Archives for category: Corruption

I posted Aaron Regunberg’s article in The Providence Journal, in which Governor Dan McKee awarded a $5.1 million contract to a brand-new firm created by friends from Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change. The contract was supposedly to help schools reopen.


He wrote:

Take the recent story of a $5-million “school reopening” contract given to Governor McKee’s longtime financial backers at the corporate education reform group Chiefs for Change (CFC). The head of CFC, Mike Magee, has directly contributed thousands of dollars to the governor, and his brother leads the Super PAC that spent hundreds of thousands supporting McKee during my primary challenge to him in 2018. As has been reported extensively by WPRI, just two days after Mr. McKee took office, the chief operating officer and director of operations of CFC incorporated a brand-new company, ILO Group, which almost immediately received a state contract to the tune of $5.2 million — an amount many millions of dollars more than the next-highest bid.

But it’s worse than that. WPRI in Providence reported that the head of the new firm that won the contract was still employed by McKee’s friends when the contract was awarded.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The head of a newly founded consulting firm was still working for one of Gov. Dan McKee’s close confidantes at the same time that her company was finalizing a controversial state contract worth up to $5.2 million, the Target 12 Investigators have learned.

Separately, Target 12 has also learned that a key initiative the consulting firm is spearheading — the creation of alternative municipal education offices across Rhode Island — is slated to receive funding from Amazon.com under the terms of the company’s new agreement for a project in Johnston.

The consulting firm, ILO Group, has been making headlines ever since Target 12 first reported that the state awarded a lucrative contract to ILO soon after it was incorporated, despite a messy bidding process which state officials deemed unsuccessful.

The contract “had all the hallmarks of some of the deals that we’ve had in the past that come from the ‘I know a guy’ culture in Rhode Island,” said state Rep. Jason Knight, a Barrington Democrat and member of the House Oversight Committee, which is considering hearings on the contract.

ILO’s majority owner and managing partner is Julia Rafal-Baer, who was previously chief operating officer at the national education nonprofit Chiefs for Change. Chiefs for Change’s CEO is Mike Magee, a longtime adviser to McKee on education issues who worked for the governor when McKee was Cumberland mayor. Magee also served on McKee’s transition team last winter.

ILO filed incorporation papers with the Rhode Island secretary of state’s office on March 4, two days after McKee was sworn into office. But Target 12 discovered Rafal-Baer did not leave her old job when she co-founded the new firm and began bidding on the seven-figure state contract.

R.I. Board of Elections filings show Rafal-Baer continued to list Chiefs for Change as her employer, rather than ILO, when she made campaign donations during the spring. A spokesperson for ILO, Frank McMahon, confirmed Rafal-Baer kept her job at Chiefs for Change until June 28 — after ILO had won the state contract and just a few days before it took effect.

The most recent available IRS filings for Chiefs for Change show the nonprofit paid Magee $308,211 and Rafal-Baer $247,881 in 2019, making them the organization’s two highest-paid employees.

No decision yet on oversight hearings

As the bidding process began in March, Rafal-Baer had access at the highest levels.

The day after ILO’s incorporation papers were filed — March 5 — she and Magee were slated to participate in a half-hour Zoom meeting with the governor and the state purchasing agent, Nancy McIntyre, according to McKee’s schedule for that day. Also invited to the meeting were McKee’s then-chief of staff, Tony Silva, and the director of the R.I. Department of Administration, Jim Thorsen.

“The meeting was to discuss the state’s options for engaging additional support to assist with school safety related to COVID, including testing and other strategies for safe in-person learning,” said McKee spokesperson Andrea Palagi. She added that Rafal-Baer “was sent an invite for this meeting but did not attend.” The meeting was first reported by The Providence Journal.

Later in March the governor’s office solicited bids for a new education consultant to help with reopening schools and long-term policy planning.

ILO put in an initial bid of $8.8 million to do the work, while a rival firm with a two-decade track record in Rhode Island — WestEd — said it would cost only $936,000.

With the numbers so far apart, state officials reworked their request and asked for revised bids. On May 7, ILO lowered its bid to $6.5 million — but that was still far higher than WestEd’s revised bid of $3.5 million.

By late May, a four-member state review panel that included North Providence Mayor Charlie Lombardi abandoned the competitive procurement process and proposed splitting the work between the two firms. ILO got a contract for up to $5.2 million to help K-12 schools, while WestEd got $926,000 to help colleges.

The governor has emphasized that ILO is billing the state hourly for its services — at a rate of $223 an hour — and he expects the final price tag for the contract to come in “far below” the $5.2 million maximum.

Spokespersons for both organizations as well as the governor’s office have distanced Chiefs for Change and Magee from the bidding process that led to ILO’s selection. In a letter to legislators last week, McKee said Magee “has no past or current financial interest or management role in ILO,” and ILO’s spokesperson said Magee “did not participate in the preparation or submission of this proposal.”

In his letter to lawmakers, McKee said ILO “currently works with large-scale and small-scale school districts throughout the country.” When Target 12 asked for a list of the other states where ILO is working, however, a spokesperson for the company said: “It is ILO’s policy not to share the names of its clients.”

