swept away and replaced, preferably by a visionary CEO type who will whip the troops into shape, then everything will run so much better. Often the unspoken premise is, “If we could just run these schools like charter schools…” Here’s what Chris Barbic, who was supposed to be the visionary CEO of the Tennessee ASD, said as he was leaving the job:

Let’s just be real: achieving results in neighborhood schools is harder than in a choice environment. I have seen this firsthand at YES Prep and now as the superintendent of the ASD. As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results. I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.

I have always been partial to Greene’s third reason: the mystical belief that someone who works for the State Departmenf of Education knows how to fix everything. This is absurd. You would think even the Legislature knows that Superman or Woman is not in a desk job at DOE.

Periodically, the Network for Public Education sponsors a conversation with an important voice in education policy. On January 11, I interviewed Josh Cowen, Professor of Education Policy at Michigan State University.

Josh has been an insider in voucher research for almost 20 years. It’s a small club, and he knows the research and the researchers. Josh came to the conclusion that vouchers have been a disaster for the students who leave public schools, supposedly to be “saved” by them.

But he points out that 70-80% of the students who use vouchers were never enrolled in public schools. Many return to the public schools. The political pressure for vouchers comes from politicians and parents seeking a subsidy for students already attending private and religious schools. The claim that they will help “save kids from failing schools” is a hoax to cover up the real purpose of vouchers: to transfer funds to private and religious schools.

The discussion was oversubscribed. Many people who wanted to watch the zoom were turned away. You can watch the recording here. The link is at the bottom of the page.

The Texas State Supreme Court gave the green light yesterday to a state takeover of the Houston Independent School District, based on the low performance of one school, which has high proportions of the neediest students. This will allow State Superintent Mike Morath (not an educator) to appoint a “board of managers.” Will the board reflect the anti-public school bias of Governor Abbott? Will HISD be purged of imaginary CRT and other fantasies of the far-right? It doesn’t matter to the Court or to Morath that state takeovers have a very poor record. See Domingo Morel’s book Takeover: Race, Education, and American Democracy.

Houston Public Media reports:

State-appointed managers can replace elected school board members in the largest district in Texas, according to a decision released by the state’s Supreme Court Friday morning.

Justices overruled an appellate court’s decision that had blocked TEA from taking over the district. The case isn’t over, though. A lower court will hear further arguments.

“No basis exists to continue the trial court’s temporary injunction against the Commissioner’s appointment of a board of managers,” the opinion read.

It is not clear if TEA will use the decision to replace the Houston ISD board.

“TEA is currently reviewing the decision,” a spokesperson wrote.

The Texas Education Agency first attempted to seize control of the Houston Independent School District in 2019. The agency pointed to dysfunction at the school board, as well as years of what TEA deemed unacceptable academic performance at Houston ISD’s Wheatley High School.

Invoking a 2015 state law, TEA argued the circumstances allowed education commissioner Mike Morath to appoint a group of managers in place of the elected school board trustees.

While the takeover was stalled, all but two of the elected Houston ISD board members departed, the board hired a new superintendent, and Wheatley High School received a passing grade from TEA.

The Houston Chronicle wrote:

The takeover issue has been simmering for years. Education Commissioner Mike Morath first made moves to take over the district’s school board in 2019 after allegations of misconduct by trustees and after Phillis Wheatley High School received failing accountability grades….

Advocates and education researchers have called into question the effectiveness of takeovers, and even the process can upend a district and create distraction.

“The back and forth over this issue has created significant chaos in HISD,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at University of Houston. “That’s problematic from a governing perspective and the ability to right the ship and move forward.”

The looming possibility of a takeover makes Mary Hendricks, a third-grade HISD teacher, a little nervous.

“I’m concerned for the students because I’ve been teaching for 16 years, and they’ve been through a lot of changes, like Hurricane Harvey and COVID,” Hendricks said. “I don’t think another catastrophic change would be what’s best for our kids.”

