Archives for category: Education Industry

This decision was announced on March 11:

Metropolitan News-Enterprise

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Court of Appeal:
Nonprofit Chartered Schools Are Not Exempt From County Property Taxes, Assessments

By a MetNews Staff Writer

The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Monica Bachner’s determination that a nonprofit charter school is not impliedly exempt, under the California Constitution, from payment of property taxes and special assessments.

The plaintiffs—Los Angeles Leadership Academy, Inc., which operates schools in Lincoln Heights, and two nonprofit public benefit corporations that own the land—brought suit for refunds and declaratory relief, contending that their schools, like public schools, should not be taxed.

Justice Elizabeth Grimes of Div. Eight wrote the opinion affirming Bachner’s judgment in favor Los Angeles County Assessor Jeffrey Prang and others.

Public Schools’ Exemption

Public schools are expressly exempt, under the state Constitution, from paying taxes and, it has been held, are impliedly exempt from paying special assessments, Grimes recited.

She wrote:

“We find no support in statutory or case law for plaintiffs’ implied exemption claim. Plaintiffs cannot establish that charter schools are public entities for purposes of exemption from taxation. Plaintiffs’ policy arguments to the contrary—that charter schools should be treated like public entities because monies taken for taxes and special assessments reduce monies available for educating students, and put charter schools at a competitive disadvantage with other public schools—are properly addressed to the Legislature, not to this court.”

Grimes noted that in the 2006 case of Wells v. One2One Learning Foundation, the California Supreme Court held, in an opinion by then-Justice Marvin Baxter, that while charter schools are “part of the public school system” for some purposes, they are not entitled to governmental tort immunity.

Legislative Specification

The Legislature has specified the circumstances under which chartered schools are a part of the public school system, Grimes said, pointing out:

“Notably absent is any suggestion that charters schools are to be treated like school districts for taxation purposes.”

The case is Los Angeles Leadership Academy v. Prang, B292613.

Thomas R. Freeman, A. Howard Matz, Hernan D. Vera and Fanxi Wang Bird of Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow, represented the plaintiffs. Joel N. Klevens of Glaser Weil Fink Howard Avchen & Shapiro joined with Los Angeles Deputy County Counsels Nicole Davis Tinkham and Justin Y. Kim in arguing for the assessor.

Copyright 2020, Metropolitan News Company

Now here is a refreshing story from Florida.

Republican State Senator Tom Lee says he is fed up with the legislature’s micromanagement of education policy. Moreover, he actually noticed that the Legislature spends most of its time on 20% of the state’s students while ignoring the other 80% who attend public schools.

“As I talk to members, I don’t think there’s anyone quite where I am yet, but I’m fed up,” said the former Senate President. “With a Legislature that spends 80% of its time focusing on 20% of the students, we might as well name our education committee the committee on charter schools and vouchers. And if we get into this budget, I got plenty to say about our education budget as well.”

Lee complains there’s not a lot of flexible spending money for school districts, especially because of HB 5007, which the Legislature passed earlier this year. It changes how much state employees must contribute to the pension system. And it could end up costing school districts nearly $233 million statewide.

“I just think that until we get our foot off the neck of local school districts,” he said. “Let these school boards’ constitutionally elected officers manage the school districts. Get rid of some of these categoricals and stop micromanaging.”

Lee says that he’s just not interested in micromanaging and implementing punitive measures to create unequal competition between choice, charter and public schools. He says sometimes he feels like Republicans have run out of good ideas.

“Until you get a chance to go ‘mano a mano‘ with people on this floor and tell the truth and play a little game of show and tell here about what’s really going on, you’re not going to move public policy in this state because the fix is in.”

EPIC virtual charter school is locked in a battle with state auditors over the question of whether public money belongs to the public or to the owners of the school.

Face-Off Between Epic, State Centers on Controversial ‘Learning Fund’

EPIC is a charter school but it’s defense is that it is a private business, not a public agency. How refreshing!

The story:

The state is drawing a hard line: Public education funds that flow to a private company are public.

Founders of the state’s largest online charter school are fighting to shield those funds. Their company has refused to comply with subpoenas from the State Auditor and Inspector.

