Archives for category: Deregulation

Denis Smith went to graduate school in West Virginia and served as an elementary and middle school principal, director of curriculum, and director of federal programs in the suburban school system adjacent to the state capital. He subsequently moved to Ohio, where he was in charge of overseeing the state’s burgeoning and scandal-ridden charter sector. He wrote a warning to West Virginia, published in the state’s major newspaper, about its new charter law and what is likely to happen. It won’t be pretty.

He said that charters will not be accountable. They will divert money from the state’s public schools, while doing whatever it takes (campaign contributions?) to avoid academic and financial accountability.

He pointed out that the people of West Virginia will lose local control of their schools, as national charter chains move in.

Consider the irony that the leader of the founding coalition of the proposed West Virginia Academy is a professor of accounting. But then we should also know that, when it comes to all things related to charter school accounting and accountability, nothing adds up. Add to that the fact that these schools are free from many sections of state law, including school boards that are directly elected by the public. For example, in Ohio, where I live, charter schools are exempt from 140 sections of the state code.

Keep in mind that charter boards are hand-picked, selected by the companies that manage the school, where school governance by design is not accountable to the voters…

As a former resident of West Virginia and a school administrator in West Virginia and Ohio, it is my hope that the citizens of the Mountain State might learn from the mistakes of Ohio, which bears the distinction of having a refuse pile containing the wreckage of nearly 300 closed charter schools, some of which received funding but never opened, emitting a rancid, overpowering odor, a byproduct of bad public policy.

And speaking about waste, Ohio has spent more than $4 billion on the charter school experiment so far, an exercise that is hell-bent on using public funds for private purposes while skirting transparency and accountability requirements.

Smith asks the people of the state:

Are West Virginians, exploited for generations by energy companies, in favor of selling off their public schools?

Karen Francisco is the editorial page editor of the The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette in Indiana. She is one of the few journalists who are outspoken supporters of public education. I met her when I visited Fort Wayne in 2010 after the publication of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. She offered the following post to help me get through the period when I am in the hospital and unable to write. She is brave, thoughtful, and relentless in standing up to the powerful elites in Indiana who are dismantling a once much-admired public school system.

Why I fight to save public schools

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor, The Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette

There’s an episode of “The Twilight Zone” in which an airplane passenger looks out the window to see a monster dismantling the aircraft engine. His terror escalates when he realizes he’s the only one who can see it happening.

There have been many occasions over the past two decades where I have felt like William Shatner’s character in that classic episode: Why don’t people realize public education is being dismantled in front of their own eyes?  

That’s my motivation for fighting for public schools.  People must understand what’s at risk.

It was as a parent that I had my first glimpse of the destruction underway. On a back-to-school night in September of 2000, I listened as a middle school math teacher complained that he would not be introducing any new material until the state’s standardized tests were administered.  He had been instructed by the administration to spend the first six weeks of the school year reviewing fifth-grade math lessons to bolster performance on the tests.  I instantly knew why my then-sixth-grader was, for the first time ever, complaining he was bored in school.

As an opinion journalist, I have opportunities other parents don’t have to question elected officials. When our editorial board met the next week with the Indiana superintendent of public instruction, I recounted how my children were spending so much time reviewing past lessons, and I asked Dr. Suellen Reed why so much emphasis was being placed on standardized testing.  

She launched into the accountability talking points I could eventually recite by heart. It was my first clue that not everyone saw the damage I sensed was beginning to occur. A costly scheme to label public schools with failing grades would help convince taxpayers and parents that children from low-income households needed vouchers to escape those schools. 

To her credit, Reed would be among the first of Indiana’s elected officials to acknowledge where high-stakes testing was headed, but her resistance cost her the position she held for four terms.  The governor wanted a superintendent supportive of his privatization agenda, so he tapped Tony Bennett, an affable high school basketball coach with a newly earned superintendent’s license. Together, they pushed through massive charter school expansion and a voucher school program. When he signed the bill, Gov. Mitch Daniels literally gave it a kiss.