Some students have become aware of the possibility of a takeover. Elizabeth Rodriguez, a senior at Northside High School heard about it at an after-school club she is in called Panthers for Change, a teen advocacy group.

Rodriguez is skeptical of using test scores as a measure of school success and thinks they should not be a major deciding factor in whether the district is taken over.

“There are some students who are really smart and do well in classes, but don’t do well on the STAAR,” Rodriguez said. “Not everyone is the same, and everyone works differently.”

A Brown University study from 2021 looked at 35 school districts from across the country that were taken over by states between 2011 and 2016. It found takeovers typically affected districts where the vast majority of affected students were Black or Hispanic and from low-income families.

Ruth Kravetz, co-founder of Community Voices for Education, a Houston-based advocacy group that focuses on education, said the state should focus its energy on investing in public education, especially for at-risk students in the state’s largest school system.

“Takeovers have historically had horrible outcomes and are used overwhelmingly for students of color,” Kravetz said. “What the state is doing is starving are schools of money and narrowing the curriculum by spending so much money on testing. If the governor really wanted to improve the state of schools he would spend the money on all the schools in the state of Texas better.”

The Network for Public Education has released a new report on for-profit charters, which grew during the pandemic years. The report is titled Chartered for Profit II: Pandemic Profiteering. It builds on the findings of a report published by NPE in 2021. For-profit charters not only divert money away from the public schools, which enroll the vast majority of students in every state, but they skim off profits that should have been spent on students and teachers. The report details the nefarious deals that enrich the charter operators. Every citizen who cares about our future should be aware of the facts detailed in this report. We believe readers will be genuinely shocked by the findings in this report, which shows how scammers and grifters have gotten a stronghold in the charter industry, to the detriment of students, teachers, and taxpayers.

Here is the executive summary:

In March of 2021, the Network for Public Education published Chartered for Profit: The Hidden World of Charter Schools Operated for Financial Gain. In this follow-up report on the charter for-profit sector, we chronicle its expansion during the years of the Covid-19 pandemic by reporting growth in the number of schools, the number of for-profit corporations that run them, and student enrollment.

Acccording to our research, the for-profit sector dominated the charter school sector during the pandemic years. As the pandemic wore on – the percentage of charter schools run by for-profits jumped from 15 percent to 16.6 percent of the charter sector. This is a far greater percentage than is reported by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which inexplicably does not report schools run by for-profit Education Management Organizations (EMOs) that control only one or two schools. These micro-EMOS comprise nearly half of all for-profit EMOs.

However, the number of schools run for profit underestimates the true growth of for-profit schooling during Covid 19. The percentage of students attending a charter school designed to produce a profit for its management company soared. According to the Common Core of Data of the National Center for Education Statistics, the total student enrollment in charter schools during the second year of the pandemic (the 2021-2022 school year) was 3,676,635. Student enrollment in for-profit-run charter schools jumped to 731,406 that year.

That means that 20 percent of all charter school students, 1 in 5, were enrolled in a charter school managed by a for-profit management corporation by the pandemic’s end.

More disturbing is that 27 percent of the students attending for-profit-run schools were enrolled in low-quality virtual charter schools that teach students either exclusively or primarily online. That was in 2021. During the prior year (2020) the number was even higher.

Those who defend for-profit charter schooling claim it is no different from public schools using vendors for transportation services or to purchase textbooks. However, as this report explains, for-profit chartering is very different from vendors who supply discreet products and services. We detail the various ways in which the owners of EMOs extract profit via a lack of oversight and regulation that fails to protect taxpayers from sweetheart deals, sweeps contracts, and related party transactions designed to enrich EMO owners, their friends and their family members. And we explain how the acquisition of real estate and exploitative lease and purchase agreements drive the expansion of for-profit-run charter schools and, in some cases, put the school at financial risk.