The showdown is headed to court and could have major ramifications for Epic Charter Schools and its for-profit management company, Epic Youth Services, both of which have drawn controversy since inception a decade ago.

At the heart of the issue is something Epic calls the “learning fund.” It’s a major draw for students and families and has helped propel Epic’s stunning enrollment growth.

Here’s how it works: Epic makes at least $1,000 available to each student annually in the student’s learning fund. Dollars are deducted for their choice of curriculum and for a plethora of other items of their choice, such as laptops and iPads, science kits and craft supplies, soccer club fees, horseback riding lessons, gymnastics and summer camps.

Parents don’t receive the money directly but instead request a purchase from Epic. Epic transfers the money to Epic Youth Services, according to the court filing, which then pays the vendors directly. There are more than 1,400 private learning-fund vendors.

The school makes periodic transfers of state funding into a checking account specifically for learning fund purchases. The school transfers into a separate checking account 10% of its total revenue to Epic Youth Services for a management fee.

Epic Charter School co-founder Ben Harris is seen at a board meeting in Oklahoma City on Oct. 16, 2019. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)
Epic was founded by David Chaney and Ben Harris; the two men also own Epic Youth Services LLC. Chaney and Harris have split at least $10 million in profits from Epic Youth Services between 2013 and 2018, according to the OSBI, which is investigating Chaney and Harris on allegations of embezzlement and racketeering.

Chaney and Harris have denied wrongdoing, and no charges have been filed. Through an attorney, they responded to the auditor’s court motion with a written statement.

“The state Auditor’s legal position – that private businesses are subject to state audit – should concern every business owner in Oklahoma. Epic Youth Services has offered to voluntarily allow the auditor to review records appropriate to their request, but we have received no response prior to this court filing. We will vigorously fight for the protection that has historically been provided to private businesses like Epic Youth Services.”

The IDEA charter chain has received hundreds of millions in federal funding to expand. It has garnered a lot of attention, however, for its caviar tastes. The IDEA board approved a management proposal to lease a private jet for nearly $2 million a year, for the convenience of its executives. Not like your average school board or superintendent!

But their luxury tastes have not been curbed by the negative reaction private jet problem.

Among other big-ticket items noted in this story, here is a notable one. IDEA CEO Tom Torkelson flew to a private meeting with Betsy DeVos in Florida, in a nine-passenger jet in which he was the only passenger. DeVos has given IDEA more than $200 million from the federal Charter Schools Program. She loves IDEA.

The Texas Monitor reports:

Last October, the CEO and president of the largest charter school company in Texas took a trip to Houston. They didn’t travel the way most public-school employees would have. Instead, they traveled by private jet, their spouses and five children came along for the trip, and they got around Houston not by Uber or rent car, but in a chauffeured SUV.

That trip was just one item in an $800,000 bill that IDEA Public Schools racked up between 2017 and 2019 on private jets and other luxe travel spending. Although IDEA received $319 million from the State of Texas and $71 million in federal money in 2018, this kind of travel would be illegal for public school district and state employees in Texas. Traditional public-school supporters and charter school advocates alike say it’s the kind of spending that gives a black eye to the charter school concept.

Charter schools receive no property tax revenue, as traditional public schools do, but are funded through state and federal grants. Like other public schools, they can also raise money from private donors. IDEA says it uses some of that private money for its luxury travel.

Records show that company CEO Tom Torkelson, his wife and three children, along with IDEA President JoAnn Gama, her husband and two children, stepped off a private jet at Sugar Land Regional Airport and jumped into the chauffeured SUV. The reason for the trip, records show, was to “visit Houston school sites.”

The flight cost is not noted in the records, nor is the reason for the spouses and children coming along on the trip. The vehicle, rented from Casablanca Limousines in Houston, cost $1,800.

At about the time of the Houston trip, IDEA was preparing to lease a private jet – the same plane that the district had used on an individual trip basis since at least 2014. But board members nixed the lease after the deal became public.

In December 2019, IDEA announced the plane lease had been put aside.

In March, Torkelson proclaimed that “IDEA will not pay for private air travel” any longer.

