Archives for category: Network for Public Education

Carol Burris interviewed teachers, students and administrators about their experiences returning to school. As you might expect, she encountered a range of reactions.

The Network for Public Education is following 37 districts in New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut that reopened — either hybrid or full time. Of the 23 districts that responded to our inquiry regarding remote learners, the average rate of students who opted to not attend in person was 21 percent. Percentages ranged from 6 percent of the school population to 50 percent. Larger percentages of students of color are associated with higher remote rates.




Superintendent Joe Roy said he has been carefully examining patterns among the 25 percent of students whose families chose remote learning in his district in Bethlehem, Pa.
For the most part, they are students from affluent families who have academic supports for learning at home, or conversely, are from the least affluent homes. The families of his district’s students of color, many of whom work in local warehouses, were hit harder by the pandemic and, therefore, are more reticent to send their children back to school.
Roy’s neighboring district, Allentown, where 86 percent of the students are Black or Latinx, decided to go all virtual after a parent survey showed a majority were not ready for in-person learning.

One middle school teacher with whom I spoke, who requested anonymity, said he hopes that the schools open soon. Technology for remote learning has been an issue he told me — from hardware to poor connections.
“We are losing kids,” he said. “Our kindergarten enrollment is much lower than it has been in previous years. Of a class of 19, maybe 17 of my students log on to my early morning class. When I meet them later in the day, 12 or fewer show up. A 6½-hour day on Zoom is brutal. Some are keeping their cameras off, and others don’t respond. Many of my students can’t work independently.”


The challenges of in-person learning


Over half of the 37 districts we are following now bring some or all students back full time. Those schools that are using hybrid typically split students into two small cohorts that share the same teacher. Some bring those cohorts back three days one week and two days the following week. Others bring the cohorts back only two days a week — on consecutive days or staggered days with a fifth day when all stay home.




Although those I spoke with are glad to be back, school is certainly not the same as before the pandemic.

My youngest grandchildren returned to in-person school for only two days last week, and they were ecstatic. The schools did everything that was required—masks, social distancing, hand washing. Who knew that children loved school so much?

Please join me on September 23 at 7 pm EST as I talk with Derek Black about his terrific new book, Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy. The discussion is sponsored by the Network for Public Education. Derek Black is a professor of law at the University of South Carolina who specializes in civil rights law. Hos excellent scholarship demonstrates that the Founding Fathers wanted a free and universal public school system for the new nation. Those now attacking it are vandals!

Jeff Bryant warns parents not to be tempted by the advertisements or lures of charter schools.

He cites the report by the Network for Public Education showing that the shelf life of many charter schools is limited, and their futures are uncertain.

The report crunched nearly two decades of data and discovered that more than one in four charter schools closed after just five years. That’s less than the number of years it takes for a typical kindergartner to complete elementary school.

After 10 years, 40% of charter schools were shuttered; after 15 years, that rate rose to about 50%.

And the number of students impacted by charter school closures is considerable. According to the report, from 1999 to 2017, more than 867,000 students were displaced when their charter school closed. That figure is likely closer to 1 million students, if data from charter school closures between 1995 and 1998, as well as 2017 to 2019, were added to the analysis.

Privately managed charters are a market mechanism, like shoe stores and restaurants. Some succeed, some don’t. Buyer, beware.

Laurie Roberts is a columnist for the Arizona Republic who has written frequently about frauds in the charter and voucher sectors. When I was writing Slaying Goliath, I found her reporting and her sharp to be invaluable. She read Carol Burris’s article about the Network for Public Education study of charters that double dipped in two different pots of federal funding, and she thought that their greed was ridiculous.

As Congress considers the next economic stimulus package, it’s worth mentioning that America’s charter schools snagged at least $925 million in emergency funding from the Paycheck Protection Program, according to an analysis by Network for Public Education.

In Arizona, 100 charter school operations bagged anywhere from $40 million to nearly $100 million in emergency funding, the analysis of U.S. Small Business Administration records shows.

That’s a lot of stimulation, economically speaking. Especially when you consider that the losses at publicly funded charter schools are largely a figment of the federal government’s imagination.

Unlike small businesses that saw their operations fall off a cliff when COVID-19 hit, Arizona taxpayers fund Arizona’s charter schools.

Charters already getting state, federal aid

Not only have charter operators received their regular per-student allotments of state money, they are eligible for a share of the hundreds of millions of dollars in CARES Act funding that is being pumped into public schools to cover added costs due to COVID-19 and budget shortfalls.