Chartered For-Profit II: Pandemic Profiteering makes a case for substantive state and national reform so that the best interests of students and taxpayers trump financial gain. Like our first report, it provides insight into the most controversial sector of the charter school world—charters operated for financial gain.

Entrepreneur Steve Perry opened a charter chain called Capital Preparatory Schools, which recently was a finalist for the Yass Prize, which acknowledges outstanding charter schools. The chain won a prize of $500,000, which it will use to expand. The first-place winner was Arizona Autism Charter Schools, which won $1 million. The Yass Prize is called a STOP award, meaning Sustainable, Transformational, Outstanding, and Permissionless.

On the federal government website for charter schools, the Yass prize is described thus:

The mission of the STOP Awards is to identify and support more best in class education providers who can tackle the challenges and deliver an education for students that is Sustainable, Transformational, Outstanding and Permissionless. The STOP Foundation for Education is not just a philanthropy. And the STOP Award is not just a prize. It’s a movement intended to transform education for everyone. Complete the online application form.

The prize is administered by the Center for Education Reform of Washington, D.C., which supports charter schools, vouchers, and virtual charters, and opposes public schools.

Capital Prep operates in New York City and Connecticut. Its schools were recognized for providing outstanding education, and because 100% of its graduates were accepted at four-year colleges and universities since 2006. Its school in Harlem was co-founded by musician Sean Combs, also known as P. Diddy.

Gary Rubinstein has a history of examining charter schools that claim miraculous results. He took a close look at the Capital Prep Schools and learned from state data that they are actually low-performing schools. Please open the link to see his documentation.

He writes:

The 100% college acceptance graduation rate….implies that the students at the school have been successful in their academics. So I thought I’d go to the public New York State data site to see if this is the case.

In general, the test scores at the Perry / P. Diddy school are some of the lowest in the city. Most notable is that in their 8th grade class of 71 students, exactly 1 scored a passing score of a 3 on the recent state tests…[Scores range from 1-5].

School wide, only 6% of the students in all grades got a 3 on the math state test.

For the older grades, I see that no students passed the Geometry or the Algebra II Regents exams.

Now I’m not saying that test scores are everything, but when only 1 out of 71 8th graders gets a 3 on the state test, this definitely runs counter to the image that the 100% college acceptance rate is supposed to indicate.

The New York Capital Prep schools have only been open for a few years, but the Connecticut Capital Prep schools have been around for over 15 years. So I also looked at the Connecticut publicly available data, which has a lot of useful information on it.

One thing I found was that their Four-Year graduation rate has been as low as 56% in recent years…

On the college readiness index, the school fared very poorly…

The college entrance rate for 2020 was not 100% but about 77%

That school also had 0% passing an AP exam even though 38% took an AP exam…

So anytime you see a claim that some school is beating the odds because they have a 100% college acceptance rate, you should know that there is usually more to the story than that one statistic.

Again, open the link.

Charter schools have managed to occupy an unusual spot in the spectrum of educational institutions: When it’s time to get public funding, they insist they are “public schools.” But in court cases where charters were fighting to be exempt from state laws governing employment practices or financial accountability, they insist they are not “state actors.” It is logically impossible to be both a public school but not a state actor.

In a current court case, a North Carolina charter chain wants the courts to declare that its schools are not state actors because they enforce policies for girls’ dress that is inconsistent with state and federal law.

Public schools are state actors. In effect, this charter chain wants to be declared “not a public school” even as it continues to be publicly funded. Why? It wants to preserve its right to ignore state and federal laws against discrimination.

Peter Greene explains the background of this case:

In the regularly pro-choice Wall Street Journal, Baker Mitchell and Robert Spencer want to complain about a court decision declaring that their charter schools are, in fact, public schools. This, they warn, “imperils the charter school movement.” Their complaint is a big pile of deep fried baloney.

The case that prompted this whinging

One of the charter schools operated by Roger Bacon Academy was sued by some parents over a dress code requiring girls to wear skirts (or skorts–but none of that pants-wearing stuff, ladies). Such a big deal. Who knew?

