Archives for category: Deregulation

Kevin Ward, a leader at the KIPP network of charter schools in D.C. killed himself after it was revealed that he stole $2.2 million from the schools’ account, allegedly to buy technology. He was also mayor of Hyattsville, Maryland. ,

A Maryland mayor who died by suicide this year had been accused of embezzling millions of dollars from one of the largest charter networks in the District, according to a complaint filed by federal prosecutors.

During his tenure as senior director of technology for KIPP DC, Kevin Ward used $2.2 million of school funds to purchase cars, a camper, sports memorabilia and property in West Virginia, prosecutors alleged in a civil forfeiture complaint filed Monday. Ward worked for the charter network from 2017 until at least July 2021, according to court records, two months after he was elected mayor of Hyattsville.

The payments, approved and arranged by Ward, were supposed to go toward laptops, tablets and other technology for children, prosecutors say. However, none of the products or services for which the school system paid were ever delivered, according to court records.

Officials at KIPP DC, which enrolls about 7,000 students across eight campuses in the District, said they found irregularities with certain technology purchases during a routine internal review in December. Leaders suspected fraud and contacted the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia, which launched an investigation, the school said in a statement.

The school system also conducted its own review, led by outside counsel and a team of forensics accountants, which found “this was an isolated incident conducted by a single individual who took advantage of extraordinary circumstances during the pandemic and the individual’s role as head of technology.”

The lack of transparency and oversight in charter schools enables crimes.

Peter Greene writes here about Michael Petrilli’s reflections on the evolution of the “reform” movement. Now that the “reform” movement has merged with Christian nationalists, book banners, Proud Boys, neo-fascists, and other vicious haters of democracy, public schools, and academic freedom, there is much to reflect on. Unfortunately, that’s not the reflection we learn about here. Let me add that when I was a board member a dozen years ago at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, I formed a friendship with Mike Petrilli. I always hoped he would flip and join the public school side (his own kids are in fine public schools in Maryland). But a guy’s gotta make a living and the reformer world pays well. I’ve never given up hope for Mike.

Greene begins:

Mike Petrilli at the reformster-minded Thomas Fordham Institute has been taking a look at the current state of ed reform (apparently many of us are in that mood right now?) and it’s worth taking a look at what the guy in every education reporter’s rolodex thinks the state of ed reform is right now. And I promise what I think is an interesting observation at the end.

In “The Evolving Education Reform Agenda,” Petrilli starts with his previous argument that while the “Washington Consensus” is dead, ed reform itself is not. This hints at one of the challenges of the ed reform brand these days, which is that nobody really knows what the term actually means any more. He tries to address that in this piece.

Petrilli argues that the agenda has shifted (a more positive phrase than “we keep moving the goal posts”) from a focus on data and getting students to score proficient on state tests (circa NCLB) and then moved to trying to hold individual teachers responsible, a movement that Petrilli assess pretty frankly:


By the early 2010s, much of the conversation was about holding individual teachers accountable via test-informed teacher evaluations. Ham-handed implementation and poisonous politics led us to leave that misguided reform behind.

If only they had taken the policy with it, but its hammy hands are still felt by many teachers in many states. But one of ed reforms annoying features is that it never picks up after itself; it never puts as much energy into undoing its mistakes as it does into making them in the first place. Just imagine a world in which these thinky tank guys picked up the phone to call their contacts and say, “Look, that thing we convinced you to try? You’ve got to make people stop doing that.” Imagine if Bill Gates put the same kind of money into cleaning up his policy messes as he puts into pushing them.

Sigh. Anyway, Petrilli lists some other new-ish policy foci, like high quality instructional materials. He aptly notes that a new support for better school funding coincides with A) recognition by reformsters that funding does improve student outcomes and B) a desire to get charter and voucher schools more money (the old “choice gets it done more cheaply” talk is toast).

Parental choice? There’s still debate about using tax dollars to fund private and religious schools, particularly those that discriminate, says Petrilli, though I’ve missed the folks in the reformster camp arguing the anti-discrimination side. Unbundling is still a thing.

Testing and transparency? Reformsters still believe in the value of the Big Standardized Test, a point on which they remain resolutely and absolutely wrong, though they are now, he says, also interested in alternative assessments–but that’s still hung up on the obsession with test scores. Writes Petrilli, “How would assessments be different? If schools do well on “alternative measures” but not on test-score growth, then what? Should we ever consider such schools “good”?” I can help, Mike–the answer is “Yes.”

