Archives for category: For-Profit

Dave Dewitt, editor-in-chief of the Ohio Capital Journal, wrote a blistering critique of the state’s political leadership, who place the interests of the private sector above the common good of the public.

Many Ohioans pay taxes for schools but don’t have school-age children. Their taxes are meant to fund quality public schools because having educated citizens is a public good. Sending their money to unaccountable for-profit, private, and religious schools is a terrible abuse.

Compelling taxpayers to support private interests at the expense of public ones is not only unethical, but unconstitutional when those private interests intertwine with religion. American taxpayers should never be forced to fund the efforts of religious institutions of any kind. Not one red cent.

The very first clause in the First Amendment of our Bill of Rights is couched firmly in that defining principle. The entire basis for making “no law respecting an establishment of religion” the first clause was “Father of the Constitution” James Madison’s takedown of anti-Constitution Patrick Henry’s proposal to send taxpayer money to support religious institutions.

Nevertheless, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has put forward a budget proposal to expand school voucher subsidies that would send money to private, for-profit, and religious ventures. Prominent Ohio Republican Statehouse leaders appear to be on board.

From Cleveland.com’s Laura Hancock:

“Families are eligible for EdChoice scholarships by either living in the boundaries of a low-performing school or by household income. Currently, a family of four can qualify for state money if the household income is at or below $69,375, or 250% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. The limit would increase to 400% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, which would be $111,000 for a family of four, under DeWine’s proposal. …”

EdChoice vouchers are distributed as checks given to private schools to help cover a student’s tuition. The scholarship amount is currently $5,500 for students in grades k-8 and $7,500 for grades 9-12. Republicans who control the legislature expanded vouchers in 2012, 2020, and 2021.

So vouchers are already available to low-income households and in low-performing districts, which means the only reason to increase the voucher threshold to 400% is for a massive sweetheart giveaway to private interests.

DeWine’s budget also would increase per-student building funding for all charter schools from $500 to $1,000 per student — a 100% bump — and provide an extra $3,000 for each economically disadvantaged student, or a student who qualifies for free or reduced lunch — up from $1,750 currently.

DeWine, Hancock notes, did not propose any extra per-student money for traditional public education.

Sadly, American public education was marked as a $500 billion a year opportunity for private profiteering some time ago, and Ohio has been leading the way.

 Getty Images.

Over the past several decades, Ohio’s seen one boondoggle after another.

Ohio taxpayers were ripped off by hundreds of millions of dollars, and nearly 12,000 Ohio schoolchildren and their families left in the lurch, when the ECOT schemedreamed up on a Waffle House napkincrashed and burned in 2018.

Another for-profit charter school operator called White Hat Management drained $67 million a year away from Ohio public schools before low test scores and soaring high school dropout rates led to a lawsuit from school boards and its eventual demise.

Dayton Daily News’ Josh Sweigart has uncovered a smattering of cases the past decade, including nepotistic hiring, undocumented purchasing, and charter school board members overpaying themselves.

Meanwhile, Ohio Capital Journal’s Zurie Pope revealed in reporting this past summer that the proposed “Backpack Bill” legislation last General Assembly to send public education money to private schools by the head was written with help from religious lobbying group the Center for Christian Virtue (CCV) and a think tank that promotes charter schools.

Promotion for the so-called “Backpack Bill” law featured CCV President Aaron Baer speaking at a press conference for it, and documents obtained by OCJ also revealed behind-the-scenes advice and promotion by outside groups like Heritage Action and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

ALEC even held a luncheon for lawmakers at the Statehouse promoted as a “Backpack Bill Briefing.”

All of this has come amid a decades-long right-wing assault on public education itself, only becoming more venomous and destructive in recent years.

But by wide margins, parents express satisfaction with their kids’ schools, and educational outcomes over the past 50 years in America have only steadily improved. From Education Next:

Contrary to what you may have heard, average student achievement has been increasing for half a century. Across 7 million tests taken by U.S. students born between 1954 and 2007, math scores have grown by 95 percent of a standard deviation, or nearly four years’ worth of learning. Reading scores have grown by 20 percent of a standard deviation during that time, nearly one year’s worth of learning.

The narrative of “failing public schools” has been manufactured by corrupt private school bloodsuckers looking to wet their beaks in the public school money pot.

Aside from its false pretenses, it undercuts funding and saps the ability of public schools to address real problems.

The biggest achievement gap in American education is directly tied to poverty. Exacerbating this situation is the fact that Ohio has had unconstitutional property tax-based school funding for 25 years. Wealthy districts do great, while low-income districts suffer mightily.

We have ample empirical evidence to prove that the way to address the poverty achievement gap is by robustly funding public schools to institute best practices: early childhood education; a well-rounded school experience including culture, sports, and the arts; extra-curricular activities that give students a sense of purpose; community-minded and community-building schools; cooperative learning.

But initiatives like these are the very things money-strapped districts are forced to cut first, alongside practical necessities like busing or the teachers themselves.

DeWine’s proposed budget does include money for things such as early childhood education, and he has already awarded significant grants for it, which is commendable.

But he seems to want to balance this politically with a massive giveaway of public dollars to private school interests and the religious zealots aligned with CCV, which is unacceptable.

Many Ohio taxpayers — even those who don’t have children or whose children are no longer school-age — are happy to help fund public schools.

We understand that quality public schools increase property values and make our communities attractive places to live, which helps them thrive.

We want our communities and our public schools to thrive.

What most Ohio taxpayers do not want is our public schools to continue to suffer as money and resources are siphoned away from them to prop up private, for-profit, and religious interests.

But when it comes to funding those interests, or fully and fairly funding Ohio’s public schools, Republican Statehouse leaders have continually legislated for the private interests.

The vultures have poll-tested their messaging, so they love to talk about “school choice,” “parents’ rights,” and “funding the students, not the system.”

This is a smooth evasion that attempts to elide the fact that the question isn’t about whether parents have a choice where to send their kids for schooling; everybody already does.

What these interests are asking for are endless direct state subsidies to their private enterprises and religious institutions.

And that’s what DeWine and these lawmakers stand prepared to keep giving them, on our dime and at the expense of our public schools.

Every Ohio public school faces a yearly audit, but no such requirement exists for private schools receiving public vouchers. Why not? If public money is continually funneled into these schools, why are they not subjected to the same auditing standards as public schools to make sure that money is actually going toward appropriate education of students?In an analysis of one proposed bill, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Commission found that two-thirds of kids getting vouchers in Ohio’s expansion program have never been in public schools.

So that means that these kids aren’t being “rescued” from public schools; they were never going to public schools in the first place. This is pure state subsidy of private school tuition. As the LSC puts it, these are “existing nonpublic school students that represent a new state responsibility.”

Do the private schools lead to greater academic success?

A Cincinnati Enquirer analysis of nearly 2.5 million test scores from schools in more than 150 Ohio cities during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years found that in 88% of the cities, the public district achieved better state testing results than the private schools.

Given all this, what assurances are Ohioans being given that our money will not be misused as it has been in the past? If this money is coming out of public school funding, what guarantees do we have that our public schools will be fully funded under the new Fair Funding plan?

 COLUMBUS, OH — JANUARY 31: Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) takes questions from the press following State of the State Address, Jan. 31, 2023, in the Warren G. Harding Briefing Room at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

Ohio Senate Republicans led by President Matt Huffman have made clear they want the full “Backpack Bill” pushed by the CCV. That would be the biggest win possible for the private interests. As this DeWine proposal is brought and negotiated between the House and Senate, it looks likely to become, essentially, “Backpack Bill Light.”

I’m not holding my breath for full, fair public school funding. Legislators repeatedly steamroll DeWine and there’s no reason to think they won’t on this. There’s only one pot. It’s meant for high-quality public schools. But they always turn their backs on our public schools in favor of the private interests.

