Archives for category: Indiana

Hooray for State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick of Indiana!

She rejected Betsy DeVos’ guidance to share CARES relief funding between public and private schools.

No wonder Republicans are planning to get rid of her and replace her with an appointed state superintendent whom they can control, on behalf of charter schools and voucher schools.

The state education department estimates that if they followed DeVos’ plan, poor kids in public schools would lose more than $15 million to private schools.

Jennifer McCormick joins the honor roll of this blog for saying no to zdeVos and the right wing bullies who lead Indiana.

Last year, two large online charter schools collapsed in Indiana at a cost of $86 million.

Now a new online charter has opened and hired some key employees of those that defrauded they public.

Last summer, as two large Indiana virtual charter schools collapsed under the weight of fraud allegations, a small new online program made its debut.

Indian Creek Online Academy was launched by a 2,000-student district south of Indianapolis experimenting with new ways of reaching students.

Officials with the Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson district said they wanted to avoid the mistakes of the troubled virtual schools. But they also picked an outside management company whose leader had a history with those very institutions, Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy.

Businessman Gar Hoover, the head of Indian Creek Online Academy’s management company, had previously served as chief operating officer for AlphaCom, a company accused in the $86 million alleged enrollment fraud and self-dealing scheme at the two virtual charter schools.

A state auditors’ investigation released earlier this month alleges that Hoover, who also served as a board member for Indiana Virtual School, signed off on a request for more than $96,000 in state funds based on inflated enrollment numbers. He’s listed as one of the parties personally responsible for repaying that amount, plus the cost of the auditors’ investigation.

A federal investigation has been launched into the fraud allegations. It is unclear whether Hoover’s role is included in the investigation.

Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson Superintendent Tim Edsell said he asked about Hoover’s history at Indiana Virtual School before the district contracted with his new company, American Online Education Services.

But Edsell wasn’t aware that Hoover was named in the state auditors’ investigation until contacted by Chalkbeat. After Chalkbeat sent him the state’s report, Edsell said he opened an internal investigation with the district’s legal counsel into Hoover’s connections to the virtual charter schools.

“I do have concerns,” Edsell said. “I want to be very thorough and comprehensive and accurate in our review.”

Edsell also didn’t know that Hoover had brought in a subcontractor with several other former employees from the web of companies paid millions in public dollars to operate virtual schools that served far fewer students than they received money for.

This editorial appeared in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, a newspaper that has paid close attention to the scandals and frauds in the charter industry.

It begins:

Operators of two Indiana charter schools spent nearly $86 million in tax dollars at businesses in which they had ties. The money came from state tuition support for students who, in some cases, were never enrolled in the schools.

This is the school choice Indiana lawmakers celebrate – a breathtaking violation of the public trust.

A special report by the State Board of Accounts was released last week, based on an investigation of Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy. Chalkbeat, an online education news service, first reported in 2017 that one of the online schools collected nearly $10 million in 2015-16 while graduating only 5.7% of its seniors – the lowest graduation rate in the state. Chalkbeat revealed a web of business interests between school founder Thomas Stoughton and AlphaCom, a for-profit company he operated while charging the school millions for management services and rent for offices in a suburban Indianapolis office park.

State auditors found public funds misappropriated through “malfeasance, misfeasance, and/or nonfeasance.” The complexity of the scam required a diagram to lay out ties among Stoughton, other charter officials and 14 private companies that shared in ill-gotten school funds – almost $69 million.

 

Chalkbeat’s reporting found discrepancies in enrollment now confirmed by the state. In more than 4,700 examples, children reported as enrolled completed no courses. Another 3,811 were flagged with just one or more course completions. The ghost enrollees included individuals who died or moved out of state, students withdrawn for lack of participation and some who did nothing beyond requesting information on the school. Counted as enrollees, they drew thousands of dollars each in state support that was, in turn, funneled to connected vendors. In the 2017-18 school year alone, the audit identified $15.5 million in overpaid tuition support.

Asked about the State Board of Account’s report, House Speaker Brian Bosma defended the virtual school program and pointed to Daleville Community Schools, the tiny public school district that granted its name as authorizer of the charter schools, and the Department of Education, overseen by Indiana schools chief Jennifer McCormick. The Republican state superintendent, whose office was eliminated by the legislature effective next year, has been outspoken in calling for greater accountability for schools of choice.