Greene goes on to explain that Petrilli thinks the new focus of reform must be to shift from policy to practice. This is an implicit admission that policy interventions have failed. Neither charters nor vouchers nor evaluation of teachers has been a successful. So now it’s time for reformers to change how teachers teach. But how can they do that when so few reformers have ever been teachers?

This is further complicated by the fact that the individual-to-individual practice end of the scale only happens if the individual has some credibility, and reformsters have always been hampered by their amateur status in education practice (I can think of exactly one who can legitimately claim classroom experience–and no, Temp For America doesn’t count), and that has been further hampered by their insistence that their amateur status actually made them wiser than the teachers who has actually spent their professional career in the classroom.

Greene thinks that reformers should listen to teachers, hire some.

But that won’t get to the root of the reformers’s dilemma. They are now in bed with rightwing fanatics who fought masks and vaccines, people who are racist and homophobic, people who ban books.

Their brand is spoiled.

The good news in this article is that the “Washington consensus” is dead. Democrats—with a few notable exceptions like Cory Booker and Michael Bennett of Colorado—do not support the attacks on public schools and teachers, no longer support charter schools, and adamantly oppose vouchers.

Just when you thought you had heard every twist and turn in Charter World, along comes another bizarre story. The Utah State Charter Board ordered the replacement of every member of a polygamy charter school.

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (KUTV) — In a dramatic move, the Utah State Charter School Board ordered Vanguard Academy to replace all seven members of its school board. In addition, the USBE will appoint a temporary director to work with the current director.

Vanguard is affiliated with the Kingston polygamist group, known as “The Order.” In a 2020 investigation, Crisis in the Classroom revealed the school regularly hires Kingston-connected businesses and pays them with taxpayer dollars. We found the board is made up almost entirely of Kingston family members. We also found that a Kingston-related business owner won the school’s lucrative contract to feed the students.

Carol Burris has followed closely the development and passage of regulations written by the U.S. Department of Education for federally-funded charter schools. The regulations, she believes, are reasonable and intended to assure that charters funded by the federal government are held to standards of transparency, honesty, and accountability.

She was taken aback to learn that rightwing groups have filed suit to block the regulations. Apparently, those filing the suit think that charters should get federal money without any oversight.

She writes about it here.

Those who want a wild west of unregulated charter schools never give up. A right-wing legal defense firm called the Pacific Legal Foundation has teamed up with the Michigan charter lobby and The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation to stop the reasonable rules of the U.S. Department of Education, claiming the Department has no right to make rules regarding the program.

Here are other lawsuits in which Pacific Legal is engaging:

· Fighting minimum wages for those who wish to move up the ladder at Texas Wally Burgers and Dairy Queens.

· Fighting opportunities for businesses of color to get some competitive advantage in obtaining government contracts after years of discrimination.

· Fighting attempts by three competitive Boston schools to expand enrollment opportunities for under-represented students of color by allotting spots by zip code.

The two plaintiffs, the Michigan Association of Public School Academies and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, have vested financial interests in charter growth. Fordham is an authorizer of charter schools in Ohio, taking 3% of all the taxpayer dollars that the charters receive for providing “oversight.”

The argument, in its essence, is that the Department does not have the right to set up new conditions beyond what is memorialized in ESSA. If that is so, then when De Vos permitted state entities to distribute money to charter schools from their CSP grants for purposes beyond the opening and expansion of charters during the pandemic, she would have been in violation, too. Here is New York’s redistribution request that was granted. CSP funds were used for a “pandemic response,” as Betsy De Vos approved, without Congress’s permission. If the charter lobby wins this frivolous lawsuit designed to bully the Department into kowtowing to charters, perhaps taxpayers should sue to claw all of the money De Vos distributed back from charter schools.

Finally, I wonder why organizations that claim they fight for charter schools to help low-income kids succeed would run to a law firm that fights minimum wages, reduces disadvantaged kids’ chances of getting into a competitive high school, and roll back opportunities for minority-owned businesses. Perhaps their agenda has nothing to do with children at all.