I come from a family of educators: My mom, a longtime teacher and junior high school principal; my sister, a primary school special education teacher; my grandmother, a high school teacher; my other grandmother, a school librarian; my grandfather, a school teacher and later the dean of a Kent State University branch.

I grew up surrounded by public educators, both at school and at home. I grew up generally believing that we as a society agreed about the importance and value of public education.

It came as a great shock to me when I entered adulthood that there are incredibly well-funded private interests working every day to undermine and rob our public schools.

Then I started seeing one for-profit school scam after another in Ohio, and realized that our state government was actively stoking the grift.

When I ask the public educators I know for their thoughts, many tell me there’s a definite role for traditional charters and private schools for the maybe 10% of students best off at them, but it’s unconscionable to rob the other 90% of public school students and prioritize the 10%.

That seems reasonable.

Traditional charter and private schools have a place, but they must face just as much scrutiny and accountability and auditing as our public schools if they are to receive our money.

And propping up private schools should never, ever come at the expense of our already woefully unsupported public schools.

We need to dedicate ourselves to a positive vision of the wonderful beacons our public schools can be when we invest in them, when we support them, when we encourage them to be creative, and when we give them the resources and opportunity to thrive.

Public education is not failing. Ohio politicians are failing to prioritize and invest in public education.

Steven Singer writes about the alliance among three organizations—a private equity firm, a testing company, and an EdTech company. What could possibly go wrong?

He begins:

Prepare to watch more of your tax dollars spiral down the drain of standardized testing.


A year after being gobbled up by private equity firmVeritas Capital, ed tech company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) is acquiring K-12 assessment giant Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA).

Let me put that in perspective – a scandal-ridden investment firm that made billions in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan bought one of standardized testing’s big four and then added the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test to its arsenal.

This almost certainly means the cost of state testing is going to increase since the providers of the tests are shrinking.

“It used to be if you put out a [Request for Proposal] RFP for state assessment, you get five, six, 10 bidders,” said Scott Marion, executive director of the Center for Assessment. “Now you’re lucky to get three. When you’re doing that, there’s maybe not as much expertise and certainly the cost will go up” (emphasis mine).

Under the proposed deal announced in January, the testing company’s assessments and the ed tech company’s test prep materials will become intimately entwined.

NWEA, best known for its MAP assessment, will operate as a division of HMH. And NWEA’s tests will be aligned with HMH’s curriculum.

You can just imagine how this will affect the marketplace.

NWEA serves about 10,000 school districts and HMH estimates it works with more than 50 million students and 4 million educators in 150 countries, according to a press release about the proposed acquisition.

So we can expect districts and even entire states which rely heavily on the MAP test to beencouraged to buy as much HMH curriculum as possible. That way they can teach directly what is on their standardized tests.

That is assuming, of course, the acquisition agreement is approved after a 90-day regulatory review period.

To be honest, I would be surprised if there are any objections.


Such cozy relationships already exist with other education companies. For example, Curriculum Associates provides the aforementioned curriculum for its own i-Ready assessment.

It’s ironic that an industry built on standardization – one size fits all – continues to take steps to create books, software and courses aligned with specific tests. It’s almost like individuating information to specific student’s needs is beneficial or something. Weird!

After all, if these sorts of assessments can be gamed by increased access to materials created by the same corporate entities that create and grade the tests, are we really assessing knowledge? Aren’t we just giving students a score based on how many books and software packages their districts bought from the parent company? Is that really education?

I remember a time when curriculum was determined by classroom teachers – you know, experts in their fields, not experts in the corporate entity’s test du jour.

But I guess no one was getting rich that way…

Please open the link and read the rest of this important post.

When I first had a chance to read the College Board’s AP African American Studies syllabus, I predicted that the College Board was likely to beat a hasty retreat if its bottom line was jeopardized. I have not yet seen the revised edition, but the media is reporting that certain hot topics and prominent names were deleted to make the course palatable to Ron DeSantis and other conservative governors.

The New York Times reported:

After heavy criticism from Gov. Ron DeSantis, the College Board released on Wednesday an official curriculum for its new Advanced Placement course in African American Studies — stripped of much of the subject matter that had angered the governor and other conservatives.

The College Board purged the names of many Black writers and scholars associated with critical race theory, the queer experience and Black feminism. It ushered out some politically fraught topics, like Black Lives Matter, from the formal curriculum.

And it added something new: “Black conservatism” is now offered as an idea for a research project.

This last addition was a direct concession to criticism from the conservative National Review, which assailed the AP course as Neo-marxist indoctrination that left out the voices of African American conservative writers and scholars.

The Times’ story continues:

But the study of contemporary topics — including Black Lives Matter, incarceration, queer life and the debate over reparations — is downgraded. The subjects are no longer part of the exam, and are simply offered on a list of options for a required research project.

And even that list, in a nod to local laws, “can be refined by local states and districts.”

The expunged writers and scholars include Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, a law professor at Columbia, which touts her work as “foundational in critical race theory”; Roderick Ferguson, a Yale professor who has written about queer social movements; and Ta-Nehisi Coates, the author who has made the case for reparations for slavery. Gone, too, is bell hooks, the writer who shaped discussions about race, feminism and class.

After the curriculum was released, Professor Crenshaw said that even if her name and others had been taken out of the curriculum because secondary sources — theorists or analysts — were being eliminated in favor of facts and lived experience, the decision sent a troubling message. “I would have made a different choice,” she said. “Even the appearance of bowing to political pressure in the context of new knowledge and ideas is something that should not be done.”

But she said she was also disappointed because she had believed the course would capitalize on a hunger of young students to learn “ways of thinking about things like police brutality, mass incarceration and continuing inequalities.”

Instead, she said, “the very same set of circumstances that presented the need for the course also created the backlash against the content that people don’t like.”

David Blight, a professor of American history at Yale University, said Wednesday that he had written an endorsement of the new curriculum, at the College Board’s request, and that he believed it had much to offer not just about history but also about Black poetry, art and the origins of the blues, jazz and hip-hop. But he withdrew his endorsement on Wednesday, after learning that some sections had been cut.

“I withdrew it because I want to know when and how they made these decisions to excise these people, because that’s also an attack on their academic freedom,” Dr. Blight said.

PEN America, a free speech organization, echoed that concern. While the College Board had said the changes were not political, the board “risked sending the message that political threats against the teaching of particular types of content can succeed in silencing that content,” said Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America…

Dr. Gates, who was a consultant to the curriculum, said he was “sorry that the College Board’s policy is not to require secondary sources in its curricula.” He teaches Harvard’s introduction to African American studies, “and academic subjects such as ‘Intersectionality’ and critical race theory, the 1619 Project, reparations for slavery, Black homophobia and antisemitism are fair game, of course, for such a class,” he said in an email. The 1619 Project is an initiative by The New York Times.

The College Board insists it made its changes in December before DeSantis denounced the syllabus.

But the conservative attack on the syllabus began last September, when Stanley Kurtz received a leaked copy and wrote a scathing critique in The National Review called “Neo-Marxing the College Board with AP African American Studies.”

He wrote in September:

A new and sweeping effort to infuse leftist radicalism into America’s K–12 curriculum has begun. The College Board — the group that runs the SAT test and the Advanced Placement (AP) program — is pilot-testing an AP African American Studies course. While the College Board has withheld the course’s curriculum framework from the public, I have obtained a copy.

Although K–12 teachers and academic consultants working with the College Board have publicly denied that AP African American Studies (APAAS) either pushes an ideological agenda or teaches critical race theory, those denials are false. APAAS clearly proselytizes for a socialist transformation of the United States, although its socialism is heavily inflected by attention to race and ethnicity. Even if there were no laws barring such content, states and local school districts would have every right to block APAAS as antithetical to their educational goals. In any case, APAAS’s course content does run afoul of the new state laws barring CRT. To approve APAAS would be to gut those laws.

Kurtz followed with additional articles in The National Review lambasting the course as radical leftist indoctrination that violated state laws prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory. He applauded DeSantis’s attack on the course.