Four days later, IDEA released the district’s transportation records to Peyton Wolcott, a Texas-based education advocate who had submitted a request for the documents in January.

She questioned the timing and the sincerity of Torkelson’s vow to end the subsidized travel.

“Why shouldn’t IDEA’s board and executives, who enjoyed Texas taxpayers’ largesse, dig deep into their pockets and pay it back? “she said. Records show IDEA has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on private-plane travel in the past five years.

Flights by Torkelson and IDEA staffers inside Texas between 2017 and 2019 cost, on average, about $1,300 per one-way trip, with a discount for round-trip fares. For example, a private, round-trip flight taken by Torkelson in fall 2018 from McAllen to San Antonio ran $2,340. A commercial flight on United Airlines today would cost $377 for the same route. Bills for private flights can also include lodging and meals for pilots as well as other costs. See a sample invoice here.

Torkelson took a private jet to Tampa in November to meet with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to discuss “education philanthropy,” records show. He was the only passenger on the jet, which holds nine people.

I mean, really, do you expect such powerful people to fly economy like a public school employee?

IDEA promises that 100% of its students who graduate will enroll in a four-year college. What they don’t point out is that students are not allowed to graduate unless they have been accepted by a four-year college. And, yes, there are colleges that accept every applicant.

Nonetheless, Craig Harris of the Arizona Republic hopes that IDEA and KIPP will open in Arizona. Arizona has the most lax charter oversight in the nation. It’s the only state that allows for-profit operators of charters (many other states ban for-profit charters, but allow for-profit management, as in Michigan, where 80% of all charters are run by for-profit EMOs). It’s hard to judge whether Arizona or California has had the most charter scandals, but Arizona has had some big ones, where charter operators have made off with millions of dollars, and it was all legal.

There is the grand success of former legislator Eddie Farnsworth, who pocketed up to $30 million by turning his for-profit chain into a nonprofit chain.

Then there was Glen Way, who made millions building his charter schools.

Michael and Olga Block founded the BASIS charter chain in Arizona, whose demographics are skewed white and Asian, get very high test scores, but take home enough to buy a NYC condo for $8.4 million.

No one has accused KIPP or IDEA of fraud, so maybe Arizona needs them, that is, if you think itis a good idea to continue stripping students and resources from public schools.

Mike Deshotels reviews the past several years of “reform,” funded by the Walton Family and Michael Bloomberg, and declares that every part of it has failed.

Deshotels writes that the suspension of recess so that students could have more time for test prep led to lower test scores!

He writes:

Why isn’t constant drilling on test taking skills at the expense of recess, PE, art, music, vocational education, and other “less important” instruction producing higher test scores? Maybe because the current trend to ignore fundamental child development principle’s is harmful in every way, including killing the joy of schooling for both children and teachers! Teachers in Finland, whose students perform at the top of the rankings on international achievement tests, routinely take young children outdoors where they can play, investigate nature and develop normally as they are programmed by their genes to do. Why do American reformers insist on counteracting nature and instead have transformed our education system to motivation killing test drudgery?

It was equally stupid to remove teachers from the decision-making process and leave it to legislators and the state education department. What a bad idea!

This outrageous trampling on the rights and critical input of the teaching profession in education decisions has actually resulted in the opposite of what our non-educator reformers said they wanted to do. Do you think our government can stop the Corona virus by ignoring the recommendations of the highly trained experts in disease prevention? The same is true of refusing to listen to real teachers about education reform. Do you believe, as the reformers would have you believe, that education reform in Louisiana is really working in preparing students for college and careers? Are you willing to ignore the most recent devastating revelation by our own Board of Regents that after all the reforms imposed on K-12 education in Louisiana, only 18 out of one hundred of our students will attain a college degree of any kind. Not even a two year associate’s degree! These are the worst results I have ever seen! Don’t blame the teachers. Teacher attended the legislative committee proposing these changes by the thousands to protest these untested ideas, only to be scolded for having the nerve to come to Baton Rouge on a school day (but that was the only time the Education committee was meeting!). Now the chickens are coming home to roost and thousands of our most dedicated teachers have left the profession.

Who has been making decisions? The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, exactly the worst people to decide how to educate the state’s children.