Valerie Strauss posted an article by Darcie Cimarusti about the spread of charter schools affiliated with Hillsdale College. Cimarusti is the communications director of the Network for Public Education. The Hillsdale charters, called Barney Schools, promise schools where students get a patriotic education untouched by “critical race theory” and safe from the dangers of sex education, with more than a touch of fundamentalist Christian theology.

She writes:

Hillsdale College is a small, nondenominational Christian school in Michigan with a satellite campus on Capitol Hill. Hillsdale President Larry Arnn headed former president Trump’s 1776 Commission, and last year Hillsdale College released a “1776 Curriculum” as a counter to the New York Times’ 1619 Project and its corresponding K-12 curriculum.

Hillsdale spreads the gospel of the right-wing through their K-12 curriculum and the Barney Charter School Initiative, which currently claims member schools in nine states across the country and “curriculum schools” in 19 states. The college’s mission to maintain “by precept and example the immemorial teachings and practices of the Christian faith” morphs into a call for “moral virtue” in their K-12 charter schools.


The school’s expanding K-12 footprint aligns with former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s admission that “greater Kingdom gain” is the ultimate outcome of the religious right’s school choice agenda. Hillsdale has made gains in this aim via charter schools, which are publicly funded but operated by entities outside traditional school districts.


Hillsdale does not “own, govern, manage, or profit from” the charter schools they work with, and they do not charge for their curriculum. But Florida-based Academica, the largest for-profit education management organization (EMO) in the nation, stands to make money on Hillsdale’s crusade.


Hillsdale’s classical charter school initiative was designed to turn the tide on what the college sees as “a hundred years of progressivism” in public education. Charter schools that contract with Hillsdale agree to center Western tradition in their K-12 curriculum, and to focus on the “four core disciplines of math, science, literature, and history.” Students must learn Latin and receive explicit instruction in phonics and grammar. The core disciplines are taught through the reading of primary source material and the “great books” which are also chosen to guide students’ moral development. Hillsdale’s curriculum not only narrows the course of study available to students, it rewrites American history, particularly when it comes to civil rights.

The American Legacy Academy (ALA) was recently approved to open in the Weld RE-4 School District in Colorado. According to ALA’s website, the charter school will offer a back-to-basics, classical education as a Hillsdale College curriculum school. The approval of the charter school is a victory for local culture warriors who have stormed board meetings with grievances over masks and critical race theory.

New, large housing developments are leading to significant population growth and a severe public school capacity problem in the Weld RE-4 district. Nevertheless, in November 2021 voters rejected a bond initiative to build new public schools, leaving district officials to lament that they “have a problem without a clear solution.”

Since the bond’s defeat, district employees and community members have been working together to educate the community and put together another bond proposal. A district survey showed that 70 percent of residents favored a “district-built, traditional or non-charter school” in RainDance, one of the new neighborhoods.

But the supporters of ALA and the for-profit charter chain Academica have different plans. Academica is working closely with ALA’s founding board to open the charter through its related organization, Academica Colorado. According to ALA’s application, Academica Colorado will provide comprehensive services to the charter school.

Working hand-in-hand with Academica, ALA tried to purchase the RainDance property from the district for $2.1 million to build a charter school. Craig Horton, executive director of Academica Colorado, was the first member of the public to speak in favor of the purchase at a recent board meeting, just before board members voted down the proposal. Horton stated: “We’re providing a tax-free solution for two elementary schools. You’re walking away from the ability to relieve overcrowding and save taxpayers up to $80 million by building two charter schools in place of two elementary schools.”

At the meeting, ALA supporters said they would only support the district’s bond effort if the charter is approved, essentially holding the education of the district’s students hostage.

However, there are parents in the district who want to see a neighborhood public school on the property, not a Hillsdale charter school affiliated with Academica. They, too, spoke out. Autumn Leopold and Kimberly Kee, who administer a private Facebook group called RE4 Families Want Schools For All, told a local reporter: “We really just want a compromise that works for everyone and serves the entire community.”

Conservative culture wars

What is playing out in the Weld RE-4 district is part of a greater conflict in the state. A recent poll of Colorado voters showed a growing split in support for charter schools. Only 36 percent of Democrats polled expressed support, compared to 79 percent of Republicans. Perhaps most telling are the reasons. Among the reasons Republicans say in the poll that they favor charter schools is because they don’t teach a left-wing agenda while some Democrats and Independents oppose charter schools because they see them as religious.