“We’re a school of choice. We’re classical in our curriculum and very traditional. I believe that the more of the traditional things you have in place, the more they tend to reinforce each other,” he said in a phone interview. “We want boys to be boys and girls to be girls and have mutual respect for each other. We want boys to carry the umbrella for girls and open doors for them … and we want to start teaching that in grammar school.”

RBA is owned and operated by Baker Mitchell, Jr., one of the titans of charter profiteering. Back in 2014, Marian Wang profiled the “politically-connected businessman who celebrates the power of the free market,” and how he perfected the business of starting nonprofit charter schools and then having those schools lease their buildings, equipment, programs, etc. from for-profit companies owned and operated by Baker Mitchell, Jr. Mitchell (now in his early eighties) thinks the rule is great:

The case bounced up through the various court levels until it landed in front of the full panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which declared that the rule was junk and had to be thrown out. Not a worthwhile call-back to what one dissenting judge called “the age of chivalry” as the majority noted such an age was also the age “when men could assault their spouses” and that chivalry “may not have been a bed of roses for those forced to lie in it.”

Nor did the court accept the argument that girls were still getting good grades. “We cannot excuse discrimination because its victims are resilient enough to persist in the face of such unequal treatment.”

So what’s the big deal? (Spoiler alert: that state actor thing)

Mitchell and Spencer are not whining about the loss of their ability to require girls to show their legs. They protest that the policy was created by parents; well, so was the lawsuit, so that hardly seems like a useful point. And it’s not the main concern,

The case hinged on the question of whether or not charter schools are “state actors” aka actual public schools. The court said, “Yes, they are.”

Mitchell and Spencer complain that no court has ever done such a thing and therefor: The Fourth Circuit’s finding appears to have been based on little more than the convention of calling charters “public charter schools” and their being mostly funded by public sources.

This is kind of hilarious, because the “convention” of calling these school public was created entirely, and purposefully, by the charter industry and its supporters. They have insisted loudly and often that charter schools are absolutely public schools, and have engaged in uncountable arguments with anyone who dares to say otherwise. Of course, they have also frequently insisted that they are private businesses when it’s convenient for fending off state scrutiny or grabbing PPP pandemic relief money.

And despite Mitchell and Spencer’s apocalyptic warnings, you know who applauded the court’s ruling?

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The importance of this case could not be overstated, as it was the first time a federal appellate court considered whether public charter school students deserve the same constitutional civil rights protections as district public school students. The en banc court clearly and unequivocally affirmed that charter schools are public schools and, accordingly, must be bound by the US Constitution. Moreover, public charter school students have the same constitutional and civil rights as their district public school peers.

Galen Sherwin, ACLU senior staff attorney, observed that the ruling was important because The court rightly recognizes that ruling otherwise would leave states free to establish parallel, privately operated public school systems in a constitution-free zone, free to implement race segregation, religious discrimination, etc.

So what are they really, really upset about?

The tell comes a little further down the piece.
The ruling comes at a time when the charter-school movement is growing. Oklahoma’s attorney general recently issued a legal opinion stating that religious organizations must be allowed to operate charter schools in the Sooner State. A key aspect of the opinion was a finding that charter schools are not state actors and, therefore, the Constitution’s Establishment Clause doesn’t prohibit the inculcation of religious values, as it does in government-run schools.

If charter schools are state actors, then that might get in the way of expanding religious charters. And sure enough– we find amicus briefs filed by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington VA, Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Clinic, the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty, and the Religious Freedom Institute. “These experts,” say the writers, confusing advocacy and lobbying with expertise, say the Fourth Circuit’s ruling would undercut charter schools.

Well, no. They would undercut the extension of private religious organizations into a sweet, sweet chance to get their hands on public tax dollars while still enjoying unregulated freedom to indoctrinate some students into their religion while also discriminating against whatever students they choose to discriminate against in a taxpayer-funded Constitution-free zone.