Blaming the Department of Education for the abuses of charter school operators is like blaming the BMV for the actions of a drunk driver. Responsibility for lax regulations and oversight for both charter schools and voucher schools falls squarely on Bosma and the GOP supermajority. In cozying up to the deep-pocketed school-choice community, they ignored glaring examples of corruption here and elsewhere. It was almost 11 years ago when The Journal Gazette first reported on the suspicious real estate deals surrounding two Imagine Inc. charter schools in Fort Wayne – schools that eventually shut down with $3.6 million in outstanding state loans.

Charter school scandals are so common that the Network for Public Education began collecting them on a website and tagging them on Twitter: #AnotherDayAnotherCharterScandal.

“There is a crisis of charter corruption in the United States and sadly the powerful charter lobby stops every attempt to enact reform,” said Carol Burris, executive director of the organization. “In 2019 alone the Network for Public Education identified four major virtual charter scandals, including Indiana’s two schools. A California virtual scandal cost that state’s taxpayers over $50 million. Virtual charter schools have a pattern of ‘cooking the books’ when it comes to attendance and enrollment, and have the worst outcomes when it comes to student achievement.”

Do Indiana taxpayers care?

Steve Hinnefeld writes about education in Indiana.

In this post, he explains the deep corruption in the virtual charter industry and how the frauds were facilitated by generous gifts to key politicians.

He writes:

We’ve known something fishy was going on with virtual charter schools since 2017, when a Chalkbeat Indiana investigation exposed shady business practices and lousy test scores and graduation rates at Indiana Virtual School and its sister school, Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy.

A blockbuster report this week from the State Board of Accounts shows just how bad it was – and it was worse than we’d imagined. The report charged that the schools overbilled the state by $68 million by vastly inflating the number of students who were enrolled in and attending classes online.

It also found schools made $85.7 million in questionable payments to vendors in which school officials or family members had an interest. Much of the taxpayer money that the schools received, the report shows, went to a network of for-profit businesses tied to school founder Thomas Stoughton and his associates.

The state investigatory report suggests officials at the virtual schools were “focused on maximizing profits and revenues,” not on serving students.

How did they get away with it? For one thing, they appealed to the dominant ideology in the Republican-controlled state government, which holds that choice and competition in the educational marketplace are an inherent good. For another, they played the game of politics.

Businesses that were associated with and benefited from Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy gave over $140,000 since 2016 to the campaigns of

Republican legislators and Gov. Eric Holcomb. The schools also paid over $300,000 to a high-end lobbying firm, according to the report.

That’s in addition to similar amounts paid by other online education providers – e.g., K-12 Inc. and, for a time, Connections Academies – to promote an environment conducive to virtual schools.

Political connections

Indiana Virtual School and its initial operator, the Indiana nonprofit Business Consulting Inc., worked with politicians from the get-go. In July 2011, just a month after the school got its first charter, its board approved a contract with the consulting firm of state Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle.

Holdman said in a statement that the schools paid him a monthly retainer from 2011 to mid-2019 to be “available for general business consulting on legal and personnel matters, contract interpretation, the relationship with the school’s authorizing entity and strategic planning.” He said he had no day-to-day involvement with the schools and terminated the

contract once news media reported “alleged malfeasance” by school officials.

Early board members of Indiana Virtual School included Sue Richardson, a former member of the State Board of Education, and Linda Chezem, an influential retired state appeals court judge.

Daleville Community Schools, a small, rural school district near Muncie, approved the charters for Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy and was supposed to monitor their performance. That’s an unusual situation. Most charter schools in Indiana are authorized by Ball State University, the mayor of Indianapolis or the Indiana Charter School Board.

But Daleville, by serving as authorizer, was able to collect 3% of all money the two virtual schools received from the state. As enrollment ballooned, so did Daleville’s revenues. In a sense, the authorizer was another “related party” with a financial stake in the schools’ growth.

It gets worse. Money, politics, education. Why not steal from the children? Why not sacrifice their futures to make a profit?

Do taxpayers in Indiana care? How do they feel about their tax money going into the pockets of the entrepreneurs?

 

 

The biggest and worst charter scandals are perpetrated by virtual charter schools. Why do states tolerate their waste, fraud, and abuse?

The only online charters should be operated and supervised by public officials, not by grifters and entrepreneurs.

Indiana was just scammed of more than $68 million by two virtual charters. This was money that should have spent on children and in classrooms to reduce class sizes and pay teachers.

Why did the authorizer ignore the graft? Could it be that it was getting paid a commission for each student supposedly enrolled in these “schools”? Enough fraud to pay off almost everyone.