I am fortunate to work for a publisher who is a strong supporter of public education, so our editorial pages became a persistent voice challenging Indiana’s unbridled rush to privatization, and I was eager to write editorials and bylined columns about what was happening all around us. The governor’s press secretary called my editor to complain after I served on a panel at a public education advocacy event. On a visit to our newsroom, Bennett told me he thought of me as one of those angry parents screaming at the coach from the stands. 

Unfortunately, our editorial voice was about as effective as one of those basketball parents. The vast majority of our readers and area lawmakers were either supportive of the far-ranging privatization effort or silent.  It would have been easy to give in to the complaints from some readers that our editorial board was wrong to oppose school vouchers, if not for the voices of educators and academics.  

“The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” by the esteemed proprietor of this blog, was a revelation. I had the opportunity to interview Diane about the book and later to meet with her when she delivered a lecture at our regional university campus. Her address energized a growing community of ed reform critics. including Phyllis Bush, a retired Fort Wayne teacher who galvanized a group of educators under the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education. In West Lafayette, Indiana, Superintendent Rocky Killion teamed with Steve Klink, a staunch public education supporter, to produce  “Rise Above the Mark,” a 2014 documentary that was an early warning cry about the growing obsession with testing and its detrimental effects on education. The Indiana Coalition for Public Education joined the fight. Its board now includes three of the four former Indiana state superintendents, with Bennett being the exception.

I wish I could say Indiana has seen some success in fighting off the privatization monster, but that’s far from the truth. More than $1 billion has now flowed to private and parochial schools through the voucher program, with no accountability.  A scandal involving a virtual charter school cost taxpayers at least $85 million, with seemingly no concern from lawmakers or taxpayers. In the current legislative session, the Republican supermajority is throwing everything at school choice: income limits that make vouchers available to wealthy families, ESAs, full funding for online-only schools and more.

There was a time when newspaper editorial boards could move mountains. As my industry has withered, that is no longer the case. But I’m taking heart this year in a growing number of voices questioning the support of private and parochial schools at the expense of Indiana public schools. It seems like there are now many of us aware of the destruction and determined to stop the monster before it sends public education crashing to the ground. 

The charter industry is turning its lobbyists loose in Texas. Despite the large number of charters in the state (more than 800), the lobbyists want more. More. More. $$$. The Legislature is now debating changes in state law to remove obstacles to charter entrepreneurs and corporations that want more locations. Texas doesn’t need more charters: Charters in Texas are regularly outperformed by public schools.

The Houston Chronicle reports:

Companion bills filed in the Texas House and Senate, seeking to do away with hurdles facing charter schools that try to open or expand, have bipartisan support but will move the sharp debate over their rapid growth into the legislative arena.

Supporters of Senate Bill 28, called the Charter School Equity Act, say it would level the playing field for new and existing charter schools across the state by preventing local governments from treating them differently from traditional public schools and by relaxing state controls.Advocates for traditional public school districts say the playing field is tilted in favor of charter schools and the way to level it would require more state oversight and local input, not less.

Among other changes, Senate Bill 28 and its accompanying House Bill 3279 would require open-enrollment charter schools to be considered public school districts for the purposes of “zoning, permitting, (subdivision) plat approvals, fees or other assessments, construction or site development work, code compliance, development” and any other type of local government approval.

This would reduce the “red tape” that charter schools face from local authorities after being approved to operate by state officials, the bills’ sponsors say.

It also would make it impossible for cities to act in ways that were advocated by the superintendents of the two largest school districts in Bexar County in 2018, when they suggested San Antonio could use its zoning authority to geographically restrict charter expansion to prevent financial damage to traditional public schools.

“We think charter schools, and open-enrollment charter schools, are good for the state of Texas. That’s the bottom line here,” said the Senate bill’s sponsor, Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, in a recent online news conference. “We are simply putting charter schools on the equity they should have. No city should treat charter schools differently than how they treat somebody else…”

“Right now communities have almost no say on whether a charter school comes in or not,” said Kevin Brown, executive director of the Texas Association of School Administrators.