The entrance of ALA follows raucous school board meetings over mask mandates, critical race theory, and other hot-button cultural issues that have been playing out in Weld RE-4 for some time. Tensions ultimately boiled over, leading to an unsuccessful campaign led by local resident Luke Alles to oust two board members. Alles is the executive chair of Guardians of RE-4, a local group “founded by three patriot families” that is pushing for the ALA charter school to open.

The first link on the Guardians website resources page is to the Colorado Department of Education’s “Charter School FAQ.” Another leads to a recently released film titled “Whose Children Are They?” The documentary-style film was produced by Deborah Flora, a syndicated conservative Christian talk radio host and failed Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. When the film was released in March, Flora simultaneously announced that she was founding a new nonprofit, Parents United America, which she created to defend “parental rights” against “ideological state guardianship.”

The film is a veritable who’s who of the culture wars. Parents and teachers active in CRT battles are given voice, as are dozens more who claim public schools are grooming children through LGBTQ-infused curriculum and disadvantaging female athletes by allowing trans girls to compete in sports.

Representatives from organizations identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as hate or extremist groups make appearances, as do spokespeople for conservative Koch-funded groups, including the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit American Enterprise Institute.

The overarching narrative is that the ultimate villains are the teachers’ unions and the U.S. Department of Education. Conservative political activist and writer David Horowitz, [whose group is] considered an extremist group by SPLC, claims teacher unions have been infiltrated and are controlled by Communists. Public School Exit founder Alex Newman suggests that the Education Department was formed not only to teach Communist propaganda but to “de-Christianize” and “make the schools less patriotic.” The film claims this campaign began 100 years ago when progressives like John Dewey “intentionally undermined our education system.”

In early 2022, Fox News host Pete Hegseth launched a five-part series, “The MisEducation of America” on Fox Nation. The series shares the same themes, a similar format, and many of the same interview subjects as “Whose Children Are They?” “MisEducation,” which Hegseth claims is the most watched content on Fox Nation, supposedly “uncovers the secrets of the left’s educational agenda.”

In the fifth and final episode, titled “Our COVID- (16) 19 Moment,” the “experts” agree on this: the only path forward is for parents to remove children from the public school system and place them in Classical Christian Schools. If that’s not an option for families, they suggest a classical charter school.


Colorado

ALA will not be the first classical charter in Colorado. According to the 2019 Colorado Department of Education State of Charter Schools Triennial Report, 24 of the state’s 255 charter schools followed a classical curriculum in the 2018-19 school year.

Academica’s Craig Horton, a retired police officer, was a founding board member of a prominent classical charter, Liberty Common Charter School. Liberty’s headmaster Bob Shaffer is prominently featured in “Whose Children Are They?” — as is Kim Gilmartin, director of New School Development for Ascent Classical Academies.

Ascent, which is a Hillsdale College-affiliated CMO in Colorado, has two classical charter schools in the state, with ambitious plans to open several more.

Horton was also heavily involved in the formation of CIVICA Colorado, part of a national CMO CIVICA, which contracts with Academica. While CIVICA does not formally claim to be a classical charter, CIVICA principal Sheena McOuat stated: “I make sure a lot of politics that are in other schools, sex ed or critical race, they don’t come into my building and it aligns with a lot of people.” McOuat’s husband, Corey McOuat, is one of the founding board members of the American Legacy Academy.

The Colorado Department of Education, which recently revealed that it is struggling to spend down a $55 million dollar federal Charter School Program (CSP) award the state received in 2018, still went ahead and awarded CIVICA a $990,000 start-up grant. ALA hasn’t applied for CSP funds yet, but when representatives appeared before the Weld RE-4 board, they spoke confidently about access to a million-dollar grant.

Wyoming

The new Academica classical brand CIVICA is moving into Wyoming as well. Its Republican governor and legislature recently cleared the way for charter schools by passing legislation to take the decision out of the hands of local school districts and give it to a political body. The State Loan and Investment Board now has the ability to approve charters and is currently composed of Gov. Mark Gordon, Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, Auditor Kristi Racines, Treasurer Curt Meier, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder. All of them are Republicans.

Horton, with the assistance of high-ranking state Republicans and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, is now attempting to open two new classical charters in Wyoming. The two schools — Wyoming Classical Academy and Cheyenne Classical Academy — which propose to open in the fall of 2023, will be Hillsdale College Member School Candidates.