Early estimates of just how much money two online schools stole from the state of Indiana were wrong, according to a report filed Wednesday by the Indiana State Board of Accounts.

A special investigation into malfeasance by Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy found that the schools inappropriately received more than $68.7 million collectively.

Last summer, state investigators revealed that the charter schools had inflated their enrollment to defraud the state — by enrolling students who’d simply requested information on the schools’ website, re-enrolling students after they’d left the schools or, in one case, by keeping a deceased student on their books more than a year after their death.

The state funds public schools — which include virtual charter schools — based on the number of students enrolled each year. At the time, investigators estimated overpayments to be around $40 million.

The new report details widespread fraud, misuse of state funds and a severe lack of oversight by school officials and the schools’ charter authorizer, Daleville Community Schools.

 

 

Indiana blogger Steve Hinnefeld reports here that a Democratic legislator has proposed a bill that prevents voucher schools from discriminating against students, staff, or families based on their religion, race, sexual orientation, or disability.

Bill Phillis of Ohio has proposed that religious schools that get vouchers should be subject to the same laws and regulations as public schools and should be required to report their finances and take the same state tests as other publicly funded schools.

Will legislators in Ohio and Indiana tolerate any restrictions on voucher schools?

Will they too be required to be accountable in exchange for getting public money?

Or will the public be forced to pay for schools that discriminate and schools that indoctrinate their students into their religious world-view?

 

Steve Hinnefeld is a veteran reporter on Indiana education.

In this post, he describes the shift from a simplistic A-F rating system (the one devised by Jeb Bush) to the federal rating system, which includes more factors.

The problem with both ratings systems is that they accurately measure student income.

The highest rated schools have students with the highest income.

The lowest rated schools have students with the lowest income.

So if teachers choose to teach the neediest students, they will be teaching in a “failing” school, no matter how dedicated they are.

If teachers land a job in an affluent suburb, they can consider themselves successful.

He writes:

For example, at schools that exceeded expectations, the overall rate of students who qualified by family income for free and reduced-price school meals was 17.6%, compared to the state average of about 48%. At schools that did not meet expectations, the free-and-reduced meal rate was 74.2%. The correlation between poverty and federal ratings held for charter schools as it did for public schools.

What worthless junk!

 

Why do the Disrupters continue to insist that charter schools will “save poor kids from failing schools,” when the evidence continues to accumulate that this is simply not true.

According to the latest state data for Indiana, the graduation rate is about 87%, with variations among different groups of students.

For charter schools, the graduation rate is 40%. 

Indiana’s high school graduation rate dipped slightly in 2019, with the rate of students needing waivers from the state to earn a diploma, noticeably higher than previous years. 

The state graduation rate has hovered around 87 percent since 2016, but a higher rate of students needed a waiver to get a diploma in 2019 – students get one if they don’t pass their final state exams..

Schools graduated black, English Language Learner (ELL) and special education students at the lowest rates among student groups, at 78, 77 and 71 percent, respectively.

State data also shows non-public and traditional public school graduation rates landed at or above 90 percent for all students. Meanwhile, charter schools graduated students at a rate of 40.2 percent. 

This is an astonishing graduation rate gap between public schools and charter schools.

Who will save poor kids from failing charter schools?

Indiana is a swamp of school choice corruption.

If you read this post, your hair might catch on fire if  you are sensitive to things like ethics, honesty, and responsible stewardship of public money.

Seven years ago, the state superintendent of Indiana was a school choice firebrand named Tony Bennett. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to transfer public money from public schools to charter operators or religious schools. He was briefly riding high–the Thomas B. Fordham Institute named him the “reformiest of all reformers.” But then he came a cropper. An AP reporter unearthed the fact that he raised the grade of a charter school owned by one of his campaign donors. That was too much, even for the corrupt swamp overseen by Indiana Republicans. Bennett was defeated when he ran for re-election.  Bennett promptly became State Commissioner of Florida. That gig lasted only weeks, and he had to resign because of the ethics problem he left behind in Indiana.

One of his decisions during his tenure in Indiana was to hand over three low-performing schools in Indianapolis to the for-profit chain called Charter Schools USA, which is owned by a pal of Jeb Bush. The chain was supposed to “turn” those schools around.

As Indiana blogger Steve Hinnefeld writes, the schools continued to struggle. An extraordinary number of their students decided to homeschool, which boosted the graduation rate of the schools.