So, what losses?

The Arizona Charter Schools Association sent me a statement saying charter schools were concerned this spring that the coronavirus would lead to state budget cuts, requiring them to lay off teachers.

“Charter schools have not only faced questions about the uncertainty of the state budget, but also seen steep declines in charitable fundraising and programs such as before-and after-care – which are important revenue sources for our schools and students,” the statement said. “These federal funds have provided financial assistance to eligible recipients, as Congress intended.”

No word on how many of those schools returned the money when those state budget cuts didn’t happen.

Roberts notes that more than 400 charter schools had the decency not to apply for money they didn’t need.

But:

Among the 100 charters that went for the windfall was – surprise! – American Virtual Academy. The management company, which runs Primavera Online School, snagged somewhere between $2 million and $5 million in PPP money.

This is the same company whose CEO, Damian Creamer, managed to pay himself a combined $10.1 million in 2017 and 2018 out of taxpayer money set aside to educate students. Never mind that fewer than a third of his students couldn’t read or do math at grade level or that nearly half were dropping out.

Creamer’s education technology company, StrongMind, also scored a $2 million to $5 million forgivable loan from the PPP program, according to The Arizona Republic’s Lily Altavena. Meanwhile, Verano Learning Partners, which was founded by Creamer and lists the same address as American Virtual and StrongMind, snagged a PPP payout of $150,000 to $350,000.

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, reports on a major NPE investigation of charter schools that double dipped into federal funding for coronavirus relief. The article was posted on Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet” at the Washington Post. First the charters received public funding from the $13.2 billion allocated to public schools as part of the CARES Act. Then, on the advice of charter school lobbyists, many applied for funding from the $660 billion Paycheck Protection Program, for which public schools were not eligible. Charters enroll 6% of the nation’s students.

Valerie Strauss introduces the report:

The Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, is a $660-billion business loan program established as part of the $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus legislation that Congress passed in the spring. PPP was aimed at helping certain small businesses, nonprofit organizations, sole proprietors and others stay in business during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Small Business Administration administered the program, and recently the SBA and the Treasury Department released some data on what organizations won loans from the program and how much they received. (Some loans can be forgiven if the PPP money is spent on keeping employees on the payroll.)

The release of funding details sparked some controversy about whether some of the organizations that received funds should have gotten them, including public charter schools — which are publicly funded but privately operated — and some elite private schools. (A Washington Post database shows the data.)

Charter schools received emergency stimulus money from Congress from the same fund that traditional public schools did — but some charter schools decided to apply for PPP loans as well, saying that they are underfunded through regular funding formulas and had a right to seek more aid. Other charter schools chose not to apply for loans, saying it would be double-dipping in federal aid funds.

Among those charters that did were some that knew they didn’t actually need the money to maintain financial stability. For example, 2KUTV in Salt Lake City did an investigation into Utah charter schools taking PPP funding and found that they took a total of $7.9 million. It reported on a discussion at the June 25 meeting of the governing board of the Utah Military Academy, a charter with two campuses, in which an unidentified board member explained how the $1.15 million in PPP funding that the school was expecting would be spent.

The conversation, heard on audio tapes, went like this, according to the CBS affiliate:

“So we take this money to pay the salaries, and the money we were going to pay salaries is going to go into our accounts to help flush up our funds,” said the board member.
“Can I ask a question?” a female voice said. “My understanding was that this money is for businesses who, because of the drop in business, were having trouble keeping all their employees. How do we qualify for that? Because our funding wasn’t cut at all.”
She also notes that no employees have been laid off by the school because of the covid-19 pandemic. Two more voices interject, “We’re a business,” and, “We’re a nonprofit.” A third voice is heard saying, “It’s some of that good free government money!”

With that, here is the post about just how much charter schools did get in PPP money, written by Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, an alliance of organizations that advocates for the improvement of public education. Burris, a former award-winning principal in New York, has been chronicling the charter school movement and the standardized-test-based accountability movement on this blog for years.

Here is Burris’s report:

On May 13, Washington Post reporter Perry Stein reported that some Washington, D.C., charter schools had been receiving funds from the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), although all of their taxpayer revenue continued to flow. By June 15, The New York Times’s Erica L. Green also wrote a story about how charter schools, some of which had billionaire backers, had been applying for and getting PPP money. Before long, local news agencies picked up on the story, questioning why schools that received public funding were tapping into the SBA program.