By the way, McKee’s friend Mike Magee is the brother of Marc Porter Magee, CEO of 50CAN, an organization whose sole purpose is to promote charter schools. New York BATS were none too happy with Rafal-Baer when she worked as Assistant Commissioner of Education in that state and was known as the state’s ”teacher evaluation czar.”. One of them wrote:

In reality, Dr. Rafal-Baer’s policies in NY were met with deep resistance, found “arbitrary and capricious” in state Supreme Court and suspended after costing taxpayers untold millions. Achievement gaps and school segregation widened, and teacher workforce morale has tanked, with untested, top-down initiatives the biggest reported driver of workplace stress by far.

In response to the criticism of the grant to the newly-minted ILO, Governor McKee wrote a letter to legislative leaders defending his decision to award the contract.

“While ILO is newly organized as a Rhode Island-based business, its team members have worked together for years and have an extensive background working in Rhode Island and throughout the country on education consulting projects,” McKee wrote. He noted that ILO’s managing partner – Julia Rafal-Baer, who owns a majority stake in the firm – is a Cranston resident…

But McKee didn’t mention that ILO’s proposed hourly rate for the work still totaled $228 an hour, compared to $123 for WestEd — meaning the bids were still nearly $3 million apart. Those numbers are too small and blurry to read in the supporting documents sent by the governor’s office. (Target 12 has separate copies of the original.)

In another section of the report, McKee also downplayed the overall price tag of the ILO contract, saying he doubted the firm would end up billing taxpayers for that much money in the end.

“To avoid unnecessary spending, the contract is to be billed hourly up to the amount of $5.1 million instead of a fixer retainer fee,” McKee wrote. “Based on ILO’s billable hours for work performed since the beginning of July 2021 when the contract began, we expect to remain far below this cap.”

Why teach for peanuts when you can be paid $228 an hour as a consultant? If you know the right people.

It’s true that there are occasional stories of embezzlement or fraud in public schools, but none compares to the sheer audacity of California’A3 online charter chain. Its two cofounders—Jason Schrock and Sean McManus—concocted elaborate schemes and pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds. They both pleaded guilty and repaid hundreds of millions.

Schrock, however, will not spend a day in prison.

SAN DIEGO — 

One of the two masterminds behind a massive charter school scheme that defrauded the state of California out of tens of millions of dollars was sentenced to four years in prison and ordered to pay $18.75 million in fines in San Diego Superior Court on Friday.

Jason Schrock, a co-creator of the now-defunct A3 charter school network, pleaded guilty in February to one count of conspiracy to misappropriate public funds and one count of conflict of interest. He has been on house arrest in Orange County since he was arraigned in May 2019.

Because the law requires that Schrock receive credit for the more than 750 days he has spent on house arrest, he will not spend a single day in prison.

At Schrock’s sentencing hearing, defense attorney Knut Johnson emphasized that Schrock had been wholly cooperative during the investigation, turning over hundreds of millions of dollars in assets and thousands of pages of documents to further the investigation.

It was that cooperation that kept San Diego Superior Court Judge Frederick Link from handing down a stiffer sentence, the judge said. The case centered on what has been labeled as one of the nation’s largest fraud schemes after taxpayers were fleeced out of $400 million meant for K-12 education. Due in part to the cooperation of Schrock and his co-conspirator, Sean McManus, investigators have recovered $220 million…

A yearlong investigation by the San Diego County district attorney’s office determined that Schrock and McManus and their codefendants fraudulently obtained hundreds of millions in state school dollars from 2016 to 2019 after opening a network of 19 online charter schools. Three of those schools were in San Diego County.

Prosecutors accused A3 leaders of buying children’s personal information to falsely enroll them in the schools and of providing incomplete education services while taking tens of millions of dollars for personal use. A3 leaders also manipulated enrollment figures across their schools to receive more state funding per student and manipulated school attendance reporting to get more money for time that children were not spending in A3 schools.

So far, nine defendants in the case have pleaded guilty.

Angie Sullivan teaches first-grade students in a Title I school in Las Vegas. She writes regularly to every member of the legislature and to journalists to tell them what it is like from a teacher’s perspective.

She wrote this missive:

Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod should recuse herself from charter school legislation.  It is unethical for her to line her lobbying pocket and then work on charter legislation.  Scott Hammond and Carrie Buck should also recuse themselves from working on charter language having made millions in the business.  Unethical.  

While you are in AB420, you should amend the Charter Authority requirements.   

To sit on the 9 member board, you should have not earned money from a for-profit school.   

The number of recusals from Charter Authority board members while trying to do business is ridiculous. 

Oftentimes decisions are made with a questionable quorum because too many folks on the dais are making money from the business and have to recuse. 

If you are a charter lawyer, charter consultant, charter owner – not the time to sit on the decisions making board.  It is unethical.   

You should have to wait 3 years after profiting from charters before being allowed to sit on the board.  
The chair of the Charter Authority should not run a charter.   

This leads to awkward business.   

The Chair leaves the dais to go to the table to have the board give her permission and/or money.  I have seen Chair Melissa Mackedon who runs a charter in Fallon do this several times.   

It is like insider trading – benefitting their business and themselves.  Then popping back up into positions to hand out money and favors to other charters.  Charter Board Members should not be on both sides (giving and receiving) routinely in meetings.  Unethical.  