Lewis Ferebee, then the superintendent of Indianapolis, now the superintendent in D.C., was happy to work with Charter Schools USA.

Hinnefeld writes:

Charter Schools USA is a for-profit Florida company that operates over 80 schools in six states, according to its website. Its founder and long-time CEO, Jonathan Hage, has played influential roles in Florida Republican politics, including serving on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education transition team.

Sherry Hage, who is married to Jonathan Hage, is founder and CEO of Noble Education Initiative, the nonprofit that would operate the three Indianapolis schools under a charter issued to ReThink Forward Indiana. There’s also ReThink Forward, a CSUSA arm that’s active in Tennessee; its vice chair is Tony Bennett, the former Indiana superintendent of public instruction.

Noble Education Initiative’s director of educational development and partnerships, Byron Ernest, is on the Indiana State Board of Education. Ernest worked for CSUSA as principal of Emmerich Manual for two years after the state took it over. (He has recused himself from state board decisions about CSUSA).

‘Turnaround academies’

Schools taken over by the state and turned over to managers like CSUSA are called turnaround academies. But they haven’t turned around quickly. T.C. Howe earned six more consecutive F’s under Indiana’s grading system after being taken over. Emma Donnan earned five F’s, then a C.

That’s despite approximately $22.3 million in federal School Improvement Grants that the State Board of Education has awarded to CSUSA for the schools. In recent years, the board has rejected recommendations from the Indiana Department of Education and its leader, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick, to give a bigger share to district-run public schools that were struggling.

Charter Schools USA asked the Indiana charter board to turn the three Indianapolis schools into charters that it could add to its chain.

Shockingly, the charter board voted 4-3 NOT to give the schools to Charter Schools USA. 

As Chalkbeat reports,

Indiana Charter School Board denied charters Friday for three Indianapolis turnaround schools — a stunning move that could spell the end to the Florida-based Charter Schools USA’s operations in Indianapolis.

As a result, the three Indianapolis schools — Howe High School, Manual High School, and Emma Donnan Middle School — face the prospect of another rocky transition to new management, or even possible closure.

But the board’s 4-3 votes against the charters, which elicited gasps from the audience, marked a major victory for Indianapolis Public Schools, which could win back the three schools that have been under state takeover since 2011. (Two members of the charter board were not present for the vote.)

IPS could reclaim the three schools or close them.

But Charter Schools USA, despite its money and political influence, lost three juicy plums.

(Hint: the state schools’ chief Jennifer McCormick is secretly a friend to genuine public schools. Don’t tell the governor or the legislature.)

 

 

Rachel Cohen writes here about the charter supporters backing Pete Buttigieg. 

Billionaire Reed Hastings held a fundraiser for Mayor Pete. Hastings, CEO of Netflix, has given millions to the California Charter Schools Association. He has said he looks forward to the day when there are no elected school boards. He likes schools run by corporate boards. He says they didn’t discuss charter schools, which is one of Hastings’ causes about which he is passionate.

Cohen writes:

Linda Lucy, who has served as the president of the South Bend teachers union since June 2018, told VICE she had never met with Pete Buttigieg, and had “nothing to add” about the union’s relationship with the mayor. “Politicians have hijacked the teaching profession in our public schools,” she said.

Buttigieg does appear to have made time for Heather Willey, one of Indiana’s top charter school lobbyists, who co-hosted a fundraiser for Buttigieg in Indianapolis on October 4, according to an invitation obtained by VICE.

Willey served on the board of the Institute for Quality Education, an Indiana school choice advocacy group, for years, and co-chairs her law firm’s “Charter School and School Innovation” group. In 2019, the Institute for Quality Education, Teach for America Indianapolis, and Charter Schools USA, Inc., a for-profit charter company, all listed Willey’s firm, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, as a hired lobbyist. According to her professional biography, Willey “has been intimately involved in the charter school and school reform movements since the inception of the laws in Indiana in 2001.” She did not return repeated requests for comment.

In Silicon Valley, meanwhile, Buttigieg has also had fundraisers with several prominent charter school supporters.

Satya Patel, a venture capitalist who formerly worked as a vice president of product at Twitter, co-hosted an event for Buttigieg in the Bay Area in late August. Between 2007 and 2017, Patel served on the board of KIPP Bay Area Schools, part of the nation’s largest charter school network, which has received tens of millions of dollars in federal grants. He did not return requests for comment.