Archives for category: Education Industry

Charter schools experienced a large increase in enrollment during the pandemic, perhaps due to the indecisiveness of public school leaders. Charters gained 250,000 students and grew from 6% to 7% of total national enrollment.

This post is Mercedes Schneider at her best, pulling together the strings of a tangled web involving money, power, TFA, Chiefs for Change, John White, the Rhode Island $5 million contract, and Julia Rafael-Baer.

Read it to the end. It’s rich with details that show how an ambitious young person can monetize her TFA experience and her network.

There is big money to be made in the education industry. Unfortunately, not for classroom teachers who devote their lives to their students.

I am posting this notice after the press conference described here, but the details are important nevertheless. A group called Oakland Not For Sale formed to fight privatization and just won a major settlement. For many years, the Oakland public schools have been a plaything for billionaire privatizers and a succession of Broadie superintendents.

MEDIA ADVISORY FOR: September 23, 2021, 3:30 PM PT

CONTACT: Melissa Korber, 510-541-9669 or Amanda Cooper, 917-930-7552

Parents, Teachers, Atty Dan Siegel Announce Settlement with OUSD Over Police Brutality at 2019 School Board Meeting,

Plans to Donate Funds to Fight Public School Closures & Privatization

Parent and Teacher Members of Oakland Not For Sale (ONFS) Will Hold Press Conference With OUSD School Board Member Mike Hutchinson To Address Settlement, Donation Plans and Update in Kaiser School Fight

Oakland, CA — On Thursday, Sept. 23, at 3:30 pm PT, Oakland Not for Sale (ONFS) will host a press conference for parent and teacher plaintiffs and their attorney Dan Siegel to announce a six-figure legal settlement with the Oakland Unified School District as well as plans to donate toward the fight against school closures and public school-supporting Board candidates in the 2022 election. OUSD School Board Member Mike Hutchinson will also be present.

“We have reached a settlement of our dispute regarding the school board’s October 2019 meeting. We reached an agreement for a total amount of $337,500 in damages,” said Saru Jayaraman, plaintiff in the litigation Jayaraman v. OUSD. “We’re thrilled to be announcing not only this settlement with the District, but our ability to now give a six-figure donation to our fight to stop public school closures and support candidates who will fight the privatization of the Oakland Unified School District. We’re also thrilled that in the same moment, we can declare victory in that Kaiser Elementary, which we fought to keep public, will indeed remain a public facility — and we will build on these victories with resources to continue to fight all future public school closures.”

The settlement resolves litigation filed by the parents and teachers, many of whom are members of ONFS, over police brutality at an October 2019 school board meeting protesting the proposed closure of Kaiser Elementary School. At the press conference on Thursday, parents and teachers will announce that they plan to make a six-figure donation to continue the fight against further public school closures and privatization. They will also discuss their victory in keeping Kaiser Elementary a public facility.

“While it isn’t exactly what we would have hoped, we’re happy Kaiser is being used as a public facility for students and that we were able to resolve the litigation,” said Amy Haruyama, OUSD teacher who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, taught at Kaiser Elementary, and now teaches at Sankofa United Elementary School.

These actions come in the context of a long history of OUSD School Board decisions to close 17 public schools, mostly majority Black and brown schools, almost all of which have been replaced with charter schools. OUSD’s history of closing schools and allowing them to be replaced by charters has been driven by both the state of California, which retains trusteeship over OUSD, and by outside billionaire charter school advocates like Michael Bloomberg and Eli Broad.

ONFS was formed after the announcement that Kaiser Elementary School would become the latest in a long line of school closures that was intended for replacement by charter or private schools. After protracted peaceful public protest by parents, teachers, and students, and despite police brutality as a response to this protest, the School Board recently agreed to a public use for Kaiser Elementary. The school will house public early education .

Peter Greene wonders if you have missed Michelle Rhee, once the Wonder Woman of the edreform biz, but recently absent from the national scene. After her meteoric rise to national prominence, when she was selected to be chancellor of the District of Columbia public schools after two years of TFA teaching, she was a colossus: on the cover of TIME as a miracle worker, featured in the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” frequently interviewed on national TV. Her tenure in D.C. was controversial and stormy: she fired teachers and principals and made bold claims about test scores. When Adrian Fenty, the mayor who appointed her, was defeated, she left and started an organization called StudentsFirst, which she said would raise $1 billion and recruit one million members. she never reached either goal, but she traveled the country advocating for charters and vouchers and against teachers’ unions. She allied with Jeb Bush and other school choice advocates. as her star faded, she disappeared from public view.

Peter Greene says she is making a return public appearance at a Sacramento State University event on September27, where she is the keynote speaker. You can watch on Zoom.