Brown, who led Alamo Heights ISD as superintendent for 10 years, said leveling the playing field should include requiring charter schools to seek voter approval for funding their expansion and to elect their boards.“Anytime a charter school is being considered in a local community, that local community should have a large amount of input,” Brown said. “And right now they just don’t have that. So I think there should be much more transparency at the local level.”If anything, the SBOE should have more input, not less, on any expansion that would result in public school districts sharing taxpayer funds to educate students, Brown added.

Woods, the Northside ISD superintendent, said the bills, in their current form, ignore the public process that all public school districts must go through to fund and build a new campus. Planning takes years, and voters decide if they want to fund it, Woods said. School districts then have to work with cities and counties to assess the impact of construction in certain areas and get the project approved.

“We elect school board members, city council members and county judges to make decisions locally because they know the community,” Woods said. “And this (legislation) is just another example, in a long line of examples, where local control seems not to be prioritized in the Texas Legislature.”

Tim Wu is a law professor at Columbia University. He ran for Lt. Governor in New York on a progressive ticket with Zephyr Teachout.

On April 24, 2012, the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s principal gatekeeper for health care mergers, published an innocuous-seeming notice granting a request for “early termination” of its review of a $108 million health care acquisition. Newport Medical Instruments, a small developer of cheap, portable ventilators, was being acquired by Covidien, a much larger American company headquartered in Ireland for tax purposes. Covidien makes, among other things, larger and more expensive ventilators.

The government’s review was not extensive. One of the lawyers involved, a former F.T.C. staff member, notes that he successfully steered the merger through the F.T.C. “without second request” — without extensive review.

We now know that approving that merger without conditions had severe costs. It would cripple what had been a prescient federal program, begun in 2007, to build an emergency stockpile of up to 40,000 portable ventilators with the eventual help of Newport Medical Instruments. But Covidien terminated the project, apparently in large part because it was insufficiently profitable.

That cancellation set back the federal ventilator program by at least seven years. In fact, 13 years later, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, and despite a new contract with another company, not a single ventilator has been delivered.

It is easy to criticize the F.T.C. for missing the dangers to public health in the Newport merger. But it’s a mistake to see the episode as an isolated blown call or a case of insufficient diligence. The real problem is that United States’ approach to corporate consolidation is broken, and nowhere is this more clear than when it comes to health care. As it stands, the F.T.C.’s power to review mergers takes little account of what makes health care different from other industries. And tragically, the Newport merger is only one in a long line of disasters.

The Federal Trade Commission is staffed by skilled lawyers and economists who try their best, within their authority, to stop the worst abuses. (I’m biased: I was at the F.T.C. from 2011 to 2013.) But the agency’s own rules treat the market for ventilators as little different than the market for, say, bowling balls. The scope of review is too narrow for the concerns that arise when it comes to potentially lifesaving products like ventilators, pharmaceuticals and hospitals. In fact, in the Newport case, even if the lawyers had suspected Covidien’s motives, there was probably little under existing law that they could have done.

The problem is systemic. Consider that over the past decade, the F.T.C. has found itself largely unable to stop another abuse: the transfer, by large pharmaceutical companies, of individual drug brands to tiny companies that subsequently raise the prices of the drugs by factors of thousands. (The F.T.C. has the power to review transfers retrospectively and undo them.)

Perhaps the most notorious example was the sale of Daraprim, a drug used to treat a life-threatening parasitic infection, from Impax Laboratories to Turing Pharmaceuticals. Turing raised the price of Daraprim from $13.50 to nearly $750.

And Turing isn’t even the worst offender. For $100,000, a company named Questcor bought from Aventis the rights to a $40 treatment for infantile spasms. Questcor jacked up the price by an astonishing 69,900 percent — from $40 to an $28,000. (A company that bought Questcor in 2014, Mallinckrodt, jacked it up even more, to $39,000.)

In most markets, such exploitative tactics are difficult to sustain, because customers would revolt. But health care markets are different. For many drugs or treatments, there are no realistic substitutes. And the markets are further complicated by insurance and government involvement — and ultimately, by the fact that we care about human health in ways that are hard to quantify.