Although the College Board insisted that it’s revisions had nothing to do with the conservative pushback and was completely nonpolitical, Kurtz laughed:

Here’s the reality. The College Board is in a panic. Its repeated attempts to keep the APAAS curriculum secret have failed. That curriculum has now been widely published, and the teacher’s guide has been exposed here at NRO as well. My sources tell me that at least one other red state is seriously considering pulling out of the course. More red states are likely doing the same. The College Board knows that if it doesn’t stop the bleeding, the red states will be lost.

The College Board knew it had a problem months before DeSantis condemned the course. Could it take the risk of offering a course that would be rejected by red states that had already banned “critical race theory?”

The Times pointed out:

Acceptance for the new curriculum is important to the College Board, a nonprofit, because A.P. courses are a major source of revenue. The board took in more than $1 billion in program service revenue in 2019, of which more than $490 million came from “AP and Instruction,” according to its tax-exempt filing.

The College Board is a nonprofit but it pays hefty salaries. According ito Forbes, its Chief Executive Officer David Coleman (the architect of the Common Core standards) was paid $1.8 million in salary in 2018 (the last year that figures were available), and its president received more than $1 million. The company holds over $1 billion in assets.

Could they risk publishing a course that might be rejected by every red state? Maybe. But would they? Clearly, it was decided that it was easier to drop the controversial names and topics than to offend powerful conservative figures who might hurt their revenues.

Independent researchers have demonstrated repeatedly that charter schools in Texas do not get better academic outcomes than public schools. The average charter school ranks below the average public school. Yet charter schools continue to proliferate, for two reasons: one, the governor, lieutenant governor and legislature firmly believe that the private sector is better than anything public; two, charter schools are a honey pot for entrepreneurs, who see a chance to get public money with minimal accountability or oversight.

Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer reported in 2016:

We estimate the impact of charter schools on early-life labor market outcomes using administrative data from Texas. We find that, at the mean, charter schools have no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings. No Excuses charter schools increase test scores and four-year college enrollment, but have a small and statistically insignificant impact on earnings, while other types of charter schools decrease test scores, four-year college enrollment, and earnings. Moving to school-level estimates, we find that charter schools that decrease test scores also tend to decrease earnings, while charter schools that increase test scores have no discernible impact on earnings.

This article appeared in the San Antonio Express-News. The business community in San Antonio has been very supportive of turning public money over to private-managed charter schools.

Just over two years ago, Universal Academy, a Texas charter school with two campuses in the Dallas area, made a surprising move.

In November 2020, a nonprofit foundation formed to support the school bought a luxury horse ranch and equestrian center from former ExxonMobil Chairman Rex Tillerson. The 12-building complex features a show barn “designed with Normandy-style cathedral ceilings,” a 120,000 square foot climate-controlled riding arena and a viewing pavilion with kitchen and bathrooms.

RELATED: IDEA Public Schools signed $15M lease for luxury jet despite being under state investigation

Last summer the Texas Education Agency granted Universal Academy permission to create a new elementary campus on the horse property’s manicured grounds. It will offer students riding lessons, according to a brochure, for $9,500.

Sales prices aren’t public in Texas, but the 100-acre property had been listed for $12 million when Tillerson, who also served as secretary of state under former President Donald Trump, bought it in 2009. Because of the foundation’s nonprofit status and its plans to offer equine therapy, the parcel has been removed from the tax rolls.

School board President Janice Blackmon said Universal hopes to use the facility to start a 4H chapter and Western-style horsemanship training, among other programs that take advantage of its rural location. “We’re trying to broaden the students and connect them to their Texas roots,” she said.

Splashy purchases like the horse arena are receiving increasing public scrutiny as charter schools continue to expand aggressively across Texas. Under state law, charter schools are public schools — just owned and managed privately, unlike traditional school districts.

An analysis by Hearst Newspapers found cases in which charter schools collected valuable real estate at great cost to taxpayers but with a tenuous connection to student learning. In others, administrators own the school facilities and have collected millions from charging rent to the same schools they run.

In Houston, the superintendent and founder of Diversity, Roots and Wings Academy, or DRAW, owns or controls four facilities used by the school, allowing him to bill millions to schools he oversees. DRAW’s most recent financial report shows signed lease agreements to pay Fernando Donatti, the superintendent, and his companies more than $6.5 million through 2031.

In an email, superintendent Donetti at DRAW said the property transactions were ethical, in the best interest of DRAW’s students and properly reported to state regulators. He said his school was “lucky” he was able to purchase the property because of challenges charters can face finding proper facilities.

Also in the Houston area, at ComQuest Academy Charter High School, the superintendent and her husband also own the company to which the school pays rent.

And Accelerated Learning Academy, a charter school based in Houston, is still trying to get a tax exemption on one of the two condominiums it bought just over a decade ago in upscale neighborhoods in Houston and Dallas. The school claims it has used the condos for storage, despite a nearby 9,600 square foot facility.

The battles between school districts and charter networks have become increasingly pitched, as they are locked in a zero-sum battle for public dollars.

Last year in Houston, about 45,000 students transferred from the ISD to charter schools, resulting in a loss to the district of a minimum of $276 million. That figure includes only the basic allotment received by the districts, excluding special education funding or other allotments.

In San Antonio, the two largest school districts are Northside ISD and North East ISD. More than 12,000 Northside students transferred to charter schools in the 2021-2022 school year, as did just under 8,000 from North East ISD. That means Northside lost at least $75 million, while North East lost $50 million, using the same basic allotment figures.

Each side cries foul about the other’s perceived advantages: charters are able to operate with less government and public scrutiny, while school districts benefit from zoning boards and can lean on a local tax base for financing.

Georgina Perez, who served on the State Board of Education from 2017 until this year, noted arrangements such as these would never be permitted at traditional school districts.

“If it can’t be done in (school districts), they probably had a good reason to disallow it,” she said. “So why can it be done with privately managed charter franchises?”

Lawmaker: ‘Sunshine’ is best cure

The largest charter network in Texas was a catalyst for the increased public scrutiny of charter school spending.

IDEA Public Schools faces state investigation for its spending habits, including purchases of luxury boxes at San Antonio Spurs games, lavish travel expenditures for executives, the acquisition of a boutique hotel in Cameron County for more than $1 million, plans to buy a $15 million private jet and other allegations of irresponsible or improper use of funds. The allegations date back to 2015 and led to the departure of top executives — including CEO and founder Tom Torkelson, who received a $900,000 severance payment.

Over the years lawmakers have steadily tightened rules for charter governance. A 2013 bill included provisions to strengthen nepotism rules; a 2021 law outlawed large severance payments. That bill was sponsored by Rep. Terry Canales, a South Texas Democrat whose district has some of the highest rates of charter school enrollment in the state.

“There’s a lot of work to be done for the people of Texas when it comes to charter schools,” Canales said. “Sunshine is the best cure for corruption. And the reality is it seems to be sanctioned corruption in charter schools.”

Considering the increased scrutiny, “It’s a myth that charter schools today are unregulated,” said Joe Hoffer, a San Antonio attorney who works on behalf of many charter schools. “Every session, more and more laws get passed.” If anything, he said, charter schools often have to jump through more regulatory hoops than local schools.

Yet acquiring property remains a gray area.

Charter schools that can’t purchase their own property typically must lease it and pay taxes. A 2021 state law authored by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, a San Antonio Democrat who operates a charter, made such arrangements tax-free. But the Texas Supreme Court later blocked parts of the law, and it has been applied differently by counties across the state.

It’s unusual for school districts to lease their facilities; typically they are publicly owned or constructed. Local school districts are governed by nonpartisan elected boards, and when the board decides to purchase real estate, it must notify the public of the contract and voters can petition the district to block it. If a project requires bonding or new taxes, it must be put on the ballot.

