Archives for category: For-Profit

Floridians, and everyone else, want to know the answer to this question. Some believe that keeping schools open during a pandemic will destroy them; some fear that opening them during a pandemic will destroy them. Take your pick.

Thanks to Peter Greene, I discovered a Florida blog called Accountabaloney, written by two savvy Floridians who are fed-up with their state’s absurd education policies. Sue and Suzette, welcome!

They write here about a podcast by Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider, questioning whether Betsy DeVos’s newfound enthusiasm for opening real public schools is another front in her war to destroy them.

Listening to the “In the Weeds” podcast, they realized that another con was happening:

Some will read the title and dismiss it as a conspiracy theory. That is exactly what we used to hear if we equated “ed reform” with privatization five or so years ago, when the education reformers were still hiding their desire to privatize public education. In Florida, they now make few attempts to conceal their mission. We hope you will read this summary, subscribe at Patreon, listen to the entire “In the Weeds” segment, and draw your own conclusions. Will the Covid pandemic be used fundamentally alter public education in Florida?…

Keep in mind, the Commissioner Corcoran is a strong proponent of “school choice” and privatization, pushing as both a legislator and as the commissioner for the expansion of charter schools and private school voucher programs. Shortly after he was appointed as commissioner, he was reported saying his goal was to move 2/3rd of Florida’s 2.7 million public school students into private options, envisioning a system where most students attended charter and private schools.

After calling for the campus closures of Florida’s public schools in response to the pandemic in March, at the April 1st State Board of Education meeting, Commissioner Corcoran praised Florida Virtual School (FLVS) for re-allocating $4.3 million of its reserve funding to purchase the servers necessary to expand its capacity be capable of serving the entire Florida student population (2.72 million). He suggested that, should the closures remain necessary, FLVS could serve the entire state’s virtual needs…

Shortly after his inauguration, Governor Ron DeSantis redefined public education saying “if it’s public dollars, it’s public education,” an idea celebrated by DeVos.

I’m so glad to read this post. Florida is very likely the worst, most corrupt state in the nation when it comes to education policy.

Johann Neem, historian of education at Western Washington University, wrote an article in USA Today about the threat that COVID-19 poses to the future of public education. Affluent parents, he notes, are making their own arrangements. Some have created “learning pods” and hired their own teachers. Others will send their children to private schools, which have the resources to respond nimbly to the crisis. He recounts the early history of public schools and points out that they became essential as they served an ever-growing share of the community’s children.

Neem writes that the increase in the number of charter schools and vouchers, as well as Betsy DeVos’s relentless promotion of charters and vouchers, has already eroded the stature of public schools.

He warns:

We are at a moment of reckoning. The last time public schools were closed was when Southern states sought to avoid integration. The goal then was to sustain racial inequality. Even if today the aim is not racist, in a system already rife with economic and racial inequality, if families with resources invest more in themselves rather than share time and money in common institutions, the quality of public education for less privileged Americans, many of whom are racial minorities, will deteriorate.

His warnings are timely. Others warn that home schooling will increase so long as pinprick schools stay closed or rely on remote learning.

But there is another possibility: Eventually, schools will open for full-time, in-person instruction, when it is safe to do so.

How many parents will continue home schooling when their children can attend a real school with experienced teachers and a full curriculum and roster of activities? How many parents will pay $25,000 or more for each child when an equivalent education is available in the local public school for free? At present, only 6% send their children to charter schools. How likely is that to increase when new charters close almost as often as they open?
How many parents want vouchers for subpar religious schools, when only a tiny percentage chose them before the pandemic?

My advice: Don’t panic. Take care of the children, their families, and school staff. Fight for funding to make our public schools better than ever. After the pandemic, they will still be the best choice because they have the best teachers and the most children.

This just in from federal officials:

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Central District of California
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, July 17, 2020
Former Head of Community Preparatory Academy Admits Stealing Over $3 Million and Spending $220,000 on Disney Expenses

LOS ANGELES – Federal prosecutors today filed criminal theft and tax fraud charges against the former executive director of a charter school outfit who stole more than $3.1 million that should have been spent on school operations, but instead financed a lifestyle that included extravagant spending on Disney cruises and theme park admissions.

Janis Bucknor, 52, a resident of Baldwin Hills, who ran the for-profit Community Preparatory Academy (CPA) charter school and controlled several related entities, agreed to plead guilty to two felony offenses in a plea agreement also filed today in United States District Court. CPA operated two schools, one in Carson and one in South Los Angeles.