Perhaps the greatest calamity, in terms of harm done, has been the F.T.C.’s inability over the past two decades to stop hospital consolidation, despite its best efforts and growing evidence of negative effects. In theory a hospital merger might produce welcome efficiencies, but in practice too many hospital mergers tend to yield higher prices and lower quality of care (measured by morbidity), not to mention bed shortages. After a bad hospital merger, patients pay more and die more.

To its credit, the F.T.C. has tried hard in this area, litigating aggressively to stop the most outrageous hospital mergers. Yet despite notable victories in court, the agency’s case-by-case approach has not effectively stopped the waves of hospital consolidation.

Very few observers who are not on the industry’s payroll find it easy to defend what has happened over the past decade when it comes to health care mergers. Action is overdue. The F.T.C. might, as Commissioners Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Slaughter have urged, dig deeper into its own authority and begin writing special rules for the worst abuses. Congress, which is considering the first major antitrust overhaul since 1914, might create special scrutiny for health care transactions, sensitive to their broader effects.

What’s certain is that we can do better. In an alternative universe, the F.T.C. lawyers scrutinizing the Newport deal, equipped with greater authority and resources, might have flagged the acquisition as suspicious, consulted the Department of Health and Human Services and made the deal contingent on full performance of the federal contract for ventilators. And now, instead of squabbling for supplies, we might be facing the coronavirus crisis with a stockpile of new ventilators — grateful for the foresight of the federal government and the vigilance of the F.T.C.

Tim Wu (@superwuster) is a law professor at Columbia, a contributing opinion writer and the author, most recently, of “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age.”

 

Jersey Jazzman knows that the leaders of the Disruption Movement are always on the hunt for proof that their theories work. One model district after another has had its moment in the sun, then sinks into oblivion.

The district of the moment, he writes, is Camden, possibly the poorest in the state. Most people might look at Camden and think that what’s needed most is jobs and good wages. Disrupters have a different answer: Charter Schools.

In an earlier post, he explained how charters “cream” the students they want to get better results and wow naive editorial writers.

In this post, he wrote that Camden was supposed to prove that charters can take every child in the district and succeed. They would not select only the ones they wanted.

Because Camden was going to be the proof point that finally showed the creaming naysayers were wrong with a new hybrid model of schooling: the renaissance school. These schools would be run by the same organizations that managed charter schools in Newark and Philadelphia. The district would turn over dilapidated school properties to charter management organizations (CMOs); they would, in turn, renovate the facilities, using funds the district claimed it didn’t have and would never get.

But most importantly: these schools would be required to take all of the children within the school’s neighborhood (formally defined as its “catchment”). Creaming couldn’t occur, because everyone from the neighborhood would be admitted to the school. Charter schools would finally prove that they did, indeed, have a formula for success that could be replicated for all children.

It turned out not to be true, however. He calls Camden “the very big lie.”

In the third post about Camden, Jersey Jazzman gives his readers a lesson about the limitations of the CREDO methodology.

He starts here:

I and others have written a great deal over the years about the inherent limitations and flaws in CREDO’s methodology. A quick summary:

The CREDO reports rely on data that is too crude to do the job properly. At the heart of CREDOs methodology is their supposed ability to virtually “match” students who do and don’t attend charter schools, and compare their progress. The match is made on two factors: first, student characteristics, including whether students qualify for free lunch, whether they are classified as English language learners (in New Jersey, the designation is “LEP,” or “limited English proficient”), whether they have a special education disability, race/ethnicity, and gender.

The problem is that these classifications are not finely-grained enough to make a useful match. There is, for example, a huge difference between a student who is emotionally disturbed and one who has a speech impairment; yet both would be “matched” as having a special education need. In a city like Camden, where childhood poverty is extremely high, nearly all children qualify for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL), which requires a family income below 185 percent of the poverty line. Yet there is a world of difference between a child just below that line and a child who is homeless. If charter schools enroll more students at the upper end of this range — and there is evidence that in at least some instances they do — the estimates of the effect of charter schools on student learning growth very likely will be overstated….