The stranglehold over control of public education by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry promises even more failure with the upcoming appointment of John White’s replacement.
Make no mistake about it, LABI has had almost total control over K-12 education for over 4 years since they used Michael Bloomburg’s and Walton family contributions to totally purchase all the BESE elected positions. They have made nothing but bad decisions with all this power. The school privatization they pushed has been almost a total failure with data showing that students who stay in their public schools do significantly better than they do when they move to a voucher or charter school.

Now LABI is preparing to pick the state’s next superintendent to succeed the failed John White, who mastered the art of spinning data to make it look good when it wasn’t. Of course, they are pushing White’s loyal assistant.

Let’s look at some of the real results of LABI supported reforms. On their web site, LABI claims that Louisiana is closing the achievement gap between privileged and underprivileged students. Data demonstrates instead that the exact opposite is true. They are also dead wrong claiming that ACT scores are improving. LABI is now down to apparently basing its education policies on wishful thinking rather than evidence.

The same is true of teacher evaluations based on student test scores using our defective state tests. LABI has insisted that Louisiana evaluate its teachers partially on student test scores. But all the data proves that the VAM system used is unstable and inaccurate. So a couple of years ago I got thrown off of a state committee studying changes to VAM because I had the nerve to state on my blog that LABI was like the dog that caught the truck with this whole VAM fiasco. They don’t have any idea what to do with VAM but they will never admit they were wrong. Meanwhile some very competent and dedicated teachers have had their careers ruined by VAM and thousands of great teachers have left the profession.

Louisiana has been fully in the grips of the Disruption Machine. It has fallen to the bottom of NAEP, which John White hailed as “proof” that the state had enacted higher standards. More failure like that and Louisiana will fall below Alabama and New Mexico, the lowest performing states.

Louisiana has bought into all the favorite remedies of “reform” (aka disruption), and there is nothing to show for it but failure, propaganda, and lies.

Wendy Lecker is a civil rights lawyer for the Education Law Center who writes regularly for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and the Stamford (CT) Advocate.

https://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-A-fighter-against-bad-education-15111892.php

She writes:

Diane Ravitch is rare in American public policy — a public figure who very publicly admitted that the positions she once championed were wrong. Dr. Ravitch is a historian of education and former assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush — and was once a vocal champion of two pillars of education “reform”: school choice and standardized testing. In 2010, she published a book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” in which she meticulously critiqued these policies, and rued her role in pushing them.

Since then, Dr. Ravitch has tirelessly fought ill-conceived and harmful education policies and promotes a vision of public education that she believes is better for children and truer to our democratic ideals. She not only writes and speaks out herself, she also gives voice to many others fighting for public education, known and unknown. In her blog (dianeravitch.net), which has been viewed by tens of millions, she posts articles and commentaries on education policy from journalists, activists, teachers, parents, scholars and students. It is a must-read blog for anyone who wants to keep up with what is happening around the country in public education. (Full disclosure — Dr. Ravitch has posted many of my columns on her blog). In addition, Ravitch started, along with other activists, the Network for Public Education, a research and advocacy organization that connects supporters of public schools nationwide.

For all her critiques of education reform, or more accurately, “education disruption,” as she calls it, Ravitch is an optimist. Her new, well-researched, yet accessible book, “Slaying Goliath,” exemplifies this positive outlook.

The book doesn’t start out terribly optimistically. Early on, Ravitch presents a daunting list of the many billionaires and foundations that have funded this disruption, and the think tanks and policy organizations they fund to convince state and national politicians to impose their schemes.

For example, Ravitch notes that in North Carolina, that Tea Party extremists killed that state’s successful Teaching Fellows program — which worked with public universities to build a pipeline of career teachers- and diverted that program’s funding to Teach for America, whose minimally trained teachers make no more than a two-year commitment. Interestingly, in North Carolina’s long-running school funding case, a court ordered plan approved in January to ensure state compliance with its constitutional duty to provide an adequate education to all children, calls for reinvigorating and expanding the Teaching Fellows program.

Ravitch maintains that the influence these Goliath philanthrocapitalists buy, installing their chosen public policies and often trampling community will, is corrosive to democracy.