The case charges Bucknor with one count of theft, embezzlement and intentional misapplication of funds from an organization receiving federal funds, and one count of tax evasion for the tax year 2016. The court has yet to schedule any hearings in this matter.

Over the course of approximately 5½ years – from early 2014 through November 2019 – Bucknor stole a total of $3,168,346 from CPA, according to the most recent estimate of losses in the case. The amount of stolen funds is nearly one-third of all federal and state funding that went to CPA during the time.

In her plea agreement, Bucknor admitted using the stolen funds to pay for, among other things, personal travel, restaurants, Amazon and Etsy purchases, and private school tuition for her children. She also admitted spending about $220,614 on Disney cruise line vacations, theme park admissions and other Disney-related expenses.

The scheme began to unravel in February 2018, when “LAUSD-Charter School Division’s routine audit of CPA revealed that defendant used the CPA accounts for personal expenses, including unauthorized payments directly from some of the CPA accounts to Disney, Louis Vuitton, Girl Scouts, Ticketmaster, Uber, Baby Teeth Children’s Dentistry, Williams Sonoma, National American Miss pageants, and Forest Lawn Mortuaries, all of which were for defendant’s own personal and unauthorized use and benefit,” according to the plea agreement.

In relation to the tax evasion offense, Bucknor agreed to plead guilty to her 2016 taxes, but she admitted failing to pay the Internal Revenue Service $299,639 in taxes when she failed to report $1,322,254 in income for the tax years 2015 through 2018.

When she pleads guilty, Bucknor will face a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.

As part of the plea agreement, Bucknor has agreed to forfeit to the government her interest in three residential properties in South Los Angeles that were paid for with funds stolen from the charter school.

This case was investigated by the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Office of the Inspector General, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General, IRS Criminal Investigation, the United States Secret Service, and the United States Postal Inspection Service.

The criminal case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Katherine A. Rykken and Alexander C.K. Wyman of the Major Frauds Section. Assistant United States Attorneys Jonathan Galatzan and Katharine Schonbachler are handling the asset forfeiture part of the matter.

Charters in the Philadelphia area received more than $30 million in Paycheck Protection Program funds, while public schools in Philadelphia continue to be systematically underfunded. The big winner in the PPP sweepstakes is the for-profit Chester Community Charter School, owned by a major Republican donor and billionaire.

One of the largest loans, between $5 million and $10 million, went to Chester Community Charter School (CCCS), which is operated by a for-profit management company owned by wealthy Republican donor Vahan Gureghian.

The loan was received by Archway Charter School of Chester, Inc., which is the nonprofit name for CCCS under which it files its 990 tax form.

The CCCS charter already received more than $2.5 million from the CARES Act, intended for public schools. So CCCS, which aims for a complete takeover and privatization of its district, is funded both as a “public school” and a small business.

The most recent 990 form on file for Archway and available in Guidestar, which is for 2017, reports that almost all its more than $66 million in revenue comes from “government grants.” Gureghian has resisted releasing any information about his management company’s profits, but the 990 reports $18 million in management costs.

Chester Community is among those pursuing a court case that could privatize the management of all the schools in Chester. Charters already educate most of the K-8 students in the district.

ProPublica wrote about a private contractor who wanted to help “build the Wall.” He won a federal contract for $1.7 billion and quickly erected three miles of Trump’s Wall. Problem is that it’s now at risk of falling into the Rio Grande River.

Working in collaboration with the Texas Tribune, ProPublica wrote:

Tommy Fisher billed his new privately funded border wall as the future of deterrence, a quick-to-build steel fortress that spans 3 miles in one of the busiest Border Patrol sectors.

Unlike a generation of wall builders before him, he said he figured out how to build a structure directly on the banks of the Rio Grande, a risky but potentially game-changing step when it came to the nation’s border wall system.

Fisher has leveraged his self-described “Lamborghini” of walls to win more than $1.7 billion worth of federal contracts in Arizona.

But his showcase piece is showing signs of runoff erosion and, if it’s not fixed, could be in danger of falling into the Rio Grande, according to engineers and hydrologists who reviewed photos of the wall for ProPublica and The Texas Tribune. It never should have been built so close to the river, they say

The Biden and Sanders campaigns created a “Unity Task Force” to make recommendations on important issues.

Here is their report with recommendations. It is 110 pages.

There is much to like in the report, proposing an agenda to reverse four years of savage attacks by Trump on the environment, on the rule of law, on government itself.

The education portion aPears on pp. 22-27.

It contains welcome pledges of increased funding, more equitable funding, universal early childhood education, a commitment to racial integration of schools, a commitment to making higher education affordable (including tuition-free community colleges), debt relief for college graduates, and other worthy goals and policies.