Are we done yet?

Of course not. The school has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear their appeal. It invokes the 14th Amendment and features this kind of flag-waving:


North Carolina charter schools—like many throughout the Nation—build upon a critical insight: Empowering private entities to operate publicly funded schools with minimal government oversight supercharges educational innovation and expands parental choice. The decision below profoundly threatens this model.

“Supercharges innovation.” Sure. Making girls wear skirts is one hell of a supercharged innovation. My usual offer stands–name one educational innovation that has come out of the modern charter school sector.

Mitchell and Spencer want you to know that damn ACLU is behind this case, but they aren’t exactly being represented by a Mom and Pop firm. Aaron Streett is an attorney with Baker Botts, a multinational law firm (where both Amy Coney Barrett and Ted Cruz once worked), and that he’s the chair of their Supreme Court and Constitutional Law Group. Streett says that the majority opinion “contradicts Supreme Court precedent on state action…and limits the ability of parents to choose the best education for their children.”

The argument is simple enough–we are not a public school, so we should get to do whatever the hell we want (and be paid by taxpayer dollars while we do it).

It’s a tough call for the charter biz–if they aren’t public schools, then at this point they really aren’t much different from private voucher schools, so what’s the point of them? But if they want to market themselves as public schools, they can damn well operate under public school rules.

Who knows if SCOTUS will hear this, or what they will decide. But regardless of how things end up, it looks like the charter movement’s days of being able to have things both ways may be coming to an end.

Kevin Welner, who is both a lawyer and a professor of education policy at the University of Colorado at Boulder, wrote about these issues on Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet blog last June, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Maine could not exclude two religious schools from state funding when it provided public funding to other private schools, even though the religious schools openly discriminate against LGBT students, families, and staff, as well as non-Christians. The case is called Carson V. Makin.

Welner suggests that the Maine case may erase the line between charter schools and vouchers.

Welner wrote:

If charter schools are state actors, they cannot engage in religious teaching or discrimination. The Peltier litigation did not, however, involve any claim by the school that its sexist dress code arose out of protected religious beliefs. If religious-liberty claims were to be asserted around a comparable policy adopted by a charter school run by a religious organization, the state-action inquiry should be very similar, if not identical, and the charter school should be prohibited from engaging in discrimination.

But as today’s Carson v. Makin decision illustrates, the introduction of free-exercise protections could greatly complicate the overall analysis. If courts side with a church-run charter school, finding that state attempts to restrict religiously infused teachings and practices at the school are an infringement on the church’s free-exercise rights, then the circle is complete: Charter school laws have become voucher laws.

If the Supreme Court hears the Peltier case, if it decides that charter schools are not state actors, if charters may discriminate against girls, LGBT students, and non-Christians, then as Welner says, charters are no different from vouchers. But if they are not state actors, then charter schools are not public schools. But they are free to discriminate against any group, without regard to federal law. And they are free to teach religious doctrine and to close their schools to non-believers. States will then be directly funding schools that teach religious zealotry and openly engage in discrimination.

A loss for American democracy, but a victory for Donald Trump, who appointed three religious extremists to the Supreme Court; Mitch McConnell, who refused to allow President Obama to fill Justice Scalia’s empty seat on the Court after the Justice died in March 2016 (on the absurd grounds that it was too close to a presidential election), as well as his rush to allow Trump to name Amy Coney Barrett to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat only weeks before the 2020 election; the far-right wing Leonard Leo and the Federalist Society, which selected the judicial candidates for Trump. And while it may be impolitic to say so, I blame Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg for refusing to resign her seat in 2014 or 2015, when Obama would certainly have been able to replace her. She had had four bouts with pancreatic cancer, and good reason to step down and give Obama a chance to replace her. Instead she stayed on and died at age 87, gambling that Hillary Clinton would replace Obama. She lost her bet, and the nation has a Supreme Court that is imposing a deeply reactionary agenda.