Archives for category: Indiana

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.

 

 

Fred Klonsky writes with amazement that Mayor Pete Buttigieg just realized that there are segregated schools in his hometown of South Bend.

He acknowledges that he was slow to come to this realization.

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg told Reverend William Barber that he didn’t notice South Bend’s public schools were segregated.

Buttigieg is the mayor of South Bend.

“I have to confess that I was slow to realize — I worked for years under the illusion that our schools in my city were integrated… But what I slowly realized… if you looked at the county, almost all of the diversity of our youths was in a single school district,” Buttigieg said in an interview with Rev. William Barber III.

Yes. “All the diversity of our youths was in a single school district,” is a weird formulation.

But that he didn’t realize that integration was an illusion in his city?

Buttigieg is either a liar or suffers from too common a white blindspot.

In Indiana, more than 70 percent of black students attend a non-white majority school,

In 2015, several South Bend schools showed concentrated black enrollment, inconsistent with county racial realities.

The problem of racial segregation is a statewide problem in Indiana. There is much that is wrong in the Hoosier state, and the legislature doesn’t care.

Indiana doesn’t have a plan to combat segregation but it has a robust school choice program of charters and vouchers.

 

Indiana legislators have rewritten state laws to favor privatization of public assets. If a public school is considered unutilized, a charter operator can claim it for only $1. When the West Lafayette school district sued to challenge the law, a judge sided with the legislators. Give the public school away to a private operator, even though it belongs to the public who paid for it!

Karen Francisco, the brilliant editor of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, writes here that the state’s political leadership is conspiring against the public interest by giving away public property to entrepreneurs. More than once, the  public has been fleeced by shady charter operators in search of profit.

The “real estate racket” that the legislature endorsed on behalf of charter entrepreneurs is draining millions of dollars away from taxpayers in Indiana and other states.

It would take an accountant to disentangle the tangled web of real estate deals that allow charter operators to rip off the public.

Francisco tries to explain it here:

A decade ago, The Journal Gazette reported a local charter school, Imagine MASTer Academy, was using state tax dollars to pay a for-profit landowner nearly triple in rent what it could have paid to own its building outright.

No one – not the governor, attorney general or any lawmaker – stepped up to protect taxpayers from that poor deal. None showed interest in the growing number of national headlines about charter school real estate scams. In announcing last week it was getting out of the charter school business, the former property owner of Imagine MASTer Academy illustrated why West Lafayette and other public school districts must challenge Indiana law.

Admittedly, the complex shell game is tough to follow, but no one should doubt who is prospering when an out-of-state real estate investment company boasts of 10.5% returns on a charter school portfolio that just sold for $454 million. Is it any wonder Indiana teacher salaries weren’t growing?

EPR Properties of Kansas City, Missouri, bought Imagine’s North Wells Street campus in 2008 from Schoolhouse Finance, the real estate arm of Imagine Schools Inc., a management group hired by businessman Don Willis and other area residents to operate the local charter school. The sales price was $5.5 million. Two years earlier, Schoolhouse had bought the campus from the YWCA. EPR, a real estate investment trust, sold it back to Schoolhouse eight years later for nearly $7.4 million. Just two years later, it was sold to Wallen Baptist Church for $3.25 million.

In the interim, Indiana taxpayers made rent payments of nearly $2 million in a three-year period alone. Under a triple net lease, the public was also on the hook for the for-profit company’s property taxes, insurance and maintenance. When the charter school faced closure because of poor academic performance in 2013, Imagine was converted to Horizon Christian School. State officials, under another charter-friendly law, forgave $3.6 million in loans to Imagine.

We don’t know how much Horizon Christian School paid in rent during its six years at the Wells Street site.Although the school, now at3301 E. Coliseum Blvd., is supported almost entirely by taxpayer-funded vouchers, its financial affairs are not subject to public access laws.

The entrepreneurs are betting that the public won’t be able to follow the trail of bread crumbs that transfers millions of dollars from taxpayers to the bank accounts of private corporations.

Watch these stirring videos that show the huge crowd of teachers and their allies amassed in Indianapolis in a demonstration for public education!

See the dramatic and inspiring gathering of #Red4Ed in Indiana!

After years of being mistreated by the Republican governor and legislature in the Hoosier State, teachers are rising up and saying “Enough is enough!”

#Red4Ed is on the march!