At charters, by comparison, the governing board is appointed, not elected, so it does not answer to local voters. The main public scrutiny comes later, when the information about the sale must be disclosed in annual required filings with the Texas Education Agency.

The state education agency has the authority to review charter real estate transactions and sometimes does. In Dallas, Golden Rule Charter School is under state investigation for a real estate deal and possible nepotism. The school declined to release details because the investigation is pending.

But such reviews are often cursory, if they happen at all.

When charters report a real estate transaction to the education agency, Hoffer said, they typically just receive a letter back saying it has been recorded, with a clause reminding the schools that state regulators have the authority to return for an audit or demand the deal be re-done.

Critics say it isn’t enough. “The problem that a lot of us have had with charters is that they are considered public schools and they are taxpayer-funded, but they don’t have taxpayer scrutiny,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat and former trustee at Eanes ISD. “It’s a real lack of accountability.”

Some deals benefit administrators

According to its website, Horizon Montessori Public School operates four campuses in the Rio Grande Valley, one on Sugar Cane Drive in Weslaco. Until recently, records show, the property and its two commercial buildings were owned by Superintendent Alim Ansari.

Hidalgo County appraisal records show Ansari also apparently lived in a 4,800-square-foot home at the back of the 2.85-acre parcel, a portion of which was granted a homestead limitation on its taxes.

In addition to serving as Ansari’s home, records from the Texas Education Agency show that between 2015 and 2020, the superintendent leased his Weslaco property to Horizon for classroom and office space, collecting $118,000 a year in rent during the period. In 2020, Ansari-the-landlord signed a new five-year contract with his school for the property, for $168,000 annually, according to education agency records.

A home can be seen on the same piece of property as the Horizon Montessori Public School on Sugarcane Drive in Weslaco on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. The home belonged to the superintendent of the public charter school who leased his Weslaco property to Horizon for classroom and office space, collecting $118,000 a year in rent from 2015-2020. State and local records show Ansari sold the campus and residence last June. The buyer was a nonprofit organization called South Texas Educational Technologies, which according to its tax records conducts business as Horizon Montessori. Ansari is its chairman. State and local records show the foundation purchased the property from Ansari for $1.9 million, or more than twice the $840,000 at which Hidalgo County appraised it. Records show the foundation used a private appraiser to value the parcel.James Hord/Contributor

State and local records show Ansari sold the campus and residence last June. The buyer was a nonprofit organization called South Texas Educational Technologies, which conducts business as Horizon Montessori, according to its tax records. Ansari is its chairman.

State and local records show Ansari’s foundation purchased the property from Ansari for $1.9 million — or more than twice the $840,000 at which Hidalgo County appraised it. The foundation used a private appraiser to value the parcel.

Ansari did not respond to multiple phone and email messages. James Hayes, a CPA who sits on Horizon’s board and who also is paid $48,000 a year by the charter for accounting services, declined to comment.

Related-party arrangements are rare among modern charters, said Hoffer, the attorney who represents some of them. In some cases, he said, new schools might be forced to make such deals temporarily because they did not have the creditworthiness to borrow money to purchase facilities.

Pioneer Technology and Arts Academy, which has several campuses in the Dallas area, paid about $5 million in rent in the 2021 fiscal year to two companies, one a nonprofit and one a for-profit. Records show Superintendent Shubham Pandey has stakes in both.

Just under $3.5 million went to the nonprofit controlled by two board members of Pioneer, including Pandey. Another $1,296,418 went to Pandey’s for-profit business, PNC Partners, with more than $3 million total reported in the previous three years.

In an email, Pandey said that Pioneer’s goal all along was to transfer the school buildings from his for-profit ownership to a nonprofit. Three campuses were taken over by the nonprofit in 2019, while three others were transferred last year. Future campuses will be owned by the nonprofit, he said, and he no longer collects rent checks from the school.

But the nonprofit did not exist when Pioneer was given its charter, and its initial application did not mention future plans to transfer assets to a nonprofit.

At ComQuest Academy Charter High School, the Houston-area charter, Superintendent Tanis Stanfield and her husband, Glenn, said they don’t earn a profit from the rent it pays their company, Peachwood Station LLC

Peachwood collected $91,000 in rent in 2021. Documents also say the company provided an additional $117,000-worth of rent for free.

Tanis Stanfield said the couple followed the law and provided the needed space at a steep discount to the school she ran. “State charter funding for facilities was not available for the campus acquisition,” the superintendent wrote in an email.

School-owned condos?

In 2017, the Chronicle reported on Accelerated Learning Academy’s purchase of a 1,119-square-foot condo unit in the 22-story Cosmopolitan, a glassy high rise near Memorial Park, for $427,000. The school then bought a 1,340-square-foot condo in downtown Dallas’s Metropolitan Club the same year, appraisal records show.

The school claimed both of the residential units were needed for storage space. The Dallas Appraisal District accepted that explanation, though the school already had a 9,600-square-foot, nearly empty campus in nearby Lancaster, and granted the condo a full property tax exemption. Records show Accelerated sold the condo in 2021.

The Cosmopolitan condominium building at 1600 Post Oak Blvd where Accelerated Learning Academy purchased a 1,119-square-foot condo unit, claiming they needed the space for storage, photographed Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, in Houston.

Harris County appraisal officials have been more skeptical about the school’s use of the unit for educational purposes: “Personally, I cannot imagine that the state of Texas would allow the use of state funds to purchase this property,” the agency’s exemptions coordinator wrote in 2013, noting the Cosmopolitan’s deed restrictions prohibited condos from being used for businesses.

Accelerated has continued to seek a tax exemption. The appraisal district’s 2018 field inspection showed some plastic totes scattered throughout the unit.

“Very nice condo with granite and hardwoods,” the inspector noted. The exemption was again denied because the property did “not meet the tests prescribed by the tax code.” Records show Accelerated paid about $9,000 in property taxes on the unit last year.

Another example is the A.W. Brown Leadership Academy, which has two campuses in the Dallas area that serve about 1,000 students. Property records show it owns eight properties, several worth millions that have sat unused — even as taxpayer money has gone to repay the loans used to buy them.

Records show A.W. Brown’s real estate holdings include nearly 50,000 of commercial office space purchased with bonds in 2017. Appraised at more than $4 million, the property has been tax-free since 2018 and is vacant. Taxpayers pay for the bonds. A.W. Brown spokesman Charles Roberts said the school is still deciding how to use it.

The charter also owns a 3,400-square-foot house with an in-ground pool on 6 acres in Duncanville, identified as an office and valued at $630,000, plus 99 acres next to it, valued at more than $4 million by the appraisal district. Those were purchased more than a decade ago from professional basketball player Larry Demetric Johnson, records show.

The school has paid no taxes on either since 2014, according to appraisal records. In the fall of 2022, the school announced its plan to turn the more-than 100 acres of land into a community garden and farm for students “to learn more about agriculture and entrepreneurship,” said Roberts, the school spokesman.

In response to questions from Hearst, Roberts said the charter would be starting “an internal audit of facility purchases.” He declined to comment further.

edward.mckinley@chron.com

eric.dexheimer@chron.com

Thom Hartmann provides a brief history of the power of the for-profit healthcare industry, which has successfully blocked a national Medicare-for-All system. Please open the link and read it all. The industry’s current push is to get people transferred from Medicare to for-profit Medicare Advantage plans. Under Medicare, seniors can choose their own doctors and do not have to seek permission for costly procedures. under Medicare Advantages, patients may see only in-network doctors and may be denied permission for treatment. That’s where the profit is: denying treatment. About half of all seniors are on a Medicare Advantage plan, because they were wooed by prescription drug coverage or a free gym membership.

Hartmann begins:

Republicans have taken control of the House of Representatives, and already have their sights set on forcing major cuts to “entitlements” like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

One of the promises McCarthy made to become speaker was to force a vote on dialing back 2023/2024 spending back to 2021 levels — and there’s been a 7% inflation increase in costs/expenses since then. In other words, they want massive cuts.