A “study” like the Camden CREDO report attempts to compare similar students in charters and public district schools by matching students based on crude variables. Again, these variables aren’t up to the job — but just as important, students can’t be matched on unmeasured characteristics like parental involvement. Which means the results of the Camden CREDO report must be taken with great caution.

And again: when outcomes suddenly shift from year-to-year, there’s even more reason to suspect the effects of charter and renaissance schools are not due to factors such as better instruction.

One more thing: any positive effects found in the CREDO study are a fraction of what is needed to close the opportunity gap with students in more affluent communities. There is simply no basis to believe that anything the charter or renaissance schools are doing will make up for the effects of chronic poverty, segregation, and institutional racism from which Camden students suffer.

This is a richly argued and documented critique that deserves your full attention.

Underneath the search for miracles is the wish that equality can be purchased on the cheap. This satisfies the needs of politicians who want desperately believe there are easy answers to tough problems. JJ reminds us that there are not.

If politicians stopped looking for quick fixes, miracles, and secret sauce, it might be possible to have serious discussions about our problems and how to solve them.

 

 

 

Carol Burris is one of the best-informed observers of the charter industry. Tim Slekar interviewed her on his podcast #BustED Pencils.

New #BustEDPencils Episode 85: Charter School Scandal with @Network4pubEd and @carolburris https://bustedpencils.com/episode/episode-85-charter-school-scandal/
 

Feature Interview:

The Network for Public Education’s Executive Director Carol Burris talks about the lack of “accountability” at the Federal Department of Education regarding charter school funding.  After publishing Asleep at the Wheel the charter school industry felt dissed.  So they complained.  So Carol went back to check NPE’s facts and found out the Charter industry might even be more than just Asleep at the Wheel.

This was such an awesome interview so I asked Carol if she might be interested in doing a semi-regular interview to keep  #BustEDPencils listeners informed about the scandalous world of charter schools.!  Guess what she said?

 

Tom Ultican writes here about the biggest charter fraud in history (to this date). 

This fraud was not one of those one-day wonders that people read about and forget the next day.

This one should wake up state legislators and produce genuine reforms of the state’s super-permissive charter law.

Ultican writes about the indictment of 11 people for the theft of $50 million. Other writers, however, peg the loss to the state and its students at $80 million.

Whether it’s $50 million or $80 million, it should catch the attention of those who are devoted to ethical behavior.

Ultican explains that charter advocates designed the law so that it would NOT regulate who got the money or how it was spent. The California charter law is an open invitation to graft and corruption.

And they walked through an open door, reaping millions from the state’s lax law. Deregulation and lack of oversight was supposed to spur innovation. But it mostly spurred theft.

He writes:

The state of California puts more than $80 billion annually into k12 education. Because that money is a natural target for profiteers and scammers, extra vigilance is needed. However, California’s charter school law was developed to provide minimum vigilance.

During its early stages, several billionaires like Carry Walton Penner, Reed Hastings and Arthur Rock made sure the California charter school law was designed to limit governmental rules and oversight. For example, charter schools are not required to meet the earthquake standards prescribed in the 1933 Field Act, which hold public schools to higher building code requirements. Since its enactment no public schools have collapsed in an earthquake. The picture of the Education Collaborative School above is evidence that students in a known earthquake zone are now at increased risk of injury and death.

A few weeks ago Louis Freedberg observedthat a key weakness in California’s chartering law is that there are no standards for authorizers and a lack of expertise. He also wrote about the number of charter authorizers saying, “unlike many states, California has hundreds of them: 294 local school districts, 41 county offices of education, along with the State Board of Education.” Among these 336 authorizers, several are school districts of less than 1,000 students which have neither the capacity nor training to supervise charter schools. Some of these small districts look more like charter school grafters than public school districts.

The California law is deeply defective. It assumes that the market will produce better schools. We now know that isn’t right.

One of our readers and frequent commenters—Joe Nathan— was elected to the Charter School Hall of Fame and will be honored at the National Charter Schools Conference. Joe helped to write the first charter law in the nation in Minnesota. He and Ted Kolderie ensured that charters would be deregulated and would not confirm to Albert Shanker’s template on unionized schools approved only by local school districts. Joe continues to insist that charters are “progressive,” even though their most important funders are the Walton Family Foundation (which funds Joe) and their biggest cheerleaders are the rightwing ALEC and Betsy DeVos.