Former or current legislators should not sit on the Charter Authority Board.  It appears that they legislated to make millions.  Pat Hickey and Randy Kirner are examples of folks who recently left their positions and then became part of the Charter Authority Board.

Lawyers like Jason Guinasso who have chaired the board should not be able to come back a few years later to manipulate charter language or the board.   He addressed them as friends trying to take advantage of his connections.  Recently Guinasso approached the board from the table on behalf of a charter he most likely set-up for failure while he was chair.  The theft and lawsuits cost Nevadans.


https://www.nevadacurrent.com/2020/06/29/lv-charter-school-alleges-it-paid-1-6m-to-utah-management-company-for-nothing/

https://kutv.com/news/beyond-the-books/nevada-charter-school-ends-business-ties-with-american-preparatory-schools-in-utah

New EMOs/For-Profit Service Providers should not be allowed in the state.  No more new for-profit campuses under their umbrellas either.  They have made a huge mess.   Academica basically has a weird monopoly with different branches.   They are posed for rapid expansion.  Folks outside the state watching Academica in Nevada are very concerned.  

For-profit corporations like Academica take advantage of states like Nevada.  Language should be included to prevent rapid expansion and the ability to siphon money into side businesses.   This robs students and gives millions to side businesses.   Folks like Gulenist Soner Tarim should not be able to come into Nevada and apply for a charter – with language in the contract that gives them 12% off the top and ability to rapidly expand by being a EMO/Service Provider.  These should be two different things – EMO/Service Provider and Charter Applicant.  These administrators and side businesses are making a ridiculous amount of money and do not have to bid out their services.  The public should be able to see these contracts since the taxpayer is paying.  Folks should not be handing contracts out to their friends and family.

EMOS/Service Providers should not be allowed to break the charter diversity laws like Academica did intentionally when opening the Northern Pinecrest.  Academica should be closed for that.

PPP loans were given to both the charter campuses and the management corporations and all the side businesses.   How much money did a for-profit charter really get during the pandemic?   They got money for the EMO/Service Providers/Campus/Friends/Family etc?  Then held an informational meetings to warn everyone “not to say anything”.  

125 Florida charter schools already funded by taxpayers received $50 million in PPP loans https://www.abcactionnews.com/news/local-news/i-team-investigates/125-florida-charter-schools-already-funded-by-taxpayers-received-50-million-in-ppp-loans

I hope the FBI comes and arrests everyone involved in this mess and lining their pockets. 

https://www.nevadacurrent.com/2020/12/24/nevada-charter-schools-got-millions-in-ppp-loans/ 

$350+ Million in education money annually and not one person knows what it is spent on.

And seems like legislators are just fine with that?


The Teacher,

Angie Sullivan


https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/NELIS/REL/81st2021/Bill/8052/Text

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to the North Texas School Boards Association by Zoom. Right now, Texas is ground zero for the charter industry. This is astonishing because the public schools in Texas far outperform the charter schools. The charter school lobby markets themselves as “saviors” of children, but they are far more likely to fail than public schools. This is a summary of what I told my friends in Texas:

I am a graduate of the Houston public schools. My father, who grew up in Savannah, never finished high school; my mother, who was born in Bessarabia, was very proud of her high school diploma from the Houston public schools.

I believe that all of us, whether or not we have children, whether or not we have children in public school, have a civic obligation to support public schools, just as we must support other public services, like police, firefighting, public roads, public parks, and public libraries. Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society, and no investment is more precious than investing in the education of our children. They are our future. 

Texas, like every other state, guarantees a free public education to everyone. The clause in the state constitution says:

A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.

As constitutional scholar Derek Black shows in his book Schoolhouse Burning, the founding fathers of this nation wanted every state to provide free public education. They didn’t have it in their own time, but they saw it as essential to the future of the nation. In the Northwest Ordinance of 1785, the Founders said that any territory that wanted to become a state had to set aside one lot in each town for a tax-supported public school. Not a private academy supported by tax funds, but a tax-supported public school.

The leadership of Texas doesn’t care about the state constitution. Every time the legislature is in session, someone offers a bill to send public funds to religious schools, which are not public schools. Thus far, a coalition of urban Democrats and rural Republicans and the dedicated leadership of Pastors for Texas Children has defeated vouchers.

The Republicans who control the state have substituted charters for vouchers in their eagerness to provide alternatives to the right guaranteed by the state constitution. And they have not given up on vouchers.

Texas now has more than 800 charter schools. These are schools under private management, paid for with tax dollars. Contrary to their marketing strategy, they are not public schools. Some of those charters are part of big corporations, like KIPP or IDEA. Some are nonprofit schools that are managed by for-profit corporations. The GOP leadership wants more of them, even though the existing public schools are underfunded and have not recovered from a devastating budget cut of more than $5 billion in 2011.

When the idea of charter schools first emerged in the early 1990s, I was enthusiastic about their promise. I was in Washington, DC, working as Assistant Secretary of Education for Research in the first Bush administration. We heard from their sponsors that charter schools would be more innovative, would cost less than public schools because of their lack of bureaucracy, would be more successful, and would be more accountable than public schools because they were free of most regulations. 