His Republican colleagues have already outlined the starting point for their demands, as reportedby Yahoo News:

“The Republican Study Committee proposed a budget for fiscal 2023 that would gradually increase the eligibility ages for Social Security and Medicare, and change the Social Security benefit formula for people 54 and younger…”

In that, they’re going to have a hell of a fight on their hands, as Senator Bernie Sanders is taking over leadership of the Senate Health Committee, which oversees Medicare and Medicaid. He’s already promising “a lot of subpoenas” will be arriving at the offices of healthcare and big pharma CEOs.

Most Americans have no idea that the United States is quite literally the only country in the developed world that doesn’t define healthcare as an absolute right for all of its citizens.

That’s it. We’re the only one left. Were the only country in the developed world where somebody getting sick can leave a family bankrupt, destitute, and homeless.

A half-million American families are wiped out every year so completely that they must lose everything and declare bankruptcy just because somebody got sick. The number of health-expense-related bankruptcies in all the other developed countries in the world combined is zero.

Yet the United States spends more on “healthcare” than any other country in the world: about 17% of GDP.

Switzerland, Germany, France, Sweden and Japan all average around 11%, and Canada, Denmark, Belgium, Austria, Norway, Netherlands, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia all come in between 9.3% and 10.5%.

Health insurance premiums right now make up about 22% of all taxable payroll (and don’t even cover all working people), whereas Medicare For All would run an estimated 10% and would cover every man, woman, and child in America.

How and why are Americans being played for such suckers?

We are literally the only developed country in the world with an entire multi-billion-dollar for-profit industry devoted to parasitically extracting money from us to then turn over to healthcare providers on our behalf. The for-profit health insurance industry has attached itself to us like a giant, bloodsucking tick.

And it’s not like we haven’t tried to remove that parasite.

Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson all proposed and tried to bring a national healthcare system to the United States.

Please open the link and read the rest of this important post.

Peter Greene explains school issues better than anyone. In this post in the Bucks County Beacon in Pennsylvania, he explains why vouchers fail, why renaming them doesn’t make them better, and why anyone who cares about the quality of education should forget about vouchers/ESAs.

He writes:

School Vouchers Have Been A Disaster—Now Advocates Are Trying To Rename Them

What you need to know about education savings accounts, a kind of “super-voucher.”

Although a sizable number of Republican candidates in the 2022 midterm elections who were counting on school vouchers to be a winning issue—including Tudor Dixon in Michigan, Kari Lake in Arizona, and Tim Michels in Wisconsin—went down to defeat, school vouchers are not about to go away. Voucher advocates are instead changing the name and pushing for education savings accounts (ESAs).

ESAs are legal in around 10 states so far, but if this new idea for promoting school choice hasn’t already been proposed in your state, it may be appearing there soon. Here’s what education savings accounts are, how they work, and what policymakers and families in your state should consider before rushing headlong into adopting this idea.

What Are ESAs?

Education savings accounts are a kind of super-voucher. While traditional vouchers give parents a chunk of taxpayer money that they could use for tuition at the school of their choice, an ESA gives parents a chunk of taxpayer money that they can spend on private school tuition or a variety of other educational expenses.

Tennessee’s ESA law offers a typical list of eligible expenses that not only include private school tuition and fees but also textbooks, school uniforms, tutoring, transportation to and from school, computer software, tech devices, summer school tuition, and tuition and fees at a postsecondary school.

ESAs provide a wider range of choices—and a wider range of ways for vendors to get their hands on education tax dollars without having to open a whole school to get voucher money.

ESAs also provide political cover. Vouchers have frequently been rejected by voters, so voucher proponents, on Twitter and in legislative discussions, have opted not to use the label of “voucher” for ESAs. They may further try to sweeten the rebranding by using terms such as “education scholarship accounts” and “education freedom accounts.”

The money comes to parents by way of a company hired to handle these funds. Step Up for Students and ClassWallet are two examples of these “scholarship management” companies. These companies handle the actual disbursement of the monies, often through debit cards; they also take a cut of the funding.

Where Does ESA Money Come From?

Funding for an ESA program can come from several different paths.

One pathway is via tax credit programs that allow corporations and individuals to contribute directly to “scholarship” funding while getting a dollar-for-dollar tax credit. Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposed this on a national scale with her failed Education Freedom Scholarships.

Proponents like to say that tax credit funding does not involve any government spending, which is technically correct because the money never touches government hands. But because it is a tax credit, it does cost the taxpayers. A million dollars in tax credit scholarships means $1 million of revenue the government does not get, leaving a hole that must be made up either by raising taxes or cutting other state and federal programs. Kentucky set up tax credit scholarships to fund its ESA program; the tax credit scholarship program was thrown out in December 2022 by the state’s supreme court for being “unconstitutional.

Another pathway to ESA funding comes from new laws enacting “backpack funding,” where per-pupil funding that would have gone to the student’s home school district goes to the student’s ESA instead. This can be particularly damaging in states like Arizona, where the money is pulled from the student’s assigned district even if the student has always attended private school. In other words, the school’s operating revenue is reduced by the per-pupil funding, but its operating costs are reduced by zero dollars.

ESAs can also be funded by taking the money off the top of the state’s education budget, meaning the costs of the vouchers hit all school districts, whether they have students choosing vouchers or not.

In addition, a suggestion was made that pandemic relief funds be distributed via ESA-style programs (Oklahoma was one state that tried it).

GOP legislators have also tried to propose that federal funding intended for poor students or students with special needs, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), be turned into school voucher programs, a particularly ironic proposal, as students usually give up their rights under IDEA when they move out of the public education system. This repurposing of federal funding for education will no doubt become part of the rhetoric used for ESA funding.

How Are Tax Dollars in ESA Spent?

Tracking how tax dollars are spent in ESA programs is difficult if not impossible because these programs have hardly any accountability.

ESAs, like vouchers, have proven to be a way to use public tax dollars to fund private religious schools. In fact, in states where voucher programs exist, vouchers primarily fund religious schools (particularly Catholic ones). While the separation of church and state, when it comes to education, is already being increasingly whittled away, ESAs, like vouchers, allow states to circumvent that wall entirely.

Further, there are few checks in place to ensure that ESA money is spent on legitimate education expenses. In Arizona, parents spent $700,000 of their ESA money on beauty supplies, clothes, and other questionable expenses. In Oklahoma, pandemic relief funds were disbursed ESA-style, and when news broke that about half a million dollars in funds had been used to buy things like Christmas trees, gaming consoles, and outdoor grills, the state passed the buck.

Ryan Walters, who was just elected as Oklahoma’s education chief, bragged that the private sector would be a “more efficient way” to handle the funds, and he gave ClassWallet freedom to administer the state’s ESA program. But ClassWallet has admitted that it has “neither responsibility for, nor authority to exercise programmatic decision making with respect to the program or its associated federal funds and did not have responsibility for grant compliance.” In other words, nobody is checking to see how the money is really spent.

In most ESA programs, parents can select from an official list of vendors. One might assume that such a list would include vendors that have been screened to make sure that they are qualified providers of high-quality materials and instruction, but one would be wrong. In many states, a vendor is included in the list after simply meeting some very basic requirements. Tennessee’s ESA program leaves oversight of education vendors largely up to the management of its private contractor. Arizona’s ESA program doesn’t even have a list of approved schools, vendors, or providers, leaving the destination of taxpayer funding up to the “discretion” of the account holder.

The argument is that free market forces will keep vendors in line and that parents’ ability to make choices will work better than government regulations. One might also argue that the Food and Drug Administration should be shut down and the market should be allowed to regulate food manufacturing behavior. If a company gets sloppy or cheap and starts producing poisoned food, the market will correct it. All we have to do is let some consumers be poisoned in the process.

Not only are taxpayers’ interests unguarded in ESA systems, but parent and student interests are unguarded as well. Parents have to navigate an unregulated marketplace, an asymmetrical market where sellers have far more information than buyers, and where marketing materials take the place of useful information.