The book chronicles the failures of the reforms pushed by disrupters. For example, Ravitch details how standardized test-based teacher evaluation was devoid of evidence from the start, yet was pushed by Bill Gates and other influential disrupters, then imposed across the nation. Eventually, this scheme was exposed as fatally flawed, invalidated by experts and courts, and mostly abandoned. Even the Gates foundation ultimately admitted that it was a failed idea, but not before billions of dollars was wasted. Ravitch also surveys the corruption and dark money that pervades many of the disrupters’ privatization schemes, providing a clue as to why, despite their clear failures, these bad ideas seem to persist.

In every Diane Ravitch book, I always find new light shed on a topic I thought I knew. “Slaying Goliath” is no exception. In one fascinating chapter, Ravitch reviews the research on intrinsic motivation and its connection to the flawed reward-and-punishment philosophy that underpins education disruption policies. She describes in detail how renowned experts studying these concepts alerted Congress in 2011 to the faulty logic behind and dangers of test-based accountability, to no avail.

The author profiles some of the Davids battling these disruptive Goliaths: from Providence high school students objecting to standardized testing, to community members such as Jitu Brown, fighting school closures and privatization in Chicago, to the teachers around the country protesting deplorable conditions in their underfunded schools.

While these underdogs have not always succeeded, Ravitch’s book provides hope that sanity can be restored to education policy. Throughout the book she places the opposition to educational disruption in the context of the growing awareness about big money’s toxic influence on American politics and policy in general. She reminds readers that “no genuine social movement is created and sustained by elites.” Ravitch notes that those who have risen have shown others that grassroots organizing can have an impact.

Let us hope that Ravitch is right and these Davids will, for the sake of all our children, ultimately prevail.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

Charter advocates like to caricature public schools negatively while presenting charter schools as invariably successful.

We know neither portrait is accurate.

Rhode Island’s new state commissioner has decided to close one of the state’s oldest charter schools, which has been failing for years.

The Academy for Career Exploration, which was one of Rhode Island’s first charter schools when it opened in 1997 as the Textron Chamber of Commerce Academy, informed the state Department of Education last month that it would close rather than craft a reform plan that might have kept it open.

The high school serves more than 200 students, but Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green had reservations about extending its charter because of low performance, including a zero percent proficiency rate in math. Nearly 38 percent of students were considered chronically absent last school year.

Anyone who claims that private management of schools is a panacea, especially for poor children, is either misguided or misleading.

Valerie Strauss wrote a stunning dissection of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s lies to Congress in her recent testimony.

Was she lying because of ignorance or a desire to mislead the public? She lied about charter wait lists, about progress over time on NAEP scores, and about the failure of the federal Charter Schools Program, which spends $440 million to launch new charters, entirely at DeVos’ discretion.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/07/betsy-devoss-problem-with-numbers/

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has a problem with numbers. As in, she sometimes cites numbers that just aren’t accurate.

DeVos, of course, is hardly the only government official to cite inaccurate numbers to make a point, but that’s no reason not to point it out when she does — and she did during two appearances in the last week before congressional committees when defending the Trump administration’s proposed 2021 budget.

Let’s look at a few examples from her testimony.

One misleading figure that gets repeated, and not just by DeVos, is this: There are 1 million students on waiting lists at charter schools throughout the country. DeVos uses the statistic to show there is enormous demand for charters — which are publicly funded but privately operated — but not enough schools to accept all children who want to go. That, the argument goes, is why charter expansion should be encouraged.

To be sure, some charter schools are indeed in high demand and do have long waiting lists. But on some of the lists, there are duplicates, children who are already in other schools and other issues.

The 1 million figure was first cited in 2013 when the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools first made the claim. That alliance is led by Nina Rees, who worked for former vice president Richard B. Cheney. The alliance quickly revised the number it cited — to a minimum of 520,000 when it acknowledged that students were on duplicate lists.

In 2014, Gary Miron, a professor at Western Michigan University, and Kevin Welner, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and founder of the National Education Policy Center, wrote a policy brief titled “Wait, Wait, Don’t Mislead Me,” which gave nine evidence-based reasons the waiting list numbers from the charter alliance should not be believed. These include no external verification, the same students on multiple lists and students who were never removed from waiting lists after lengthy periods.