Three decades later, this is what have we learned: 

   a). Charter schools are not more innovative than public schools. The only innovation associated with charters is harsh disciplinary practices called “No excuses,” where children are punished for minor infractions of strict rules. The largest charter chain in Chicago, the Noble Network, recently announced that it was getting rid of “no excuses” because it is a racist policy, meant to force black children to adopt white middle-class values.  

    b) Charter schools are not more accountable than public schools. In most states, the charter associations fight any effort to impose accountability or transparency. They don’t want to be audited by independent auditors. The only time they are accountable is when they close their doors because of low enrollment or abject academic failure. 

    c) Charter schools do not cost less than public schools. They typically demand the same public funding as public schools, even though the public schools pick up some of their costs, like transportation, and even though they have fewer high-need students than public schools. In some states, like Texas, charter schools get more public money than public schools.

    d) Charter schools are less effective than public schools. Those that have high test scores choose their students and families carefully and push out those they don’t want. On average they don’t outperform public schools, and they spend more money on administration than public schools. In some states, like Ohio, the majority of charter schools are rated D or F. 

Charters are unstable. They open and close like day lilies. Sometimes in mid-semester, leaving their students stranded.

The worst charter schools are the virtual schools. 

The state pays the cybercharters full tuition to provide nothing more than a computer, a remote teacher, and some textbooks. They charge double or triple their actual costs.

Virtual charter schools have high attrition rates, low graduation rates, and low test scores.

There have been huge scandals associated with virtual charter schools.

In Ohio, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow collected close to a billion dollars over 18 years. It was started by a businessman, who made generous contributions to political leaders. It had one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation. In 2017, ECOT was audited by the state and found to have collected tuition for phantom students. Rather than pay the state $80 million, ECOT declared bankruptcy in 2018. No one was fined, no one went to prison, no one was held accountable.

The biggest scandal in charter history was the A3 virtual charter chain. It had a massive scheme to enroll fake students. Eleven people were indicted. Eventualy, the leaders of A3 agreed to repay the state $215 million.

The largest of the virtual charters is K12 Inc; it is registered on NY Stock Exchange. Its results are familiar: high attrition, low test scores, low graduation rates. Their top executives are paid millions of dollars each. K12 is are operating in dozens of states.

Poor academic performance is not punished; financial fraud is not punished. There is no accountability. 

IDEA in Texas is in a class of its own when it comes to luxuries. They get hundreds of millions of tax-payer dollars, but they decided they needed to lease a private jet for their executives. When the story got into the newspapers, they dropped that idea. The media also reported that IDEA bought season tickets for special seating at San Antonio Spurs games. When the CEO decided to retire, he received a $1 million golden parachute. How many school superintendents do you know who got such a generous going-away present?

Charter schools claim that they “save poor kids from failing schools.” 

That’s not true. There are currently some 356,000 students in charter schools in Texas. Three-quarters of them are enrolled in charter schools in A or B school districts. The charter school students are being drawn away from successful schools in successful districts.

The charter lobby claims that there are long waiting lists. Don’t believe it. The so-called wait lists are manufactured. They are never audited. In Los Angeles, at least 80% of the existing charters have empty seats, yet still the lobbyists talk about wait lists. In New York City, charters buy advertising on city buses. When you have a waiting list, you don’t buy advertising.

The charter industry in Texas has a number of charter expansions already approved and expects to grow by 50,000 students every year. Unless the legislature plans to increase spending on education, charter growth will mean budget cuts for public schools. Charters in Texas currently divert $3 billion a year from public schools. Since they started, they have diverted more than $20 billion that should have gone to the state’s public schools. 

Charter schools in Texas are not more successful than public schools. Texas researcher William Gumbert reported that 86% of public school districts are rated either A or B by the state, compared to 58.6% of charter schools. Only 2.6% of public school districts were rated D or F, compared to 17.7% of charter schools.  

Texas Public Radio reported that graduation rates at charter schools were 30 points lower than the rates at public high schools. 

Two economists—Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer—studied the outcomes of charter schools in Texas. They concluded that charter schools have “no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings.”

William Gumbert, an independent analyst in Texas, has calculated that graduates of charter schools enter college less well prepared and are less likely to perform well in college, compared to students who went to public schools. He reported that the 2019 state ratings showed nearly 40% of charters approved by the state have been closed. 

The charters claim that they can close historic achievement gaps between children of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. This is not true. According to careful research by analyst Gumbert, public schools do a better job of narrowing the achievement gaps between black and white students and between Hispanic and white students than charters in the same districts. 

Again, using state records, Gumbert found that graduates of public schools were more successful in college than graduates of charter schools. Public school graduates were more likely to have a higher grade-point average in freshman year than charter school graduates. First-year grade-point average has been shown to predict college graduation. 

Now the charter industry is lobbying for a vast expansion in Texas. They don’t want to have to deal with elected school boards or other elected officials. Democracy is a nuisance, an obstacle. So they are promoting SB 28, which would remove any elected school boards or elected municipal officials from the charter approval process. The state board of education could veto a charter application only with a supermajority. Only one appointed state official—the State Commissioner, appointed by the Governor– would decide whether charters may invade your district, recruit the students they want and locate the charter school wherever they want. That is a major blow to local control of schools. 

Why are state officials in Texas, why is the Legislature, opposed to local control of schools?