What Risks Do ESAs Pose to Students and Families?

Whether school choice advocates are pushing vouchers or ESAs, they frequently fail to mention the most fundamental issue for students and their families—private schools do not have to admit anyone they don’t wish to admit, either by placing various barriers in the way (not offering transportation or meals) or by simply putting restrictions in place.

That was one of the takeaways from Carson v. Makin, a Supreme Court decision that declared that Maine must allow voucher money to go to religious private schools, even if they are clearly discriminatory. Many ESA laws include a sort of non-interference clause that declares that accepting voucher money does not make the school a state actor, and the state may in no way dictate to the school how it will operate. In other words, they may teach what they want and discriminate as they like, even if they accept taxpayer dollars. Students with special needs, as well as LGBTQIA+ students, find they may have far fewer “choice” options than others.

ESA programs fail to protect students in other important ways. Should a family run out of ESA money, or find that they’ve been bilked by a bad vendor, or even be dumped by a vendor that goes out of business midyear, there are no real protections for families of students. Some school choice advocates have suggested that this risk would be minimized by providing third-party consumer reviews via a service like Yelp. But generally, it’s assumed that the invisible hand of the market, wearing its caveat emptor ring, is supposed to do the job of quality oversight.

In one striking example, an ESA bill proposed in Utah in 2022 included a requirement that parents sign a statement that they “assume full financial responsibility for the education” of their child. That means if they run out of voucher money or get left high and dry by a bad vendor or find the vendor incompetent, they are on their own. Presumably, in such a situation, a student would have no recourse but to return to a public school, though that school might get zero funding for that student.

Do ESAs Improve Education Results?

Most importantly, study after study shows that voucher programs in all their forms do not foster excellence in education. ESAs are a newer creation and so have been studied less, but given that the ESA system has even fewer guardrails than traditional vouchers, there’s no reason to think that the educational results would be any better.

In any case, under ESA, poor educational outcomes would be the parents’ problem, and the solutions we’ve seen for this problem are grim.

For instance, some voucher proponents (including DeVos) suggest a low-cost use for vouchers would be microschools, in which a handful of students gather in someone’s home around a computer with some online lessons while an adult “coach” keeps an eye on things. It’s not anyone’s first choice for a great education, but if that’s what you can afford—well, enjoy your choice.

That is the heart of voucher programs, whether you call them vouchers or education savings accounts or freedom scholarship accounts; they get the government out of the school business and turn education into a commodity that is the responsibility of parents alone. In voucher world, the state hands you your debit card and washes its hands of you. “Enjoy your freedom, and good luck.” And if an excellent education is not readily available because the ESA money is inadequate or your child has special needs, and your local public school is struggling with reduced funding, well, that’s your problem.

It’s all about the three D’s—disrupt, defund, and dismantle. Call the voucher system whatever you would like, but it is about reducing education from a public good and shared societal responsibility to a simple consumer good.

This article was produced by Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Peter Greene

Peter Greene is a recently retired classroom secondary English teacher of 39 years. He lives and works in a small town in Northwest Pennsylvania, and blogs at Curmudgucation.

The Network for Public Education has released a new report on for-profit charters, which grew during the pandemic years. The report is titled Chartered for Profit II: Pandemic Profiteering. It builds on the findings of a report published by NPE in 2021. For-profit charters not only divert money away from the public schools, which enroll the vast majority of students in every state, but they skim off profits that should have been spent on students and teachers. The report details the nefarious deals that enrich the charter operators. Every citizen who cares about our future should be aware of the facts detailed in this report. We believe readers will be genuinely shocked by the findings in this report, which shows how scammers and grifters have gotten a stronghold in the charter industry, to the detriment of students, teachers, and taxpayers.

Here is the executive summary:

In March of 2021, the Network for Public Education published Chartered for Profit: The Hidden World of Charter Schools Operated for Financial Gain. In this follow-up report on the charter for-profit sector, we chronicle its expansion during the years of the Covid-19 pandemic by reporting growth in the number of schools, the number of for-profit corporations that run them, and student enrollment.

Acccording to our research, the for-profit sector dominated the charter school sector during the pandemic years. As the pandemic wore on – the percentage of charter schools run by for-profits jumped from 15 percent to 16.6 percent of the charter sector. This is a far greater percentage than is reported by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which inexplicably does not report schools run by for-profit Education Management Organizations (EMOs) that control only one or two schools. These micro-EMOS comprise nearly half of all for-profit EMOs.

However, the number of schools run for profit underestimates the true growth of for-profit schooling during Covid 19. The percentage of students attending a charter school designed to produce a profit for its management company soared. According to the Common Core of Data of the National Center for Education Statistics, the total student enrollment in charter schools during the second year of the pandemic (the 2021-2022 school year) was 3,676,635. Student enrollment in for-profit-run charter schools jumped to 731,406 that year.

That means that 20 percent of all charter school students, 1 in 5, were enrolled in a charter school managed by a for-profit management corporation by the pandemic’s end.

More disturbing is that 27 percent of the students attending for-profit-run schools were enrolled in low-quality virtual charter schools that teach students either exclusively or primarily online. That was in 2021. During the prior year (2020) the number was even higher.

Those who defend for-profit charter schooling claim it is no different from public schools using vendors for transportation services or to purchase textbooks. However, as this report explains, for-profit chartering is very different from vendors who supply discreet products and services. We detail the various ways in which the owners of EMOs extract profit via a lack of oversight and regulation that fails to protect taxpayers from sweetheart deals, sweeps contracts, and related party transactions designed to enrich EMO owners, their friends and their family members. And we explain how the acquisition of real estate and exploitative lease and purchase agreements drive the expansion of for-profit-run charter schools and, in some cases, put the school at financial risk.

Chartered For-Profit II: Pandemic Profiteering makes a case for substantive state and national reform so that the best interests of students and taxpayers trump financial gain. Like our first report, it provides insight into the most controversial sector of the charter school world—charters operated for financial gain.

Nancy MacLean, professor of history at Duke University, and Lisa Graves, board president of the Center for Media and Democracy, warn readers not to be fooled by billionaire Charles Koch’s efforts to rebrand himself as a nice guy who has mellowed, who no longer wants to fund divisive, hateful organizations. A nice guy.

The media fell for it. The new, nice Charles Koch.

MacLean and Graves write: Don’t believe it. Koch won’t stop until democracy is dead.

They write:

Koch, the single most influential billionaire shaping American political life, never changed course. And the head fake he pulled off in 2020 succeeded in securing for his vast donor network—and the hundreds of organizations they underwrite—the freedom to operate, virtually without scrutiny, over the two years since. In that time, far from ceasing their efforts to divide the country, they have ramped them up. Like a snake shedding its skin as it grows, Koch was merely rebranding—yet again after exposure—and grouping his numerous operations under a sunny new name: Stand Together.


In August, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reported that Koch-funded organizations spent over $1.1 billion in the 2020 election cycle. At the same time his book claiming to have changed course was in press, Koch spent almost 50 percent more than the record amount the Koch network had raised in the 2016 cycle: $750 million. Koch did not endorse Trump, though his spending buoyed the top of the ticket and helped maintain a GOP Senate majority to secure Koch-backed policies and judicial nominees embraced by Trump.

One of these organizations, Koch’s Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization, claimed it was involved in more than 270 races in the 2020 election, reaching almost 60 million voters with door-knocking, phone calls, postcards, digital ads, and more. AFP also played heavily in the battle for U.S. Senate seats in Georgia, in January 2021—even as Koch was still getting favorable coverage for his supposed withdrawal from divisive electoral politics. AFP Action, the super PAC arm, alone raised and spent $60 million nationwide in that election cycle.

Meanwhile, other key organizing enterprises, think tanks, litigation outfits, campus centers, and more that were previously backed by the Koch network continue operating today, sometimes under new names, and with expanded funding. These include endeavors we consider unethical, only some of which we have the space to highlight here.