In 2016, WGBH in Boston came to the same conclusion when it investigated charter waiting list numbers used to justify lifting the cap on charters. There were students on waiting lists who were happily enrolled in another school, with no desire to leave. Citizens for Public Schools found the waiting list for Boston Public Schools and Boston charter schools to be comparable. Ultimately, voters rejected a statewide referendum to lift the cap on charter.

And yet DeVos used that debunked number when defending her budget before Congress.

DeVos also talked about scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as NAEP. It’s often referred to as “the nation’s report card” or the “gold standard” in student assessment because it is seen as the most consistent, nationally representative measure of U.S. student achievement since the 1990s and because it is supposed to be able to assess what students “know and can do….”

NAEP scores are eagerly anticipated as evidence that schools are — or are not — making progress, and DeVos says, on this score, they aren’t.

According to DeVos, there has been no growth on NAEP scores in the last 20 years. She said the federal government has spent “over a trillion dollars at the federal level to close the achievement gap in the last 40 years” but “that achievement gap has not closed one bit.”

Not exactly.

According to Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis, the achievement gaps between white and black students and white and Hispanic students have been narrowing for decades — although unsteadily….

The gaps are still large, to be sure, but to say they haven’t budged is just not accurate.

The source of DeVos’s statement that $1 trillion has been spent over 40 years to close the achievement gap is unclear. The Education Department did not respond to a query about it.

During testimony last week before a House appropriations subcommittee, DeVos had an exchange with Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) about charter schools in which, again, she tossed out questionable numbers.

As I reported here (https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/02/28/four-especially-testy-moments-when-betsy-devos-testified-capitol-hill/ ), Pocan raised the issue of fraud in the federal Charter Schools Program, which has approved $3.3 billion for the expansion of charter schools since 1994. Forty percent of operating charter schools were created with money from the program.

Pocan referred to two reports about problems with that program released last year by a nonprofit advocacy group, the Network for Public Education, which was co-founded by education historian and public schools advocate Diane Ravitch.

One report said the program had wasted up to $1 billion on charter schools that never opened, or opened and then closed because of poor management or other reasons. The other report focused on hundreds of millions of dollars spent on charter schools that got federal funding but never opened. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2019/03/25/report-us-government-wasted-up-billion-charter-schools-still-fails-adequately-monitor-grants/)

When Pocan referred to the 2019 reports, DeVos said they had been “debunked,” which Pocan noted was not true.

She also essentially denied there were problems with the program, saying the percentage of charter schools that received federal funding and closed was tiny. She instead attributed the assertions to “propaganda from an individual who has it in for charter schools.” (It is unclear to whom she was referring. But if she meant Ravitch, whom she has criticized before, she may not have known that who does indeed oppose charter schools — did not write the reports, which you can read about here and here.)

As it turns out, some of the facts she disputed from the reports came from her own letter to Congress, an audit report of the Education Department’s Office of Inspector General, Texas newspapers and other reports from her department.

Pocan told DeVos the Texas-based IDEA charter school chain had received more than $200 million from the federal Charter Schools Program. He then noted that IDEA had planned to spend millions of dollars to lease a private jet before backing off following bad publicity, and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for luxury box seats at San Antonio Spurs games. He also mentioned that IDEA board members were selling and brokering property to the charter chain they governed. (Tom Torkelson, chief executive of IDEA, publicly apologized for “really dumb and unhelpful” financial decisions.)

Pocan asked DeVos if she thought charter schools that receive federal funding should be allowed to use that money to purchase private jets, and she responded by saying it was a “hypothetical question” and that “there is no funding going to charter schools that would even address something like that.”

Actually, it was not hypothetical. The excesses of the IDEA charter chain described by Pocan were reported in the Houston Chronicle, the Texas Monitor and other news organizations and occurred during the years the chain was receiving grants from the federal Charter Schools Program.

In 2017, DeVos’s Education Department gave IDEA a grant of $67.2 million — even though it had not completed two other five-year grants. The next year, the department gave IDEA another grant for nearly $117 million.