After three decades of experience, we have learned about the policies and practices of charter corporations.

First, many charter schools are run by non-educators. They see a business opportunity and they compete for market share. 

Second, they market charter schools by making extravagant claims. They promise that their students will be successful in school and will go to college even before they open their doors. As we have seen, this is usually false.

Third, the few that get high test scores do so by cherry-picking their students or by setting the standards so high that only high-scoring students choose to enroll. BASIS is an example of that. Students have to pass a certain number of AP exams to graduate, so average students need not apply. In Arizona, where most of the state’s students are Hispanic or Native American, the BASIS schools enroll mostly white and Asian students.

Fourth, some charter schools raise test scores by pushing out students who get low scores. That means excluding students with disabilities and students who don’t speak or read English. It also means counseling out or finding creative ways to discourage the kids who are discipline problems or the kids who perform poorly on tests. The most successful charter chain in NYC accepts kids by lottery in kindergarten. Then they begin weeding out those they don’t want, and after third grade, no new students are accepted. By senior year, most of the students who started in K or first grade have disappeared

Fifth, charter schools typically hire young and inexperienced teachers who cost less than older experienced teachers. The turnover is high—sometimes as much as half the staff leaves every year and is replaced by newcomers to teaching. 

Sixth, the true secret of charter expansion is the money behind them. They are supported by a long list of billionaires who want to eliminate public schools. They mock our community schools as “government schools,” but they might as well mock our community police officers as “government security agents.” Our community public schools belong to “we, the people.” We pay for them with our taxes. They reflect our community history. They have the trophies that our parents, our cousins, our aunts and uncles won at football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, chess, and debate tournaments. They are audited and overseen by our neighbors. We elect the school board, and if we don’t agree with their decisions, we elect another one. 

Don’t give your public dollars to entrepreneurs and corporations to educate your children. 

Don’t replace your public schools with a free market where schools compete for customers. Markets produce winners and losers, not equality of educational opportunity. Use your tax dollars to make your public schools the best they can be for all the children.

Whatever your political views are, these schools belong to you, not to Wall Street or libertarian billionaires or opportunists. Tell your legislators to support your public schools. 

School choice means that the schools choose.

Public schools must take everyone. 

School choice is a hoax.

Don’t fund failure.

At a time when there are so many divisions in our society, we need our public schools to teach appreciation for our common heritage as Americans and as Texans.

I especially appeal to those with conservative values: Conservative conserve. Conservatives don’t blow up traditional institutions. People who want to blow up community institutions are anarchists, not conservatives.

Preserve and improve your community public schools for future generations. 

Carol Corbett Burris was a teacher and principal on Long Island, in New York state for many years. After retiring, she became executive director of the Network for Public Education.

She writes:

Last spring, HBO released Bad Education, which tells the story of how a Roslyn, New York Superintendent named Frank Tassone conspired to steal $11.2 million with the help of his business officer, Pamela Gluckin.  Promo materials called the film “the largest public school embezzlement in U.S. history.”

I did not watch it. I am waiting. I am waiting for HBO to release a movie on how a crafty fellow from Australia, Sean McManus, defrauded California taxpayers out of $50 millionvia an elaborate scheme to create phony attendance records to increase revenue to an online charter chain known as A3. 

Or the documentary about the tens of millions that the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) owes taxpayers for cooking the books on attendance. Or perhaps there will be a mini-series about the fraud and racketeering that charter operator Marcus May engaged in that brought his net worth from $200,000 to $8.5 million in five years and landed him a 20-year sentence in jail. 

The truth is, Frank Tassone and his accomplice are small potatoes compared to the preponderance of charter school scandals that happen every day. What is different is how lawmakers respond. 

When the Tassone case hit the news, I was a principal in a neighboring district. The New York State Legislature came down hard with unfunded mandates on public schools.

We all had to hire external auditors and internal auditors that went over every receipt, no matter how small. Simple things like collecting money for field trips or a club’s T-shirt sale suddenly became a big deal. Although there was no evidence that any other district was engaging in anything like what happened in Roslyn, every district transaction came under scrutiny.

Whether those regulations and their expenses were justified or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is that despite the years and years of scandal in the charter sector, state legislatures never change laws or impose new rules. For-profits run schools doing business with their related companies behind a wall of secrecy, and lawmakers do not worry a bit. 

I am puzzled. Why can’t charter schools be as transparent as public schools?  Why is the ability to easily engage in fraud necessary to promote innovation? 

No one has been able to answer my question yet. 

Maurice Cunningham specializes in digging up the facts about Dark Money (political contributions where the donors’ names are hidden). His expose of Dark Money from the Waltons and other billionaires turned the public against a 2016 state referendum in Massachusetts to expand the number of charter schools, and it was defeated. I wrote about this campaign in Slaying Goliath.

In this post, published here for the first time, he exposes a “parent group” demanding more charter schools in Rhode Island.

Cunningham writes:

Parents who care about public education need to be wary of dark money fronts masquerading as concerned reformers. These are lavishly funded efforts with the goal of privatizing public schools. Rhode Islanders should take a long hard look at Stop the Wait RI.