Take, for example, Koch’s longest running quest: enchaining democracy by rigging the rules of governance to free corporations from customary oversight and to prevent the will of the vast majority of Americans from securing federal, state, and local policies to improve their lives. With the connivance of Trump, the generalship of Federalist Society leader Leonard Leo, and the well-funded campaigning of Leo’s Judicial Crisis Network, the arch-right billionaire succeeded in capturing a supermajority in the U.S. Supreme Court. Koch had told his allied billionaire backers that this was one of his top priorities for the Trump Administration—along with the dramatic tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy that he also secured.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat from Rhode Island, a climate hero and senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, exposes how they did it in a recently published book, The Scheme: How the Right Wing Used Dark Money to Capture the Supreme Court. The long effort to reshape the judicial system, going back to the notorious Lewis Powell Memo of 1971, culminated in the Trump Administration’s appointment of more than 230 “business-friendly” federal judges, including three Supreme Court Justices, in a project overseen by longtime Koch allies Leo and Donald McGahn, who served as Trump’s legal counsel until 2018. The 6-3 stacked court is already delivering bombshell decisions for the coalition that put it in power, from undermining our options for mitigating devastating climate change and limiting the power of agencies to regulate corporations, to revoking people’s Constitutional freedom to decide whether and when to bear children. The current court term with the Koch-backed faction in control is expected to soon overthrow affirmative action and other hard-won reforms.

The Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) also continues its long campaign to shackle democracy on behalf of its corporate backers. Passing voter ID restrictions that make it harder for Americans to exercise their right to vote became a top ALEC priority after the United States elected its first Black President, Barack Obama. That measure was first voted on at an ALEC task force meeting co-chaired by the National Rifle Association in 2009.

ALEC is one of the nation’s leading promoters of charter schools, vouchers, and anti-union legislation. You can learn more about ALEC by reading Gordon Lafer’s The One Percent Solution.

Please open the link and read the article. Learn about the “new” Charles Koch, same as the old one.

If you are looking for a good read, read Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains, which provides the context for understanding the links between the Koch brothers, Milton Friedman, and free-market economics. Suffice it to say that one of their goals was to privatize Social Security. Still working on that.

Charter schools have managed to occupy an unusual spot in the spectrum of educational institutions: When it’s time to get public funding, they insist they are “public schools.” But in court cases where charters were fighting to be exempt from state laws governing employment practices or financial accountability, they insist they are not “state actors.” It is logically impossible to be both a public school but not a state actor.

In a current court case, a North Carolina charter chain wants the courts to declare that its schools are not state actors because they enforce policies for girls’ dress that is inconsistent with state and federal law.

Public schools are state actors. In effect, this charter chain wants to be declared “not a public school” even as it continues to be publicly funded. Why? It wants to preserve its right to ignore state and federal laws against discrimination.

Peter Greene explains the background of this case:

In the regularly pro-choice Wall Street Journal, Baker Mitchell and Robert Spencer want to complain about a court decision declaring that their charter schools are, in fact, public schools. This, they warn, “imperils the charter school movement.” Their complaint is a big pile of deep fried baloney.

The case that prompted this whinging

One of the charter schools operated by Roger Bacon Academy was sued by some parents over a dress code requiring girls to wear skirts (or skorts–but none of that pants-wearing stuff, ladies). Such a big deal. Who knew?

“We’re a school of choice. We’re classical in our curriculum and very traditional. I believe that the more of the traditional things you have in place, the more they tend to reinforce each other,” he said in a phone interview. “We want boys to be boys and girls to be girls and have mutual respect for each other. We want boys to carry the umbrella for girls and open doors for them … and we want to start teaching that in grammar school.”

RBA is owned and operated by Baker Mitchell, Jr., one of the titans of charter profiteering. Back in 2014, Marian Wang profiled the “politically-connected businessman who celebrates the power of the free market,” and how he perfected the business of starting nonprofit charter schools and then having those schools lease their buildings, equipment, programs, etc. from for-profit companies owned and operated by Baker Mitchell, Jr. Mitchell (now in his early eighties) thinks the rule is great:

The case bounced up through the various court levels until it landed in front of the full panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which declared that the rule was junk and had to be thrown out. Not a worthwhile call-back to what one dissenting judge called “the age of chivalry” as the majority noted such an age was also the age “when men could assault their spouses” and that chivalry “may not have been a bed of roses for those forced to lie in it.”

Nor did the court accept the argument that girls were still getting good grades. “We cannot excuse discrimination because its victims are resilient enough to persist in the face of such unequal treatment.”

So what’s the big deal? (Spoiler alert: that state actor thing)

Mitchell and Spencer are not whining about the loss of their ability to require girls to show their legs. They protest that the policy was created by parents; well, so was the lawsuit, so that hardly seems like a useful point. And it’s not the main concern,

The case hinged on the question of whether or not charter schools are “state actors” aka actual public schools. The court said, “Yes, they are.”

Mitchell and Spencer complain that no court has ever done such a thing and therefor: The Fourth Circuit’s finding appears to have been based on little more than the convention of calling charters “public charter schools” and their being mostly funded by public sources.

This is kind of hilarious, because the “convention” of calling these school public was created entirely, and purposefully, by the charter industry and its supporters. They have insisted loudly and often that charter schools are absolutely public schools, and have engaged in uncountable arguments with anyone who dares to say otherwise. Of course, they have also frequently insisted that they are private businesses when it’s convenient for fending off state scrutiny or grabbing PPP pandemic relief money.

And despite Mitchell and Spencer’s apocalyptic warnings, you know who applauded the court’s ruling?

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The importance of this case could not be overstated, as it was the first time a federal appellate court considered whether public charter school students deserve the same constitutional civil rights protections as district public school students. The en banc court clearly and unequivocally affirmed that charter schools are public schools and, accordingly, must be bound by the US Constitution. Moreover, public charter school students have the same constitutional and civil rights as their district public school peers.

Galen Sherwin, ACLU senior staff attorney, observed that the ruling was important because The court rightly recognizes that ruling otherwise would leave states free to establish parallel, privately operated public school systems in a constitution-free zone, free to implement race segregation, religious discrimination, etc.

So what are they really, really upset about?

The tell comes a little further down the piece.
The ruling comes at a time when the charter-school movement is growing. Oklahoma’s attorney general recently issued a legal opinion stating that religious organizations must be allowed to operate charter schools in the Sooner State. A key aspect of the opinion was a finding that charter schools are not state actors and, therefore, the Constitution’s Establishment Clause doesn’t prohibit the inculcation of religious values, as it does in government-run schools.

If charter schools are state actors, then that might get in the way of expanding religious charters. And sure enough– we find amicus briefs filed by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington VA, Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Clinic, the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty, and the Religious Freedom Institute. “These experts,” say the writers, confusing advocacy and lobbying with expertise, say the Fourth Circuit’s ruling would undercut charter schools.

Well, no. They would undercut the extension of private religious organizations into a sweet, sweet chance to get their hands on public tax dollars while still enjoying unregulated freedom to indoctrinate some students into their religion while also discriminating against whatever students they choose to discriminate against in a taxpayer-funded Constitution-free zone.

Are we done yet?

Of course not. The school has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear their appeal. It invokes the 14th Amendment and features this kind of flag-waving:


North Carolina charter schools—like many throughout the Nation—build upon a critical insight: Empowering private entities to operate publicly funded schools with minimal government oversight supercharges educational innovation and expands parental choice. The decision below profoundly threatens this model.

“Supercharges innovation.” Sure. Making girls wear skirts is one hell of a supercharged innovation. My usual offer stands–name one educational innovation that has come out of the modern charter school sector.