Pocan continued, saying “the same group” — IDEA — had given incomplete and inaccurate information to the department during a three-year period. DeVos responded by saying, “Everything you are citing is debunked, ridiculous.” Pocan was citing an audit report by DeVos’s own Office of Inspector General.

At one point, DeVos circled back to the Network for Public Education reports and added that “the report that you referenced has been totally debunked as propaganda, fewer than 2 percent of schools didn’t open.” Later in the conversation with Pocan, she dropped that percentage to 1.5 percent.

That percentage was wildly different from the one included in a letter she wrote to Congress on June 28, 2019. That letter, signed by DeVos, states: “Since 2001, of the 5,265 charter schools that have received funding through a State entity or directly from the Department, 634 did not open and are unlikely to open in the future.”

If you do the math, you will come up with 12 percent. The two Network for Public Education reports came up with a similar percentage — a little over 11 percent.

Throughout the discussion, DeVos denied that 40 percent of the charter schools funded by the Charter Schools Program either opened and then closed or never opened at all. She said the 40 percent figure “was nothing but propaganda.”

As noted above, in her letter to Congress, DeVos said 5,265 schools had received funding through Charter School Program grants.

According to the 2019 Charter School Program Overview (see slide 8), 3,138 charter schools funded by the Charter Schools Program during the same time period were open in 2016-2017. That means 2,127 schools never opened or closed — which represents 40.4 percent of all charters funded from active grants during those years.

Education Week examined the extent of state oversight of publicly funded religious schools and found that it was minimal. Betsy DeVos’s goal of public funding for religious school tuition is gaining traction.

However, there is one glaring error in the article: it cites positive poll data from Education Next, which strongly supports vouchers, yet fails to mention that voters have repeatedly rejected such programs, most recently in Arizona in 2018, where voucher expansion lost a state referendum by a margin of 65-35% despite ample funding from the Koch and DeVos families and the support of Governor Doug Ducey, a Koch mentee.

The story begins:

Montana, like many other states, helps some students pay for tuition at private schools. But the rules for the schools that participate in its tax-credit scholarship program are scant: They do not have to hire teachers with college degrees or conduct criminal background checks on all their employees. Schools do not have to publicly report graduation rates or demonstrate that they are on sound financial footing. And no entity-be it the state, the organization that awards the scholarships, or the private schools-is required to track and report basic demographic data on the students who use the program.

Montana is hardly an outlier.

Nearly 30 states that have private school choice programs that either directly pay students’ tuition at private schools or provide generous tax-credits to incentivize businesses and individuals to do so.

But few require private schools to follow standard policies used to ensure transparency and accountability in the nation’s public schools, according to an EdWeek Research Center survey of states on how private school voucher and other closely related programs are regulated.

* Just six states require that all participating private schools admit students regardless of their religion, while only three require participating private schools to admit students regardless of their sexual orientation.

* Only 11 require that all teachers in participating private schools have a bachelor’s degree.

* Fourteen mandate that schools conduct criminal background checks on all staff before accepting tuition paid with the help of state aid.

* And only six states require schools to publicly report their graduation rates.

Those and other findings demonstrate the relatively thin state oversight these programs operate under, especially when compared to the tight regulation and governance of public schools.

While proponents say that giving families the choice to use publicly funded vouchers to attend private schools-and the freedom to walk away from any school that isn’t living up to their expectations-is the ultimate form of oversight, opponents argue that vouchers and their kin are funneling taxpayer money into largely unaccountable private schools.

It’s not a new debate, but it is one that has added urgency as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a case challenging the legality of Montana’s program. The outcome of that case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue (Case No. 18-1195), could remove the constitutional hurdles to establishing voucher programs in many other states.

“For school choice families, transparency is necessary if the policy goals articulated in the voucher laws are to be achieved-does the school provide sufficient information for families to make informed choices?” said Kevin Welner, a University of Colorado education professor who studies law and public policy. He is also the director of the National Education Policy Center, a group that is generally critical of vouchers. “I think more importantly, when the school accepts taxpayer dollars, it has to be transparent … around the responsible use of those dollars.”