This operation registered with the Rhode Island Secretary of State as a social welfare organization organized under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue on February 25, 2021. That status allows Stop the Wait to engage in a wide range of political activities including spending on political campaigns. The big advantage for a 501(c)(4) is that it can take in unlimited sums from individuals or corporations, spend generously on politics, and never have to disclose the names of the true donors—the real powers hiding behind the curtain. It’s dark money—political spending with the true interests hidden from the public. Stop the Wait’s web page is pretty explicit—its mission is to “preserve and expand school choice—including access to high-quality public charter schools.” Translation: privatization of public schools.

Privatizing fronts often present as an underdog group of grassroots parents. In politics though, power flows to money and so it’s key to know who is funding such groups. That’s tough with a brand new 501(c)(4) like Stop the Wait, but there are clues.

The first name on the Board of Directors is Janie SeguiRodriguez. Ms. Rodriguez works for the charter school chain Achievement First which is underwritten by among others, the WalMart heir Walton family. She is also on the board of a related corporation organized under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, Parents Leading for Educational Equity. A 501(c)(3) can do reports, organize, advocate, communicate with the public, but can’t get into political campaigns. Contributions are tax deductible, so taxpayers subsidize this advocacy. Even though PLEE was only organized as a non-profit corporation as of July 13, 2020, only three months later, on October 19, 2020 the Rhode Island Foundation announced that PLEE was one of several organizations it had funded and offered it as an example for its new $8.5 million Equity Leadership Foundation. (It’s a little curious that a foundation funds an organization and evaluate it as a model of success in three months). The Nellie Mae Foundation was more patient—it waited all the way until December 21, 2020 before dropping two grants, one for $40,000 and the other for $120,000 into PLEE’s bank account. Actual check writers often give through donor advised funds, a tax advantaged option that keeps their interest in groups like PLEEever unknown.

Web searches indicate that PLEE has actually been around since 2018. But it couldn’t have taken in sums from foundations until it registered with the IRS. 

Ms. Rodriguez is a political veteran as well. She ran for city council in Pawtucket city wide in 2018 and in ward 5 in 2020, losing both (by two votes in ward 5). Another member of PLEErecently assailed teachers unions in a hearing over reopening Pawtucket schools. Look for more of this from PLEE and Stop the Wait. Across the country similar organizations are funded by anti-worker oligarchs like the Waltons and Charles Koch. Examples of right wing billionaire operations masquerading as parents groups include Massachusetts Parents United and National Parents Union

Using upbeat sounding front organizations funded by unidentified billionaires is what Jane Mayer in her book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right calls “weaponizing philanthropy.” But communities can beat the billionaires. Ask questions, demand answers, accept nothing less than an accounting of the true interests behind dark money fronts like PLEE and Stop the Wait, publicize your findings, contact elected officials. This is your democracy and your public school system.

[Full disclosure: as an educator in the UMass system, I am a union member. I write about dark money.] 

Jennifer Berkshire and I interviewed Charles Siler about his inside knowledge of the privatization movement.

Jennifer is co-author of the important new book (with Jack Schneider) called A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door.

As you will learn in the interview, Charles was brought up in a conservative environment. He studied at George Mason University in the Koch-funded economics department (you can read about it in Nancy MacLean’s excellent book Democracy in Chains, which I reviewed in The New York Review of Books). He worked for the Goldwater Institute and lobbied for ALEC and other billionaire-funded privatization groups.

At some point, he realized he was on the wrong side, promoting ideas that would do harm, not good. He wanted to do good.

He said unequivocally that the goal of the privatizers is to destroy public education. They promote charter schools and vouchers to destroy public education.

He explains that school privatization is only one part of a much broader assault on the public sector. The end game is to privatize everything: police, firefighters, roads, parks, whatever is now public, and turn it into a for-profit enterprise. He predicted that as vouchers become universal, the funding of them will not increase. It might even diminish. Parents will have to dig into their pockets to pay for what used to be a public service, free of charge.

Charles is currently helping Save Our Schools Arizona.

Will Huntsberry of Voice of San Diego writes here about one of the biggest scams in the history of charter schools (the biggest was probably the ECOT–Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow–scandal in Ohio, which cost the state about $500 million).

The two ringleaders of an online charter school scam that raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges on Friday. 

Sean McManus and Jason Schrock, as well as nine other defendants, including a superintendent, were charged back in 2019 as part of a complicated scheme that involved enrolling fake students into their online charter schools and collecting public money for each student...

“The general activity is you and your friend got these millions of dollars from the state and you funneled them into your pocket, correct?” asked San Diego Superior Court Judge Frederick Link, while taking the pleas. 

Both answered yes. 

Online charter schools are allowed to collect just as much money per student as brick-and-mortar schools. But the case has pushed legislators in Sacramento to re-examine the rules surrounding online charters. Lawmakers passed a two-year moratorium on the creation of new online charters and are considering changes to the state’s enrollment and funding practices. 

Over a several-year period leading up to 2019, McManus and Schrock’s schools brought in roughly $400 million in revenue, prosecutors from the San Diego District Attorney’s Office have said. 

As part of McManus and Schrock’s plea deal, they have agreed to turn over all remaining cash and assets owned by A3 and its subsidiary companies. So far, that includes at least $215 million that will eventually make its way back into state coffers. 

A3 may have misappropriated more than $215 million but that was all the cash and assets they had.