Charters are in the midst of an existential crisis right now after years of boasting about unlimited growth. That growth has stalled, as Democrats distance themselves from charters. A backlash against charters and privatization is in full swing.

Part of that backlash stems from the daily drumbeat of charter scandals, especially the recent indictment of 11 people connected to an $80 million scam in California.

Here is the program of the National Charter Schools Conference.

NCSC will honor not only Joe, but Ferdinand Zulueta, who runs one of the largest for-profit charter chains in Florida, called Academica. The Zulueta Family has amassed a real estate fortune of more than $100 million, thanks to their business acumen and public funds.

National Charter Schools Conference

We are bummed you couldn’t make it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a little taste of Vegas during the 2019 National Charter Schools Conference (NCSC19)! We will be livestreaming all general sessions and happenings on the Charter Talks stage.

Tune in on our Facebook page for these sessions:

Monday, July 1

Opening General Session (9:30-10:30 a.m. PT): We’re thrilled to welcome back Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, back to the main stage at NCSC19! National Alliance President & CEO Nina Rees will kick-off and lead the first plenary session of NCSC19 with her annual State of the Movement address encouraging us all to share our stories.

And, finally, don’t miss a special guest introduce one of the 2019 Charter School Hall of Fame inductees, Fernando Zulueta, president of Academica!

Charter Talks (11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. PT): Back for a third year, presenters will share a 15-minute compelling presentation that shares a big idea, is a tech demo, delves into an issue, or shares a small idea with a big impact. These Charter Talks pack a punch, so come ready to learn a lot in a small amount of time from interactive, engaging presenters!

  • 11:15 a.m. The Fight for the Best Charter Public Schools in the Nation – Cara Stillings Candal, Pioneer Institute
  • 11:30 a.m. The Life and Times of an Independent Charter School Operator – India Ford, T-Squared Honors Academy
  • 11:45 a.m. College for All: A Personal Odyssey – Robert Lane, Southland College Prep HS

Recording of The 8 Black Hands Podcast (3-4:30 p.m. PT): For the first time ever, we will have a live recording of two podcasts on-site, starting with The 8 Black Hands Podcast. The podcast from four black men (Ray Ankrum, Charles Cole, Sharif El-Mekki, and Chris Stewart) engages in passionate discussions about educating Black minds in a country that has perpetually failed them. Don’t miss the live recording of this powerful podcast!

Tuesday, July 2

Recording of Academica Media’s Charter School Superstars Podcast (10 a.m.-12 p.m. PT): The second live podcast recording at NCSC19 will feature a Q&A session with big players in the charter school movement on the Academic Media podcast.

Unleashing Opportunity and Creativity with Computer Science (12:15-1 p.m. PT): Hadi Partovi, founder of Code.org and creator of the global Hour of Code campaign, talks about the importance of teaching computer science as part of the core academic curriculum in grades K-12, introducing creativity to the classroom, approaches to diversity in computer science, and implementation challenges in schools.

Second General Session and Charter School Rally (3:15-4:30 p.m. PT): The National Alliance is pleased to have Hadi Partovi as our keynote speaker during Tuesday’s general session. Romy Drucker, deputy director of K-12 Education at the Walton Family Foundation and co-founder of The 74, will also give remarks. The General Session will close with a Charter Schools Rally encouraging us all to speak up on behalf of the nation’s 3.2 million charter school students, led by Dr. Howard Fuller, Institute for the Transformation of Learning; Keri Rodrigues, Massachusetts Parents United; and Myrna Casterjón, California Charter Schools Association.

Wednesday, July 3

Closing Session (9-10 a.m. PT): During the closing session of NCSC19, we will be recognizing two more 2019 Charter School Hall of Fame inductees: Joe Nathan, Ph.D., director of the Center for School Change, and Dr. Margaret Fortune, president and CEO of Fortune School. Clifton Taulbert, president of the Freemount Corporation and author of Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored, will be delivering our last keynote session of NCSC19 with his talk on the charter of community—a fitting end to the conference. Kendall Massett, executive director of Delaware Charter School Network and vice chair of the State Leaders Council, will lead the final session.