A regular reader called Bethree summarized the Rhode Island situation, in which friends of the Governor won a $5 (plus) million contract, although the corporation was formed only weeks before the contract was awarded and was the high bidder.

She wrote:

Read the wpri.com coverage 9/7,8,14 for the nitty-gritty (google wpri.com McKee ILO). As a one-time procurement supervisor for an engrg co, I found it highly entertaining.

Summary: ILO was incorporated 2 days after McKee’s March 2 election, and invited by his office to submit a bid for the work March 23. 5 bids received in April: 3 bidders knocked out during tech evaluation.

The two remaining bids– $8million vs just under $1million, made it obvious that the scope of work was, shall we say, imprecise. Results of rebid (? Or perhaps just an arm-wrestling session—unclear): ILO $6million, other guy $3million. ILO was apparently given the nod due to its long work history of absolutely bupkis, sadly other guy’s 20-yr history as a state ed consultant just… didn’t measure up. But, no worries– West Ed gets to share the spoils: $5million for ILO [scope K12], $1million for WestEd [scope colleges, U’s]. “’The Review Team believes that no additional time should be wasted on this procurement or a rebid,’ the four-member panel’s final report said.”

“We’ve supported people who get the work done…” McKee said at his weekly news conference Tuesday. “So it didn’t matter who referred or who may have had a relationship. I just want good people who can figure out how to help the state of Rhode Island and education, and that’s what we got.”  

“Magee [CFC boss & close McKee buddy/ donor via his brother’s 50CAN PAC] said Chiefs for Change isn’t working with ILO on the contract.” ROFL. Let’s just pretend we didn’t notice ILO was incorporated virtually yesterday, and its partners left Chiefs for Change to form ILO.

The state’s bid package put ILO in the catbird seat from the get-go. Although RI is paying for this work out of Covid-19 aid fed funding, the scope asked for expansion of “municipal education offices” outside the purview of traditional LEA’s. That’s a scheme realized in Cumberland by then-Mayor McKee and buddy Magee of CFS. McKee has 5 more such offices planned, to be run out of his office, for the [state-run] Providence school system. A full half of ILO’s proposed workhrs are devoted to that thinly veiled ed privatization; stated goal “to address lost learning and catch up and long-term learning programs.”

That leaves $2.5million for safe school reopening during covid. How is ILO doing 2 wks after students returned to bldgs? “…RI Assoc of School Committees exec dir Tim Duffy… surveyed all school supts and school chairs… ‘So far, there’s only one district that’s asked the ILO Group to review their school reopening plans, and that was Little Compton. The rest… haven’t been contacted and are not even aware of the services the consulting firm offers… reopening efforts this year have been guided by the U.S. CDC, the RI Dept of Health and RI Dept of Education.” He also noted the timing of the ILO news: ‘School reopening has already happened.’ Duffy’s comments contrasted with ILO’s Tuesday, when partner Cerena Parker cited helping schools reopen as one of the consulting firm’s biggest accomplishments so far.”

Renee Sekel is a parent and public school advocate in North Carolina. She sends her children to public schools. She remembers when she naively believed that the state’s legislators supported public schools. Then the budget cuts started coming. Then charters. Then vouchers. Now, she says, public schools are in a race against time.

She wrote:

Four years ago, both Republicans and Democrats in North Carolina at least made a show of claiming to support public education, even as the legislature slashed budgets and passed one policy after another aimed at undermining public schools. What worries me today is how that rhetoric has shifted. Our Republican leaders now openly acknowledge that they are hostile to public education and would prefer to replace public schools with a voucher system. I know that the vast majority of North Carolinians from all across the political spectrum support public schools, but increasingly it feels like we’re in a race against time, trying to get citizens to understand that our schools are under attack. If it becomes orthodoxy in the GOP that public schools are anathema, and a critical mass is convinced that the schools their children attended−that they attended−should be destroyed, there is no going back.

The authorizer of the Hmong College Prep Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, wants to fire the superintendent of the school after learning of big losses in the school’s funds.

A St. Paul charter school’s authorizer has placed the school on probation and recommended the board fire its superintendent after she lost $4.3 million of the school’s money investing in a hedge fund.

The authorizer, Bethel University, said Hmong College Prep Academy’s failed investment “illustrates areas of great concern related to managing finance, governance and legal compliance.”

Christianna Hang, superintendent and chief financial officer, founded the school in 2004. It’s now the state’s largest single-site charter school, with around 2,400 students in the Como neighborhood, and is building a $43 million middle school with financing facilitated by the city of St. Paul.

Hang was looking for opportunities to pay for that project when she ended up wiring $5 million to a hedge fund in 2019, in violation of the school’s policy and state law. The school is now suing the hedge fund.

Bethel’s Aug. 30 letter also cited “significant concerns” about conflicts of interest regarding the superintendent, her husband and a former school board member.