On the two issues where Democrats found themselves committed to Republican strategies, the panel has a mixed record.

It took a clear stand against the high-stakes standardized testing that is a legacy of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law of 2001-2002:

The evidence from nearly two decades of education reforms that hinge on standardized test scores shows clearly that high-stakes annual testing has not led to enough improvement in outcomes for students or for schools, and can lead to discrimination against students, particularly students with disabilities, students of color, low-income students, and English language learners. Democrats will work to end the use of such high-stakes tests and encourage states to develop evidence-based approaches to student assessment that rely on multiple and holistic measures that better represent student achievement.

That’s a step forward, especially since so many high-profile DemocratIc Senators voted to retain high-stakes testing when NCLB turned into the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015. So, we can celebrate the fact that the Unity Task Force is prepared to discard the Bush policy based on the non-existent “Texas Miracle.”

The other issue that has been a huge burden for public schools is the Republican claim that competition improves public schools. This faulty idea has spurred the development of privately managed charter schools and vouchers. Charters have a flimsy record. Those that get high test scores are known for their low enrollments of students with disabilities and English language learners, as well as their harsh discipline policies (no excuses). Many Republicans love charters because they are a stepping stone to vouchers. They wean people away from public schools and encourage parents to think of themselves as consumers, not citizens. Thanks to private management, charters have been plagued by multiple scandals involving waste, fraud abuse, and bloated administrative overhead. The teacher turnover rate at charters is very large in some high-performing charters, as much as 50% every year. The virtual charter industry is a disaster that has been associated with multimillion dollar embezzlement.

The Network for Public Education published two reports documenting the failure of the federal Charter Schools Program, which hands out $440 million every year to open new charters and expand existing ones. I have referred to the CSP as Betsy DeVos’s personal slush fund because she has given huge grants to corporate charter chains like KIPP and IDEA. THE NPE reports (Asleep at the Wheel and Still Asleep at the Wheel) demonstrate that nearly 40% of the charters funded by the CSP either never opened or closed soon after opening. During the campaign, Senator Sanders called for elimination of the federal a Charter Schools Program.

Five facts stand out about charter schools:

1. On average, they don’t get better results than public schools.
2. They drain resources and the students they choose from public schools that take everyone, including the kids the charters don’t want.
3. About 90% of charters are non-union, by design.
4. Charters are amply funded by billionaires like the Walton family, Betsy DeVos, Charles Koch, Reed Hastings, and Michael Bloomberg.
5. If charters helped solve the problems of American education, then Detroit would be one of the outstanding districts in the nation, instead it is one of the nation’s lowest performing districts.

Why should the federal government spend $440 million every year on new charters and on expanding corporate charter chains?

Given that background, you can understand why I think the Unity Task Force statement on charters is watery pablum.

Here it is in its entirety:

Charter schools were originally intended to be publicly funded schools with increased flexibility in program design and operations. Democrats believe that education is a public good and should not be saddled with a private profit motive, which is why we will ban for-profit private charter businesses from receiving federal funding. And we recognize the need for more stringent guardrails to ensure charter schools are good stewards of federal education funds. We support measures to increase accountability for charter schools, including by requiring all charter schools to meet the same standards of transparency as traditional public schools, including with regard to civil rights protections, racial equity, admissions practices, disciplinary procedures, and school finances. We will call for conditioning federal funding for new, expanded charter schools or for charter school renewals on a district’s review of whether the charter will systematically underserve the neediest students. And Democrats oppose private school vouchers and other policies that divert taxpayer-funded resources away from the public school system.

Nothing is said here that would displease the hedge fund managers and billionaires who support charters. Even Betsy DeVos must be smiling to see the Biden-Sanders task force endorse school choice, which was birthed by southern governors resisting the Brown decision. It’s very sad to see a task force of Democratic leaders giving their blessing to the southern strategy. (Read Steve Suitts’ new book on that sordid history: “Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Legacy.”)

Taking a stand against “for-profit charters” is piffle. Arizona is the only state that allows for-profit charters. Nothing is said in this statement about banning for-profit management corporations, which manage large numbers of “nonprofit” charters all over the country.

And notice that the task force says nothing about terminating the federal Charter Schools Program, as Sanders recommended, guaranteeing that the government will continue to spend $440 million (or more) to open more non-union charters to compete with public schools. Excluding “for-profit charters” from the federal CSP is good news for KIPP, IDEA, and other “nonprofit” corporate charter chains that are bankrupting local public schools. This recommendation was made with full knowledge of the long-run failure of this program.