Unknown at the time was the national scope of the use of PPP funds by charters. Therefore, the Network for Public Education decided to scour the list of PPP recipients disclosed by the SBA and create lists by state of the charter schools and their management organizations that had received funding.

The amount that we have identified is staggering. More than 1,300 charter schools and their nonprofit or for-profits and management companies secured between $925 million and $2.2 billion through the PPP. We provide a range not from uncertainty but because the SBA chose not to report the exact amounts of the forgivable loans.
Even this range is an underestimate. Excluded from our calculations is the sizable number of PPP loans below $150,000 — which the Trump administration has not disclosed. You can find our state-by-state list of charter schools and charter management organizations, along with each school’s PPP range amounts on our website here.
Background

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools informed its members via email in March that it had successfully lobbied for charter schools to receive PPP funds and provided instructions on how such funding could be obtained. The blog that contained the contents of that email has been removed, however, you can find it in the Internet archives here. Not only did the charter school alliance encourage its members to apply, but the organization itself received its own PPP forgivable loan in the range of $350,000 and $1 million.

Because the laws regarding charter transparency vary from state to state, prior to the publication of the SBA list we could only obtain information about PPP loans by reading charter school minutes, if they were posted. In some cases, we were able to listen to available recordings of meetings. From that limited information, a disturbing pattern emerged.

Well-funded charters with ample funding were applying for and receiving large PPP awards. A discussion of the governing board of California’s Summit Public Schools was particularly insightful. Not only did the school’s chief executive officer report that the schools were in good fiscal standing, the only major concern of the board, in addition to public relations, was whether or not they would find themselves under criminal investigation if they took the funds and it was then discovered that Summit did not need the money.

When the SBA finally released the PPP data, a nonprofit research and policy organization group called In the Public Interest, and the nonprofit grassroots advocacy group Parents United for Public Schools, analyzed charter school recipients in the state of California. Meanwhile, Carol Burris, Marla Kilfoyle and Darcie Cimarusti of the Network for Public Education concentrated on the other 49 states and the District of Columbia. Professor Gary Miron of Western Michigan University provided a national list of for-profit and nonprofit charter management organizations, which we checked against the PPP database as well. Because some organizations did not list themselves as nonprofits but rather as corporations, and some charter schools have nonprofits with names different from the name of the school, it is likely we missed a sizable number of grantees.

What we found

California has the most charter schools in the nation — approximately 1,300. Even so, its charter sector received a disproportionately large amount of PPP funding, which may be as high as half a -billion dollars.
More than 400 charter organizations received loan money totaling between $240.7 million and $565.6 million. In the Public Interest has created a searchable database of the California charters that received PPP loans, available here. Two-thirds of these charters are affiliated with “CMO’s,” or “charter management organizations,” such as Learn4Life and Magnolia Public Schools, large chains with campuses statewide. Inspire Schools, whose founder and former chief executive officer has recently drawn criticism for receiving more than $1 million in retroactively authorized payroll, took as much as $29.7 million in PPP funding. This home-schooling charter network was expelled last fall from the California Charter Schools Association, an organization that typically unabashedly defends its members.

In Los Angeles County — where the Los Angeles Unified School District has more charter schools than any other school system in the country — according to In the Public Interest, charters received as much as $201 million. San Diego County charters received as much as $91 million.

The New York State charter sector received between $126 million and $293.2 million — even as local businesses were going belly up due to a lack of revenue during the high point of the covid-19 pandemic in that state.
While New York public school districts may have felt the pain of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) decision to not distribute federal CARES Act funding to schools and use it to fill the state’s budget hole instead, 146 of the 327 charter schools had that blow cushioned by PPP. For example, six of the eight New Vision Charter High Schools received PPP funding, which totaled at the high end of the range to $10 million. In addition, the New Visions charter management organization that manages the schools received its own PPP funding in an amount between $2 million and $5 million.

Beside California and New York, two other states’ charter sectors received high-end range PPP funding in excess of $100 million: Florida, at $152.8 million, and Louisiana, at $107.4 million. The charter sectors in three other states received up to $80 million or more: Arizona, $99.4 million; Pennsylvania, $85 million; and Texas $81.1 million. Again, readers can find state totals along with school names and funding ranges here.