The next time someone insists that “charter schools are public schools,” ask them when was the last time that they heard of a public school stealing $215 million from the state.

A CREDO report in 2015 found that going to an online virtual charter was equivalent to a full year’s of lost time in mathematics, and almost half a year in reading. Yet numerous states are now considering legislating that would fund the child in any kind of school–charter, religious, for-profit, virtual, home schooling, Uncle Jed’s barn, whatever they want. We are rapidly advancing backwards to the 19th century.

Eve Ewing is a writer and scholar whose work I very much admire. When her book Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side was published in 2018, I called it the best book of the year. Today, however, she published an article in the New York Times about charter schools that completely misses the point about the damage that charter schools do to public schools.

Basically, she says we should be happy whenever any school–whether public or charter–provides a good education. That is what I believed when I was an advocate for charter schools from the late 1980s until about 2007. It was then that I realized that charter schools were not producing better outcomes than public schools and were diverting money and the students they wanted from public schools. The more I learned about charter operators, their billionaire benefactors, their drive for money and power, and the corruption associated with their lack of accountability, the more I realized that this nation needs a strongly resourced, equitable, and excellent public school system. After thirty years of directing funding to charter schools, we have seen no systemic change of the kind that both Eve and I want.

The overwhelming majority of children in the United States attend public schools (only 6% attend charter schools). Public schools in many states are underfunded and have been since at least 2008–and some for even longer. When states authorize charter schools, they do not increase education funding. The funding pie does not grow. It is divided.

Some districts are in danger of being obliterated by charter operators: think New Orleans, which no longer has any public schools. New Orleans is supposedly the North Star of the charter lobby, but New Orleans today is as segregated and stratified as it was before Hurricane Katrina, and its academic performance is below the state average in one of the nation’s lowest performing states on NAEP.

Eve’s is the first article I have ever seen that celebrated the CREDO finding that only 19% of charter schools get higher test scores than public schools. She says, “Good for the 19%!” But what about the 81% of charter schools receiving public funds that are worse or no better than public schools? Those children and their parents were lured by false promises.

Her article does not acknowledge that many of the most “successful” charter schools are notorious for their disproportionately low numbers of students who are English language learners or have special needs. Nor does it note the high attrition rates or entry standards that winnow out the hardest-to-educate students, like the BASIS schools in Arizona and Texas, which regularly top lists of “best high schools” in the nation. BASIS requires its students to pass multiple AP exams in order to graduate and has high numbers of white and Asian-American students in a state with large numbers of Hispanic and Native American students. When Carol Burris reviewed the BASIS charters in Arizona in 2017, she found that the students at its 18 schools were 83% white and Asian in a state where those groups were 42% of the students in the state.

Eve completely ignores the recent explosion of voucher legislation in Red states. In the 2020 election, Republicans strengthened their control of state legislatures, which have now prioritized creating or expanding vouchers to pay for private and religious schools, for-profit schools, homeschooling, and whatever else parents want to spend public money on. Charters encourage consumerism, making schools a consumer choice rather than a civic good that we are all responsible to fund equitably. Charters pave the way for school choice, including vouchers.

Vouchers in Florida are subsidizing religious schools to the tune of $1 billion a year; voucher schools are completely unaccountable and they are allowed to discriminate against gay students and families and any other group they don’t like. Their textbooks teach creationism, racism, and religious dogma.

The photograph that accompanies her article–for which she is not responsible–features a KIPP school and says that KIPP runs more than 250 schools. Do we really want our public schools to be run by private corporations? Should parents who are unhappy with their school be satisfied to be told “leave and choose a different school”?

As I said at the outset, Eve today is expressing the same views I held 20-30 years ago, so I understand where she is coming from. She wants every school to be a great school. So do I.

She writes that parents:

want their kid to learn a language, study the arts, have a clean building, and books in the library.

What would it look like if we built an education policy agenda dedicated to ensuring those resources for all students? Not just the students who win a lottery, but the students who lose, or who never get to enter because they’re homeless or their families are dealing with substance abuse, and the adults in their lives don’t have the information or resources to participate in a school choice “market?” What if our system was built not to reward innovation for the few, but rights for the many?

What if we insisted that all our schools, for all our children, should be safe and encouraging places? What if our new secretary of education, Miguel Cardona, focused on a plan as audacious as the New Deal, as well-funded as the war on drugs, dedicated to an all-hands-on-deck effort to guarantee every child an effective learning environment? What if we as a society pursued the dream of great schools not through punishment (as in No Child Left Behind), and not through competition (as with Race to the Top) but through the provision of essential resources?

Are we likely to reach those goals if states are funding charter schools, voucher schools, home schooling, for-profit corporations, virtual charter schools, and education entrepreneurs? That in fact is where the current drive for more choice is heading. Multiple state legislatures are solely focused on school choice, not funding. Red states in particular start with charters, then move on to some form of public subsidy for religious and private schools. The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to approve the public funding of religious schools and to obliterate the “wall of separation between church and state.” Will the states increase their funding to account for the funding of all students now attending non-public schools?

Eve Ewing has a powerful voice. I wish she would rethink her message and acknowledge that the only way to achieve her vision is by funding and improving the only schools that admit all children and that are subject to civil rights laws and public accountability: Our democratically governed public schools.