Mitchell and Spencer want you to know that damn ACLU is behind this case, but they aren’t exactly being represented by a Mom and Pop firm. Aaron Streett is an attorney with Baker Botts, a multinational law firm (where both Amy Coney Barrett and Ted Cruz once worked), and that he’s the chair of their Supreme Court and Constitutional Law Group. Streett says that the majority opinion “contradicts Supreme Court precedent on state action…and limits the ability of parents to choose the best education for their children.”

The argument is simple enough–we are not a public school, so we should get to do whatever the hell we want (and be paid by taxpayer dollars while we do it).

It’s a tough call for the charter biz–if they aren’t public schools, then at this point they really aren’t much different from private voucher schools, so what’s the point of them? But if they want to market themselves as public schools, they can damn well operate under public school rules.

Who knows if SCOTUS will hear this, or what they will decide. But regardless of how things end up, it looks like the charter movement’s days of being able to have things both ways may be coming to an end.

Kevin Welner, who is both a lawyer and a professor of education policy at the University of Colorado at Boulder, wrote about these issues on Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet blog last June, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Maine could not exclude two religious schools from state funding when it provided public funding to other private schools, even though the religious schools openly discriminate against LGBT students, families, and staff, as well as non-Christians. The case is called Carson V. Makin.

Welner suggests that the Maine case may erase the line between charter schools and vouchers.

Welner wrote:

If charter schools are state actors, they cannot engage in religious teaching or discrimination. The Peltier litigation did not, however, involve any claim by the school that its sexist dress code arose out of protected religious beliefs. If religious-liberty claims were to be asserted around a comparable policy adopted by a charter school run by a religious organization, the state-action inquiry should be very similar, if not identical, and the charter school should be prohibited from engaging in discrimination.

But as today’s Carson v. Makin decision illustrates, the introduction of free-exercise protections could greatly complicate the overall analysis. If courts side with a church-run charter school, finding that state attempts to restrict religiously infused teachings and practices at the school are an infringement on the church’s free-exercise rights, then the circle is complete: Charter school laws have become voucher laws.

If the Supreme Court hears the Peltier case, if it decides that charter schools are not state actors, if charters may discriminate against girls, LGBT students, and non-Christians, then as Welner says, charters are no different from vouchers. But if they are not state actors, then charter schools are not public schools. But they are free to discriminate against any group, without regard to federal law. And they are free to teach religious doctrine and to close their schools to non-believers. States will then be directly funding schools that teach religious zealotry and openly engage in discrimination.

A loss for American democracy, but a victory for Donald Trump, who appointed three religious extremists to the Supreme Court; Mitch McConnell, who refused to allow President Obama to fill Justice Scalia’s empty seat on the Court after the Justice died in March 2016 (on the absurd grounds that it was too close to a presidential election), as well as his rush to allow Trump to name Amy Coney Barrett to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat only weeks before the 2020 election; the far-right wing Leonard Leo and the Federalist Society, which selected the judicial candidates for Trump. And while it may be impolitic to say so, I blame Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg for refusing to resign her seat in 2014 or 2015, when Obama would certainly have been able to replace her. She had had four bouts with pancreatic cancer, and good reason to step down and give Obama a chance to replace her. Instead she stayed on and died at age 87, gambling that Hillary Clinton would replace Obama. She lost her bet, and the nation has a Supreme Court that is imposing a deeply reactionary agenda.

For almost two centuries, the debate about teaching reading has raged. Not every day, but in spurts. It started in Horace Mann’s day in the early 19th century, and periodically flared up again, as in the 1950s, when Rudolf Flesch wrote a national bestseller called Why Johnny Can’t Read, excoriating “look-say” books like the Dick & Jane series and calling for a revival of phonics.

In 1967, the literacy expert Jeanne Chall wrote the definitive book, called Learning How to Read: The Great Debate, which was supposed to end the debate. It didn’t. She recommended early phonics, followed by emphasis on engaging children’s literature. Chall warned against extremes, which would lead to extreme reactions. In the 1980s, the “whole language” movement swept the reading field, led by anti-phonics crusaders. A reaction set in, as Chall warned it would. No Child Left Behind mandated phonics instruction in 2002, based on the findings of the National Reading Panel.

I covered most of this contested ground in my 2000 book Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform. My book came out before NCLB was passed, so it did not cover the post-1999 developments. Chall warned against going to extremes between the pro-phonics and anti-phonics ideologies. She said we had to avoid extremes, yet here we are again, with phonics now bearing the mantle of “the science of reading.”

I favor phonics, as Chall did, and agree with her that it should be taught early and as needed. Some children absolutely need it, some don’t. Nonetheless, I maintain that there is no “science of reading,” as there is no science of teaching any other subject. There is no “science” of teaching history or mathematics or writing. There are better and worse ways of teaching, but none is given the mantle of “science.” Calling something “science” is a way of saying “my approach is right and yours is wrong.”

Tom Ultican writes in this post about the cheerleaders and critics of “the science of reading.” He is especially critical of journalist Emily Hanford, who has been the loudest advocate of “the science of reading.”

He begins:

The Orwellian labeled science of reading (SoR) is not based on sound science. It more accurately should be called “How to Use Anecdotes to Sell Reading Products.” In 1997, congress passed legislation calling for a reading study. From Jump Street, the establishment of the National Reading Panel (NRP) was a doomed effort. The panel was given limited time for the study (18 months) which was a massive undertaking conducted by twenty-one unpaid volunteers. The NRP fundamentally did a meta-analysis in five reading domains while ignoring 10 other important reading domains. In other words, they did not review everything and there was no new research. They simply searched for reading studies and averaged the results to give us “the science of reading.”

It has been said that “analysis is to meta-analysis as physics is to meta-physics.

Ultican reviews the recent history, starting with the report of the National Reading Panel (NRP) at the beginning of this century. He describes it as the work of dedicated professionals that has been distorted. What he doesn’t know is that the panel was selected by Reid Lyon of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. He believed passionately in phonics, as did a majority of the NRP. After the election of 2000, Lyon was President George W. Bush’s top reading advisor. The NRP final report strongly recommended phonics, decoding, phonemic awareness, etc. Given the membership of the panel, this was not surprising.

One member of the NRP wrote a stinging dissent: elementary school principal Joanne Yatvin of Oregon, a past president of the National Council of Teachers of English. Yatvin complained that the NRP was not balanced and that it did not contain a single elementary teacher of reading.

In 2003, Yatvin wrote in Education Week (cited above):

Out of the 15 people appointed, nine were reading researchers, two were university administrators with no background in reading research or practice, one was a teacher- educator, one a certified public accountant (and parent), one was a middle school teacher, and one an elementary principal (me). When one researcher resigned after the first panel meeting, the NICHD declined my request that he be replaced by an elementary-level teacher and left that position unfilled. As a result, the panel included no teacher of early reading instruction.

Moreover, the science faction of the panel could hardly be considered balanced. All were experimental scientists; all were adherents of the discrete-skills model of reading; and some of them had professional ties to the NICHD. With so many distinguished reading researchers available in the United States, it is difficult to understand why the NICHD could not find one or two involved in descriptive research or with a different philosophy of reading.

A balanced group that included classroom teachers of early reading would have produced a nuanced report. The NRP report became the basis for the $6 billion-dollar “Reading First” portion of No Child Left Behind. An evaluation of the program by the federal government found that more time was devoted to reading instruction because of the NRP recommendations, but there was no statistically significant improvement in students’ reading comprehension.

The death knell for Reading First, however, was not the evaluation of its results but charges that some of those responsible for the program had conflicts of interest and were steering lucrative contracts to corporations in which they had a financial stake. The Department of Education’s Inspector General substantiated these charges. Kenneth Goodman, a major figure in the whole-language movement, released an overview of the scandals in the Reading First program.

Be sure to read the critiques of “the science of reading” quoted by Ultican, especially those by Nancy Bailey and Paul Thomas. Today, even the New York Times and Education Week write uncritically about “the science of reading,” as if it were established fact, which it is not.

It seems we are doomed to repeat the history we don’t know.