Of course, I will vote for Joe Biden, despite this weak-kneed capitulation to the Republican-dominated charter lobbyists. But I won’t hide my disappointment.

The failure of the task force to challenge the charter industry and stand up for public schools as the foundation stone of our democracy is troubling and is an embarrassment to the Biden campaign.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board has three core beliefs about education.

1. Public schools are horrible.

2. Teachers’ unions are evil.

3. Non-unionized charters and vouchers are the remedy to all that ails American education.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The three highest performing states in the nation—Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey—have strong teachers’ unions. None of the non-union states are at the top of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Unions fight for adequate resources and decent salaries for teachers, in addition to fighting for teachers’ right to fair treatment on the job. The resources help their students, and the job rights help retain career teachers.

Most recently the WSJ wrote a glowing editorial about the alleged success of vouchers in Florida, one of its favorite states because its governor and legislature have diverted $3 billion from public schools to non-union charters and vouchers. The editorialists are thrilled because Florida just recently expanded its voucher program.

Most vouchers in Florida are used in religious schools, most of which are evangelical Christian schools. The voucher schools are not required to take state tests. They are not required to be accountable in any way. They are not required to hire certified teachers or principals. The voucher schools are allowed to discriminate against gay students, staff, and families. They do not have to adopt the state standards and may use the Bible as their science textbook if they wish. The Orlando Sentinel wrote a revealing series about Florida’s voucher program, called “Schools Without Rules.”

Bear in mind that the size of a voucher—less than $8,000–guarantees that it will be accepted only by low-tuition schools, not by the schools of elite families, where tuition may be as high as $35,000-40,000 a year.

Here is the text of the WSJ editorial:

The headline is “Florida’s School Choice Blowout.”

The subtitle is: “The State Expands Its Successful K-12 Scholarship Program.”

Good news from Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed the biggest private school voucher expansion in U.S. history—giving families in Democratic, union-controlled states another reason to move to the Sunshine State.

Florida established the Family Empowerment Scholarship last year for low and middle-income families. The private school vouchers run between $6,775 and $7,250 per student depending on the grade level, and 87% of recipients come from households below 185% of the federal poverty level (about $48,470 for a family of four). Most are black or Hispanic.

Vouchers had been limited to 18,000 students this year with annual growth capped at about 7,000. This wasn’t enough to meet parental demand, and there are 35,000 eligible students on scholarship waiting lists. Republicans have now quadrupled the cap on annual growth so that 28,000 more students can benefit each year. If the voucher program’s capacity exceeds demand from eligible families, the new law will increase the household-income limit (currently 300% of the poverty line) by 25% so more middle-income families can apply. In short, supply of vouchers will now automatically expand to meet demand.

As a political trade, Mr. DeSantis gave public schools $500 million for salary increases—not that this appeased the teachers unions that oppose all school choice because it forces unionized public schools to compete for students. While voucher studies have shown mixed effects on academic performance, one reason is probably that giving parents more choice forces improvements at public schools. A National Bureau of Economic Research study this year found higher standardized test scores and lower absenteeism among students, especially low-income ones, who attended Florida public schools in areas where more students had access to private-school choice.

Notably, fourth-graders in Washington, D.C., and Miami-Dade in Florida showed the most improvement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores among large urban school districts since 2011. Both Florida and Washington, D.C., offer robust private-school choice and have eliminated teacher tenure. By contrast, student scores in most districts including Houston, Philadelphia and Baltimore have been flat or declined.

Jeb Bush kicked off Florida’s school choice movement two decades ago, and Rick Scott (now Senator) and Mr. DeSantis have built on his success. More than 130,000 students in Florida now receive scholarships. Florida is helping to increase social mobility and future incomes by expanding educational opportunity for all.

Here are the facts:

Florida’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a sample test of reading and mathematics in grades 4 and 8 for the nation, states, and some urban districts, have been mostly flat over the past decade. The NAEP scores don’t include voucher schools, because they are not held accountable in any way. The WSJ asserts that Florida is a great “success” story, that its fourth graders showed dramatic improvement from 2011-2019, but that is false. Why leave out the eighth graders? Could it be because the eighth grade scores in both Florida and Miami were flat?

Here are the NAEP results for 2019 in reading.

Here are the NAEP results in mathematics for 2019.

You can look at average scores over time for every state and for urban districts that asked to be tested, including Miami-Dade.

You can compare 2019 to previous years. The WSJ chose to compare 2019 to 2011, but I chose to compare 2019 to 2009. It’s not impressive for Florida or Miami no matter which year you choose.