Don’t forget to follow the conversation throughout the conference on Twitter with #NCSC19!

 

While technology is great, everything is so much better in person—and you can still register onsite at Mandalay Bay. We’d love to have you!

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools   1425 K Street  Suite 900  Washington,  DC   20005   USA

 

Louis Freedberg of EdSource explains here why California charter schools are largely unsupervised, leading to a drumbeat of scandals like the recent indictment of 11 people charged with a theft of $80 million.

He writes:

As charter school conflicts intensify in California, increasing attention is being focused not only on the schools themselves but on the school boards and other entities that grant them permission to operate in the first place.

They’re called charter authorizers, and unlike many states, California has hundreds of them: 294 local school districts, 41 county offices of education, along with the State Board of Education.

In fact, California, with over 1300 charters schools, has more authorizers than any other state. That’s not only because of California’s size but also because it has an extremely decentralized approach to charter school authorization.

Someone wishing to start a charter school, or to renew a charter, must apply to a local school district to get the green light to do so. If a petition is turned down by the district, applicants can appeal to county boards of education, and if they are denied there, they can go to the State Board of Education as a last resort.

An emerging question is whether California’s authorizers have the skills, capacity and guidance to adequately oversee the charter schools under their jurisdiction.

Under the state’s extremely lax law, a tiny rural district may authorize a charter to open for business in an urban district hundreds of miles away. The rural district collects a commission, the charter has no supervision.

A win-win for the charter and the authorizer, a lose-lose for taxpayers and students.

The California problem is not that authorizers need training, but that any district can authorize charters in other districts.

The law should be changed so that districts control whether charters open inside their boundaries. The current law encourages scavengers to prey on other districts. This must stop. Give districts control and responsibility for the schools inside their geographic area. Stop the charter vandals whose only goal is profiteering without oversight.

 

Steven Singer doesn’t research or data to describe what is happening to his school district. He sees it. It is being gobbled up outsiders intent on turning public schools into charter schools and voucher schools. 

The state auditor of Pennsylvania said a few years ago that the Pennsylvania charter law is”the worst in the nation.”

Singer shows why.

 

Our middle school-high school complex is located at the top of a hill. At the bottom of the hill in our most impoverished neighborhood sits one of the Propel network of charter schools.

Our district is so poor we can’t even afford to bus our kids to school. So Propel tempts kids who don’t feel like making the long walk to our door.

Institutions like Propel are publicly funded but privately operated. That means they take our tax dollars but don’t have to be as accountable, transparent or sensible in how they spend them.

And like McDonalds, KFC or Walmart, they take in a lot of money.

Just three years ago, the Propel franchise siphoned away $3.5 million from our district annually. This year, they took $5 million, and next year they’re projected to get away with $6 million. That’s about 16% of our entire $37 million yearly budget.

Do we have a mass exodus of children from Steel Valley to the neighboring charter schools?

No.

Enrollment at Propel has stayed constant at about 260-270 students a year since 2015-16. It’s only the amount of money that we have to pay them that has increased.


The state funding formula is a mess. It gives charter schools almost the same amount per regular education student that my district spends but doesn’t require that all of that money actually be used to educate these children.

If you’re a charter school operator and you want to increase your salary, you can do that. Just make sure to cut student services an equal amount.

Want to buy a piece of property and pay yourself to lease it? Fine. Just take another slice of student funding.

Want to grab a handful of cash and put it in your briefcase, stuff it down your pants, hide it in your shoes? Go right ahead! It’s not like anyone’s actually looking over your shoulder. It’s not like your documents are routinely audited or you have to explain yourself at monthly school board meetings – all of which authentic public schools like mine have to do or else.

Furthermore, for every student we lose to charters, we do not lose any of the costs of overhead. The costs of running our buildings, electricity, water, maintenance, etc. are the same. We just have less money with which to pay them.

Read his post in full. You will understand.