Growing Popularity

The popularity of private school choice programs continues to grow.

More than half of Americans now support the idea of allowing government to help families pay for tuition at private schools, according to a 2019 survey on the public’s attitudes toward education by the journal Education Next.

Taken together, the number of private school choice programs, which include traditional vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and education savings accounts, and families using them have expanded substantially over the past decade, fueled by influential advocacy groups and strong parental demand.

While Montana’s program is at the center of the potentially pivotal Supreme Court case, it’s miniscule-around 40 students a year receive an average annual scholarship of $500-compared to private school choice programs in Arizona Florida, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin, which serve tens of thousands of students in their respective states with average scholarship amounts in the thousands.

To better understand the governance and accountability of this small, but growing sector of the K-12 system, the EdWeek Research Center reviewed statutes in 29 states that have at least one of the three types of private school choice programs on the books. The Research Center then sent the results of its analysis to state education departments to verify, correct, or update the findings.

The analysis’ findings include:

* Five states require that all teachers in participating private schools be licensed;

* Eight states require all participating private schools to publicly report the results of state and national tests;

* Four states require public reporting of demographic data on participating students;

* Five states explicitly require all participating private schools to admit students with disabilities;

* Fourteen states mandate that participating private schools prove that they are fiscally sound through audits or other measures.

Finally, half of the states with private school choice programs-14-do not even require that the agencies or organizations overseeing them publicly list all the private schools participating.

The same is true for the third-party organizations that oversee tax-credit scholarship programs. Just 12 states require a publicly available list of scholarship-granting organizations-the groups that are approved by the state to take in tax-credit-eligible donations and award scholarships.

Oklahoma is among the states that do not require that a list of scholarship-granting organizations be publicly reported. It took Education Week dozens of emails, multiple records requests, and six months to simply obtain the names of the scholarship-granting organizations from the state.

This is only part of the article. In the remainder, there are extensive quotes from voucher zealot Robert Enslow of EdChoice, formerly known as the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation, whose only purpose is to promote publicly-funded vouchers.

It would be interesting to see an article in Education Week about the long list of states that have voted against vouchers (including Florida and Arizona) but got them anyway, shoved down the throats of the public by voucher fanatics with large wallets to buy legislators’ votes. Such an article–or a different one–would review the studies of vouchers that show they have a negative effect on students’ test scores. How about an article about the “education scholarships” in D.C., which has never found any gains for voucher students, and most recently showed that voucher students lost ground? Or a review of the Thomas B. Fordham study of Ohio vouchers that showed that students lost grounds in voucher schools? Or similar results in Indiana and Louisiana?

We are hurtling back to the early 19th century, not preparing students to live in the present and the future.

The charter industry has lots of problems with stability. The charters open and suddenly close. Scandals and corruption are commonplace so much so that Carol Burris says there is a “crisis of corruption in the charter industry.”

Theft and fraud are predictable when non-educators, entrepreneurs and grifters get public money and can open or close their school without any accountability or oversight.

So in Philadelphia, the second-largest charter in the City is in trouble.

Philadelphia’s second-largest charter school has a large budget deficit, a CEO on leave, and some sort of problem related to the identification of special education students.

It’s the kind of financial and administrative turmoil that would draw major headlines at a large, traditional school district. But the K-12 school at the center of the tumult refuses to say much of anything — and only recently published a six-sentence letter on its website explaining that it had made a personnel change.

Despite repeated requests for comment, First Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School in Bridesburg has declined to explain why or how it found itself in, what one official called, a “difficult time of transition.”

Here’s what we know.

Longtime CEO Joseph Gillespie is on a leave of absence and has been replaced, on an interim basis, by Carleene Slowik. The 1,850-student school sent a brief note to parents Wednesday explaining the change — only after WHYY contacted the school and asked for clarification about the leadership situation.
Before that note, the school would not divulge whether Gillespie was still working at First Philadelphia — or even who was in charge of the school, which is affiliated with a charter management company called American Paradigm Schools.

A lawyer representing First Philadelphia said the school had no comment on the situation. Nor would he say who was currently running the campus. Several attempts to reach Gillespie were unsuccessful.

No oversight. No accountability. No transparency.