Schroeder, the head of a private Christian school recently appointed state superintendent, attended a parent information meeting hosted by the Cheyenne Classical Academy at the Cheyenne Evangelical Free Church. He told the gathering of prospective charter school parents that “the evangelists of secularism saw two institutions, government and education, as the perfect twin vehicles through which they would remake society in their image.”

Conservative Christian Republicans are now positioning themselves, with the help of Academica and the charter lobby, to use taxpayer funds to challenge “the evangelists of secularism” with a national push for classical charter schools.

Meanwhile, the Weld RE-4 school board’s approval of American Legacy Academy’s application paves the way for two Hillsdale classical charter schools in the district. The schools will ultimately serve approximately 1,300 students, feeding them directly into the Hillsdale pipeline of conservative thinkers trying to “save the country.”

At scale, the approval could also add, at minimum, $580,000 a year to Academica’s bottom line. In the charter application, enrollment figures show that the two charters will serve 1,296 kids in total. In the draft contract between ALA and Academica, the base compensation is $450 per student. If 1,296 students are indeed enrolled, Academica would earn $583,200, not including earnings for facilities and other services

Andrew Van Wagner warns that the neoliberal experiment in Arizona is intended to atomize, indoctrinate, and control the population.

As he writes, if you can dumb people down, you can control them. If you can declare some topics unacceptable in the classroom, like racism, you can indoctrinate them.

Van Wagner writes:

“It’s part of the way of controlling and dumbing down the population, and that’s important.”

“Everyone should fight back against the effort to dumb people down and control people—it’s scary to think that the GOP is turning America into a country where people don’t have enough education to be able to resist the GOP’s legislative and cultural agenda.”

“So the new Arizona law is a fantastic and quintessential and perfect example of neoliberalism. The vision is—as I’ve written about previously—atomization for the general population and lots of society and organization and community for elites.”

“Everyone needs to fight back against the GOP’s attack on education. We can’t afford—in a pivotal period like this—to let the GOP impose atomization and indoctrination and control on the American population.”

The Supreme Court issued a major ruling limiting the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to curb emissions from power plants. This will have a major negative effect on curbing climate change.

Rolling Stone says the Court voted to let the planet burn.

The Trump majority strikes again.

West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency stemmed from the Clean Air Act, an Obama-era law that mandated certain emissions regulations. West Virginia was one of several fossil-fuel-rich states to sue the EPA over the regulations, leading the Supreme Court to rule that the Clean Power Plan (the part of the Clean Air Act that called for emissions regulations) must be suspended until the courts could upheld its legality. The Trump administration issued its own industry-friendly plan that may have even increased emissions, but it never went into effect, either. The courts struck the Affordable Clean Energy plan down just as the former president was leaving office….

It’s now up to the Biden administration to propose a replacement. It will be severely limited in its ability to do so thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Thursday.

Elena Kagan authored the dissenting opinion. “Whatever else this Court may know about, it does not have a clue about how to address climate change,” the liberal justice wrote. “The Court appoints itself — instead of Congress or the expert agency — the decision maker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening.”

On the same subject: a roundup of articles about this horrible decision by David Pell of Next Draft

June 30th – The Day’s Most Fascinating News — https://wp.me/pbRvtl-7dF:

This Supreme Court wants a more religious America and after the past week of decisions, a lot more of us are praying. The latest 6-3 decision that may send even ardent atheists into the arms of the lord is one that limits “how the nation’s main anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.” Most of the headlines I’m seeing frame this in typically narrow political terms like WaPo’s, Justices limit EPA power to combat climate change, a blow to Biden’s agenda. Hah. If only the damage were limited to one president’s agenda. Rolling Stone with the more accurate headline: Supreme Court Rules 6-3 That the Planet Should Burn. Justice Elana Kagan with the dissent. “And let’s say the obvious: The stakes here are high. Yet the Court today prevents congressionally authorized agency action to curb power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions. The Court appoints it- self—instead of Congress or the expert agency—the decision- maker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening. Respectfully, I dissent.”