National charter chains cash in

Learn4Life is a charter school chain claiming 80 campuses in California enrolling nearly 40,000 students. It is expanding to North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. Its schools are often storefronts in malls where over-aged or at-risk students pick up work to independently complete. On-site teachers provide support if needed.
According to In the Public Interest, Learn4Life schools received as much as $51.7 million in PPP funds — more than the total amount received by the entire charter sectors in the majority of states. Last June, a judge ordered the chain to close three of its San Diego County locations after school districts said they were operating illegally within their boundaries. Later that year, a Voice of San Diego investigation revealed that John Helgeson, a Learn4Life executive vice president, was collecting two paychecks paid with public money. In a scheme described as “a classic conflict interest,” Helgeson owned a for-profit company that loaned money and leased corporate office space to Learn4Life while he worked for the chain.

At a glance, Learn4Life seems too big to apply for a PPP loan. But like Shake Shack and other corporations with multiple locations, Learn4Life’s leaders took advantage of the chain’s structure to apply school by school, while also applying for their central management organization.

Learn4Life was hardly alone. Twenty-one organizations related to the KIPP charter chain have in total received an amount at the high end of the range, $68.7 million, more than the high end of the charter sector in 42 states.

The for-profit charter management organization Academica runs charter schools in seven states. Its home office is located in Florida, where the company manages scores of charter schools down the east coast of the state from Fort Pierce to Homestead. Academica also has a presence in Arizona, California, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. Academica Management, L.L.C, Academica West, and Academica Virtual Education, which the EMO uses to support online schooling, received PPP funding as did 15 of the schools it manages and supports. High-range amounts for Academica and its schools produce a total of $35.7 million.

Small charter management organizations jumped in as well. Phillips Education Partners, located in Newark, New Jersey, got between $150,000 and $350,000. It runs two charter schools. One of those two schools, Phillips Academy of Patterson, also received PPP in the same amount — $150,00-$350,000 — as the charter management organization. Miguel Brito, the chief executive officer of Phillips Education Partners, received total compensation in 2017 of $410,205. Meanwhile, the average salary for New Jersey school superintendents in 2017-18, was $155,631, according to an NJ Advance Media analysis of state data.

Authentic need or money grab?

The board of Palisades Charter High School near Los Angeles voted in June to accept $4.6 million in PPP funding despite admitting that they didn’t have an immediate need for the money. Yet, earlier this month, they voted to lay off five staff members, including a tutoring center coordinator, and reduce the hours of 18 other employees.

Palisades was not alone. In all of the minutes we read, and recordings we listened to, charter school boards reported ample fund balances and justified taking the money because future funding was uncertain. During a meeting of the Utah Military Academy, one board member described taking PPP funds as follows: “So we take this money to pay the salaries, and the money we were going to pay salaries is going to go into our accounts to help flush up our funds.”

However, preparing for possible uncertainties or “flushing up funds” was not the purpose of the program. We are aware of no other sector funded nearly exclusively by the taxpayers that received PPP.

This begs the questions about whether charter schools should have been allowed to access PPP money, and whether harm was caused by allowing them to do so.

Charter schools have received the same continuity of funding as district-run neighborhood public schools during the pandemic. Eligible charter schools — those schools with large numbers of low-income students —have also received federal CARES Act funding, as well as other state-based covid-19 relief. While receiving this funding that was intended to support public schools, charter schools are now also receiving funding that was intended for small businesses and nonprofits whose revenue streams were drastically impacted by the pandemic.
Granted, charter schools are not alone among nonprofits in taking funding just because they can. We found 17 nonprofit organizations that support charter schools (or advocated for charters receiving PPP funding) receiving that funding themselves — in total receiving between $6.3 and $14.8 million. For example, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a school reform think tank, is also an authorizer of charter schools in Ohio. It received between $350,000 and $1 million in PPP funding despite its initial endowment of $50 million. In 2018, the organization ended the year with a fund balance of $8 million. Readers can find a list of these charter support organizations and the amounts they received here.

And now to the question of harm. By taking PPP when not needed, systemic inequities increased. The PPP has been widely criticized as being difficult to access for many small businesses, particularly those owned by people of color.

A survey conducted in May of 500 black and Latinx small-business owners found that just 12 percent of those who had applied had received the funds they asked for, with nearly 50 percent anticipating having to permanently close in the next six months. A recent study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found “different levels of encouragement to apply for loans, different products offered, and different information provided by bank representatives.”