The first conflict involved Bridge Partner Group, a company owned by Hang and her husband, Paul Yang. The board in January approved a contract with the company, effectively converting Yang from the school’s chief operating officer to an independent contractor on a fully guaranteed, five-year contract worth around $190,000 a year; the board later reversed that move.

The second conflict involves Northeast Bank, which was chosen to finance $7 million of the middle school project while one of its vice presidents, Jason Helgemoe, served as vice chair on the Hmong College Prep board.

Bethel has directed the board to spend 90 days making numerous changes at the school, including dividing superintendent and chief financial officer into two separate positions and hiring a financial consultant who reports directly to the authorizer.

In addition, Bethel is “recommending” the board fire Hang and replace her with someone with no prior ties to Hmong College Prep and for the board to appoint a chairperson who is not employed by the school; the current chair is a teacher.

If you are wondering why there is a Hmong charter school, Minnesota has a long-established practice of authorizing racially and ethnically segregated schools. Defenders of the practice say the children are more comfortable going to school with children of the same background.

I remember when Southerners said the same about segregated schools in the 1950s.

When was the last time your school had millions to invest in the market?

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


He wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No decision yet on oversight hearings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot selected Pedro Martinez, Superintendent of the San Antonio School District, as the Windy City’s public schools.

Martinez is a “reformer.” In San Antonio, he was known for his obsession with data and commitment to opening charter schools. He is a graduate of the tattered Broad Superintendents Academy. He is chairman of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change. Chiefs for Change brings together superintendents who share the test-and-punish ideas of the failed corporate reform movement (closing low-scoring schools, opening charter schools, relying on high-stakes testing, evaluating teachers by test scores, collecting data about everything, distrust of unions, etc.).

Martinez is a graduate of the Chicago Public Schools. He holds an M.B.A. from DePaul University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And, of course, he is a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy. He worked for Arne Duncan as Chief Financial Officer when Arne was Superintendent in Chicago. He was “Superintendent-in-Residence” for the Nevada Department of Education. Prior to that, he was superintendent for the 64,000-student Washoe County School District, covering the Reno, Nevada area.

Like Arne, Martinez was never a teacher or principal.

Dountonia Batts is a parent advocate and community organizer in Indianapolis. she is a member of the board of the Network for Public Education. She explains here why she once supported vouchers but no longer does.

I can remember exactly when my thinking about school vouchers began to change. I was attending a community meeting, waiting to find out whether my small children, then in kindergarten and first grade, were going to receive vouchers to attend a private school. The meeting was almost over when a community member stood up and told us how disturbed she was by the way we all kept talking about ‘my children.’ “We have to be focused on the children who do not have the choices you have,” she told us solemnly. “They’re going to fall through the cracks.” It would take me years to see for myself what she meant, but the seed was planted that night.

My two sons did get school vouchers and were accepted to a private Baptist K-12 school. As the years passed, I became more aware of the impact of the decision I’d made. It started with my own children. After the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012, my oldest son wore a hoodie to school and it was viewed as a political statement. The signs that he wasn’t really welcome at a school that got less diverse in each successive grade became more apparent. I saw the eyes and heard the comments in the bleachers. My youngest son was the only Black child in his class. He started to get discouraged, convinced that he wasn’t smart. He never found his people at that school. I began to understand that school is about more than academics. The social element really matters too.

My perspective really began to change when my husband, Dr. Ramon Batts, decided to run for school board in Indianapolis. He could see what I’d been missing—that as charter schools and vouchers expanded, the school system in Indianapolis was falling apart. All of the high schools in our neighborhood had been shut down, even as charter high schools were popping up. Here was the neediest school system in the state, serving the neediest kids, and yet funds were being systematically drained away. And it was only getting worse. In the years that my children had been attending their private school, Indiana had expanded eligibility for the voucher program again and again. Today, families earning up to $140,000 can attend private schools at public expense. 

For the first time I really began to think about the impact of the decision I’d made on everybody else. By pulling away from the public system, I was leaving less for the kids who’d been left behind, including the ones who couldn’t get into private schools, or who got kicked out because they didn’t conform to what the schools wanted. The more I saw, the more it bothered me. I was using public dollars to perpetuate discrimination in the name of school choice. I decided that I could no longer accept school vouchers for my children because it was unethical. 

Today, both of my children attend public schools, and my younger son has finally found “his people.” And I’m now an advocate for public education. I try to get parents to understand that if we defund, undermine or privatize public schools we’re doing a disservice to the majority of parents for whom private schools are not an option. I try to help them see what I finally did: that the decisions we make when it comes to our own children have an impact on everybody else. All those years ago, that woman at the community meeting warned that we were drifting dangerously away from the idea of a common good. At the time, I couldn’t understand what she meant. I do now.