+ “Credit where due: the Supreme Court’s 6–3 ruling in West Virginia v. E.P.A. is the culmination of a five-decade effort to make sure that the federal government won’t threaten the business status quo. Lewis Powell’s famous memo, written in 1971, before he joined the Supreme Court—between the enactment of a strong Clean Air Act and a strong Clean Water Act, each with huge popular support—called on ‘businessmen’ to stand up to the tide of voices “from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians” calling for progressive change.” Bill McKibben in The New Yorker: The Supreme Court Tries to Overrule the Climate. “In essence, the ruling begins to strip away the power of agencies such as the E.P.A. to enforce policy: instead of allowing federal agencies to enforce, say, the Clean Air Act to clean the air, in this new dispensation, Congress would have to pass regulations that are much more explicit, as each new pollutant came to the fore … But, of course, the Court has also insured that ‘getting a clear statement from Congress’ to address our deepest problems is essentially impossible.”

NYTThe case is a crucial moment in the G.O.P. drive to tilt courts against climate action. (Um… congrats?) 

+ Historian Heather Cox Richardson: “The Supreme Court has gone rogue. We are in a full-blown Constitutional crisis. Congress must act. And we must pressure Congress to act, while it still can.” In the meantime, Earth is down 6-3 in the ninth inning.

+ In another ruling issued today, Clarence Thomas suggested Covid vaccines are derived from the cells of ‘aborted children.’ (They’re not. But oh well…)

Molly Olmsted wrote in Slate about the role of Christian conservatives in promoting the home school movement. Their blunt instrument is fear. Public schools, they warn, will expose your children to all sorts of dangers: secular education, non-believers, bad children, teachers grooming your children to be gay or trans, indoctrination into radical ideas, exposure to books about racism. The list goes on and on.

It used to be considered an advantage of public schools that they introduced children to others unlike themselves. It prepares children to live in the world when they have friends who are of a different race, religion, ethnicity, or economic status. But this frightens the home schoolers.

The recent spate of school shootings gives them yet another reason to school their children at home.

She writes:

The morning after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, the Federalist published an op-ed with the headline “Tragedies Like the Texas Shooting Make a Somber Case for Homeschooling.”

In the essay, the author immediately dismissed calls for gun control as petty and insincere, offering home-schooling as the true solution to keep children safe. “It is clear now from the long list of school shootings in recent years that families can’t trust government schools, in particular, to bring their children or teachers home safely at the end of the day,” the author wrote.

On first blush, the idea is somewhat understandable or, at least, relatable; it’s natural for parents to look for ways to protect their children. But then the author added, “The same institutions that punish students for ‘misgendering’ people and hide curriculum from parents are simply not equipped to safeguard your children from harm.”

And the “parental rights” political agenda emerged.

Many politically powerful conservatives promote home-schooling as a way to undercut or weaken the influence of public schools, and to shield their children from the liberalism they believe public schools foster. The Federalist was just one of anumber of conservative voices calling for home-schooling in the wake of the Uvalde tragedy. (And there were plenty of news stories about parents who were considering it.)

But the groundwork of the movement was laid by conservative Christians who have been working for years to siphon power from public schools, pushing both home-schooling and parental rights legislation at the state and federal level. It’s just that finally, their ideas are becoming mainstream.

As she shows, the home school movement has been building for decades, and its leaders will use any excuse to attack public schools.

There are many problems with home schooling, starting with the fact that most children will learn no more that their parents. Few parents are equipped to teach history, science, math, literature, and foreign languages. Schools have teachers who are expert in these subjects. Home schooling is a recipe for mass dumbing down. It is also a sure fire way to indoctrinate children into the religious beliefs of their families.

Several years ago, when I first wrote about a particularly noxious home school story, I was bombarded by dozens of comments from outraged home school parents. How dare I, they asked in indignation. They sincerely believe that they are right and everyone else is wrong. They are entitled to their opinion. It’s a free country.

So be it. I am not a state legislature or a federal judge. I think they are miseducating their children. That’s my opinion.

The expansion of Torchlight Academy Schools in Raleigh, North Carolina, is in trouble. Despite their mishandling and misreporting of students in special education, their financial irregularities and missing records, they are still in business. The state charter board has closed two of their charters, but others are still operating, and Torchlight hopes to add more charters. One–the Three Rivers Academy–was closed in January after numerous deficiencies were identified. According to NC Policy Watch:

Don McQueen, operator of Three Rivers Academy, allegedly padded enrollment numbers, paid families so students would attend class, and took other extreme measures to ensure state per-pupil funds kept flowing to the troubled charter school in Bertie County.