Certainly, there are other nonprofit and for-profit organizations beyond the charter school world that took covid-19 money just because they could. Although eligible via our nonprofit status, the Network for Public Education did not apply for PPP funds. We encourage other nonprofit organizations that were able to meet payroll without the funding to return those funds, making them available to the small businesses that never received them or that may need a second infusion of cash.

As to the funding supplied to charter schools, we suggest that as states distribute the next round of funding to schools, that allocations to charter schools that received PPP be reduced by the amount they received and be redistributed equitably to all schools, both public and charter.

Do you wonder which businesses, schools, and nonprofits in your neighborhood or state got a piece of the hundreds of billions of dollars handed out by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in the Paycheck Protection Program? He tried to keep the names of the recipients secret but eventually released the list.

Now you can easily review the list.

ProPublica put all the awards into a search engine which anyone can use. Here it is.

You can satisfy your curiosity about who got the money. I looked at my zip code and was shocked to see some very wealthy institutions listed as well as some local businesses who probably thought they won the grand prize in the lottery. Those on the know cashed in. Many worthy small businesses and colleges never applied. They were not in the know.

Would you like to do some volunteer work for the Network for Public Education? We would love to have your help identifying the charter schools in your state that received PPP money.

Public schools were not eligible to participate in the PPP, but charter lobbyists made sure that charter schools were. Thus, they got money designated for public schools, and they went back to get more money as small nonprofit businesses.

NPE is developing a spread sheet for every state but we don’t have the staff to review all of them. If you would like to help, please contact Darcie Cimarusti, our Communications Director, who is coordinating the project.

You would need to go through your state’s list of grantees and identify the charter schools and how much each one received.

If you want to help, contact Darcie and she can answer your questions. Dcimarusti@networkforpubliceducation.org

I had two recent contacts with Andre Perry, and I fell in love with him. I’m no threat to his wife because I’m 82 and married.

We met for the first time on this Zoom conversation.

As you will see, he is candid, honest, open, smart, and charming. I don’t always fall for guys just because they have a great smile, but Andre surprised me.

I thought he would be super-serious but he wasn’t.

He talked about his childhood. He talked about his life as a charter leader in New Orleans. He talked about his disaffection with the white reformers and philanthropists who thought that what the schools of New Orleans needed most was to fire black teachers and staff.

The second contact I had with Andre was reading his new book, Know Your Price.

I got to know Andre by reading his book.

More important, I got Andre’s message about seeing the world through a different lens.

We grew up in very different circumstances. I had two parents and a nuclear family. He had a different kind of family, a loving family.

What you will learn from his book is to see the world differently.

That’s a gift.

What you will see is a man who thinks for himself, without regard to orthodoxy.

Watch our conversation. Watch me become charmed by this brilliant young man.

Buy his book and you too will be transformed.

Last night, I had a Zoom talk with Amy Frogge, who has served for eight years on the Metro Nashville school board.

We talked about charters, vouchers, the Dark Money that infiltrated school board races, and the promising things happening in Nashville.

She is soon leaving the board to become executive director of Pastors for Tennessee Children.

Amy is one of the heroes featured in my book SLAYING GOLIATH. Watch our discussion and you will understand why. She has chosen a life of service and made a difference.

You can watch here.

On May 20, I will ZOOM with Dr. Michael Hynes, the most interesting and inspiring superintendent I know.

Mike Hynes is superintendent of the Port Washington school district on Long Island, In New York.

He is a visionary. His new book—about educational leadership—is Staying Grounded.

He truly believes in whole-child education. He supports the parent opt-out movement. He believes that what matters most is children’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. He is passionate about play, calm, mindfulness.

Mike is my choice for the next state superintendent of New York. What a wild thought! Imagine a major state led. Y a man who knows the harm done by standardized testing! Imagine a state willing to lead, instead of follow.

Join us on Wednesday May 20 at 7:40 pm EST to watch a discussion sponsored by the Network for Public Education. Space is limited to 100. Everyone else can watch a livestream on NPE’s Facebook page.

The monthly newsletter of the Grassroots Education Network of the Network for Public Education is out!

Connect with grassroots organizations fighting for public schools, their students, and their educators!

Learn what they are doing in the newsletter.

Together we will have to fight the budget cuts that are in the horizon.

Let’s stand together and demand that the states and federal government invest in our children.