This article was written by Swedish teacher Filippa Mannerheim and translated by retired Swedish educator Sara Hjelm. It appeared in the Swedish publication EXPRESSEN.

Mannerheim expresses her outrage at the corruption and inequity that have flowed from the Swedish policy of privatization. Her articles are a warning to those of us in the United States, as many states are now considering legislation to copy the Swedish free-market model, allowing anyone–including for-profit enterprises–to supply educational services to student.

Politicians let schools sink into a swamp of corruption 

Published 8 Feb 2021 

High school teacher Filippa Mannerheim. 

The Swedish Parliament. 

Photo: OLLE SPORRONG

Teacher Filippa Mannerheim sparked a great debate with her indictment against Swedish parliamentary politicians about the market school. 

All parties – except M and KD have responded – and Mannerheim is now writing her closing remarks. 

This is a cultural article, where writers can express personal opinions and make assessments of works of art. 

DEBT DEBATE. 

There was once a farmer who was terribly hard of hearing, something he was ashamed of. One day, while standing carving on an ax handle, he saw the surveyor coming walking on the road. “First he probably asks what I do and then I answer ‘Ax handle'”, the old man thought. Then he asks if he can borrow my mare and then I say: “The riders have ridden her back off”. And when he asks about my old echo, I answer “She is completely ruined and holds neither weather nor water.”  

– Good day! said the surveyor.  

“Ax shaft,” replied the old man.  

This story my father read to me when I was a child and I remember that we laughed a lot at the old man’s determined but damned answers. That the saga is now revived within me again, after 40 years, is no coincidence.  

After reading the six (non) answers from our parliamentary parties after my article “I accuse…!”, I am saddened by school policy. What is positive is that our Riksdag politicians have answers to all my questions. What is negative is that their answers rarely have to do with the questions.  

The Center Party proudly claims (after three months of reflection, while their formulations have gone back and forth between communicators and party leadership), that they at least want to increase freedom of choice and transparency in Swedish schools, but then make proposals that lead to the exact opposite – slippery as eels in their struggle to defend the corporations’ dividends. The Liberals write an answer so full of empty phrases that I have already forgotten what the message was. I think there was something about teachers being very important. 

The Social Democrats and the Green Party agree with me in substance but unfortunately can do nothing, “very boring, really.” The Western Party is outraged, the Sweden Democrats, as usual, blame the immigrants and the 

Moderates and Christian Democrats don’t bother to even put together an answer. Probably they have none.  

– Swedish schools are in deep crisis! Politicians, you must act! 

– Good day, ax handle, little friend. 

What exactly is politics for our politicians? I ask myself. Is it a polished, trembling index finger in the air, or is it a sincere description of the problem and a long-term and well-thought-out vision of what Sweden can become, based on knowledge, a sense of responsibility and an honest will to improve our society?  

Who knows? Not me anyway.  

In another fairy tale I recently read with my 

students, HC Andersen lets the little child 

shout the obvious: “The emperor is naked!” 

Many of us are shouting now, but without our 

rulers hearing us.  

Photo: CSABA BENE PERLENBERG / 

But this is not a fairytale. This is 2021 in a  small but extreme country in the north, where the majority of our parliamentary parties have made it clear to us voters that the Swedish school market, with its destructive consequences, will remain. The limited companies’ expansion at the expense of the municipal school, the unfair school choice system, the extreme and skewed construction of school fees that are running Swedish schools at the bottom, grade inflation, a rejected principle of openness and an increasingly segregated school system – all this we must continue to live with.  

This was not what we thought of the free school reform!  

Nevertheless, the majority of our political parties are determined to continue on the path that has led Swedish, tax-financed schools deeper and deeper into the dunes of corruption. The partners’ profits are too important to be legislated away. At the same time, meaningless messages are drummed out to voters as pale, Orwellian mantras: “All schools must be good!” “Free schools are good!”  

– Good day, ax handle.  

The fact remains: We are the only country in the world with this school model. No party, neither right-wing nor left-wing parties in the rest of the world, pushes the idea of ​​free establishment for commercial companies, an almost unlimited profit, lack of democratic transparency about how tax money is used and free for profit companies to choose and reject which children to teach. The Swedish school system is rigged.  

Several bourgeois opinion leaders and leading writers have happily begun to raise their voices against the market school. Even the Liberals have very recently expressed concern about venture capitalists as school owners. It gives a certain hope. But the fact that an overwhelming majority of our parliamentary parties cannot unanimously express that they are prepared to take responsibility and do something about the problems is nothing but outrageous. They simply do not want to stop being the only country in the world that prioritizes foreign venture capitalists over the country’s children.  

But Swedish schools are not the private property of politicians or limited companies to milk money and power out of. The schools belongs to us. The Swedish people. We pay for the party.  

In the 2022 election, we voters have the opportunity to use our votes wisely with the socially important school issue in focus. If we vote for a party that does not want to change the school system but only pretends to poke at it for the sake of visibility, the system will remain. And it will leave huge traces in our Swedish society.  

Parliamentary politician: I have nothing more to add in the matter. 

My accusation remains.  

By Filippa Mannerheim 

Filippa Mannerheim is a high school teacher of Swedish and history, as well as a writer and school debater.