Let’s check the progress of Florida and Miami on NAEP (public schools only):

Fourth grade reading: Scores unchanged since 2009.

Eighth grade reading: Scores unchanged since 2009.

Fourth grade mathematics: Scores unchanged since 2011 (Remember that Florida retains low-scoring third graders, which tends to inflate fourth -grade scores).

Eighth grade math: Scores unchanged from 2009-2019.

Since the WSJ refers to NAEP as evidence of Florida’s amazing performance, it’s worth noting that Florida has flat-lined for the last decade on NAEP.

We don’t know anything about the “success” of vouchers in Florida, since their students don’t take state tests or NAEP.

But we do know that rigorous voucher studies in other states—Louisiana, Ohio, Indiana, the District of Columbia—have shown that voucher students lose ground compared to their peers in public schools. (See here and here and here.)

Far from “expanding opportunity,” vouchers enable children to attend low-cost schools where they abandon their civil rights protections at the door, are instructed by uncertified teachers, and are likely to fall behind academically or return to their public school. One of the unexplored issues associated with voucher schools is their high attrition rates. When voucher boosters boast about their high school graduation rate, they fail to mention the number of kids who didn’t make it to senior year. Only the elitist Wall Street Journal would think of this as a boon for children and families.

Peter Greene explains here how Trump came to Betsy DeVos’ rescue when Congress tried to stop her from punishing students who had been scammed by predatory colleges.

DeVos wanted to withdraw an Obama-era program that helped students who incurred debts to fraudulent colleges. A court intervened to stop her. DeVos considers the students buried by debt to be free-loaders. Congress rebuked DeVos in a rare bipartisan vote. Trump issued his very first veto, simultaneously supporting DeVos and rejecting the thousands of students who had been defrauded.

This is outrageous.

Back to court.

Mayor De Blasio—or someone in his Department of Education—invited the foul-mouthed, misogynistic rapper Pitbull to join luminaries who will speak to the graduating class of 2020.

Here is the city’s announcement:

Dear Students and Families,

To celebrate the end of a school year like none before, please join us for a graduation celebration like none before the evening of Tuesday, June 30! We will be honoring the resilient, inspiring Class of 2020 with festivities that will be livestreamed across social media and broadcast on PIX 11 beginning at 7:00 p.m.

The event will feature the accomplishments of our graduating seniors, family messages, and congratulations from celebrities like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Kenan Thompson, Nick Kroll, Nia Long, Pitbull, Angela Yee, and more. Mayor de Blasio and the First Lady, Chancellor Carranza, and other public officials and educators will also convey their words of appreciation to the largest graduating class in the nation who will be the changemakers in our nation’s future.

We hope you all will join us for a joyful occasion to conclude a difficult year on June 30. Please save the date and learn more at https://www.nycclassof2020.com.

Pitbull founded a mediocre charter school in Miami called Slam Academy. It operates as part of a for-profit chain. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos joined him there to show her delight that the rapper joined her crusade for school choice.

Jersey Jazzman wrote about the origins of Pitbull’s charter school in 2013.

Darcie Cimarusti wrote about a signal event when Pitbull was honored by the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools in 2013, which was thrilled to have a celebrity on its dais.

The virtual charter industry is anticipating growth in enrollments and profits, thanks to the pandemic.

The largest of the virtual charters is the K12 Inc. virtual charter chain, listed on the New York Stock Exchange, whose revenues exceeded $1 billion this year.

Executives haul in big salaries (one of K12’s founders, Ron Packard, was paid $5 million a year but has since moved on to lead other charter chains). Michael Milken was an early investor in K12 and Bill Bennett was a prominent leader until he made racist remarks that caused him to be removed.

The most important thing to know about virtual charter schools is that they have dismal track records. They enroll as many students as possible through heavy advertising and marketing, but their graduation rates are low, their test scores are low, and their attrition rates are high.

Numerous studies of virtual charter schools agree that their results are very poor. A CREDO study in 2015 concluded that students in virtual charters lose ground in reading and lose the equivalent of a year of instruction in math.

While findings vary for each student, the results in CREDO’s report show that the majority of online charter students had far weaker academic growth in both math and reading compared to their traditional public school peers. To conceptualize this shortfall, it would equate to a student losing 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math, based on a 180-day school year. This pattern of weaker growth remained consistent across racial-ethnic subpopulations and students in poverty.

The studies of virtual schools by Gary Miron and his colleagues report graduation rates of about 50%, as compared to a graduation rate of 83% in traditional public schools, as well as low performance compared to regular public schools.

So, if you want virtual learning at home and you don’t care if your child actually learns anything, sign up.