The fate of another charter school run by the same management company will be decided at a meeting tonight of the state charter school board.

Station WRAL reports:

A state advisory board will discuss Monday the fate of a 600-student Raleigh charter school that is under fire for for its handling of special education programming.

Monday’s meeting will be the latest in a string of tense meetings with state charter school officials for Donnie McQueen, executive director of Torchlight Academy Schools. In less than a year, the state has revoked charters for two of his schools because of violations.

The meeting will take place just days after records show the state was still waiting for Torchlight Academy to produce financial and contractual records — including records that would be legally public for traditional public schools but that are not legally public for public charter schools…

The school is on the highest level of state noncompliance status, following state findings that the school had been “grossly negligent” in its oversight of the exceptional children program, also known as special education. The state is now overseeing, but not controlling, school finances.

The State Board of Education asked the Charter School Advisory Board to review:

  • Potential misuse of federal and state funds, including grant funds.
  • Governance concerns, including a lack of oversight.
  • Potential conflicts of interest by its principal and executive director — Cynthia and Donnie McQueen. Specifically, whether their actions on behalf of or in lieu of board of directors or management organization have benefited them personally…

The school has posted average performance grades and academic growth in recent years.

Last year, the state found the school didn’t properly implement the program as required by the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, altered and falsified student records, falsely reported training compliance, did not provide adequate access to student and finance records, and had unqualified staff.

The school protested being moved to the highest level of noncompliance, citing new training for staff and other changes the school was making to improve.

Officials complained of the voluminous records requested by the state and argued it was being treated differently than others schools…

Charter schools are public schools, but they are not subject to the same public disclosure laws as traditional public school districts. For example, charter schools don’t have to make employees’ salaries public. They also don’t need to disclose contracts, such as a lease contract.

The records the state sought related to financial documents included any records between the school or Torchlight Academy Schools and three organizations owned by other school officials.

Torchlight Academies currently manages two charters and hopes to manage another five.

Donald Cohen is the executive director of “In the Public Interest” and co-author of an important new book The Privatization of Everything. He titled this column, which originally appeared in the Washington Post.

He writes:

Reforming public education with market-based reform is “like using a hammer to cook an omelet”

Trying to fix public education with market-based reform is like using a hammer to cook an omelet. It’s just the wrong tool.

That’s one of the main points in The Privatization of Everything, a new book that I co-authored with Allen Mikaelian, which explains why market rules don’t apply to every single aspect of human activity—including education.

The recent announcement by former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg that he’s investing $750 million to expand student enrollment in charter schools was a harsh reminder that the decades-long experiment with market-based education reform isn’t working. Charter schools have been in existence for decades, but they haven’t proved to be the panacea their supporters claimed.

To the contrary, many communities see charter schools (and voucher programs) as harming district schools that educate most American schoolchildren.

That’s why what a growing number of public schools are doing to actually improve educational outcomes—and create strong ties among families, students, educators, and communities along the way—is so promising and refreshing.

Over the past few years, public schools from places as diverse as the suburbs of Tampa and Los Angeles have been implementing what’s called the “community school” approach.

Community schools bring together local nonprofits, businesses and public services to offer a range of support and opportunities to students, families and nearby residents. Their goal is to support the entirety of a student’s well-being to ensure they are healthy, safe and in a better position to learn.

These benefits then extend to the surrounding community—which has been especially crucial during the pandemic.

Like, Florida’s Gibsonton Elementary, which organized an effort to have the local government install new streetlights near campus, immediately increasing attendance—which, among other things, helped improve test scores.

And Texas’s Reagan High School, which doubled enrollment, increased graduation rates, and avoided closure by launching mobile health clinics and parenting classes, changing its approach to discipline, and expanding after-school activities.

And so many more community schools around the country.

Many of these schools are succeeding because the community school approach treats public education as the public good that it is. Like with coronavirus vaccines and other public health measures, no child should be excluded—there should be no winners and losers.

In his recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg concludes, “We need a new, stronger model of public education that is based on evidence, centered on children, and built around achievement, excellence and accountability for all.” I agree.

Read the full version of this article in the Washington Post.

You can buy The Privatization of Everything: How the Plunder of Public Goods Transformed America and How We Can Fight Back at your local independent bookstore or from Bookshop.org.

Stay in touch,

Donald Cohen
Executive Director
In the Public Interest