Archives for category: Network for Public Education

Carol Burris writes in The Progressive about the alarming rate with which charters close. Parents should know this before enrolling their children and taking a chance.

She writes:

In May, a study by the National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice (REACH) at Tulane University found that charter schools close at much higher rates than public schools, even when controlling for factors such as enrollment and test scores. Each year, roughly 5 percent of charters close, compared with 1 percent of public schools.

But REACH’s data likely underestimates the problem. Because so many new charter schools open each year, the closure rate is offset by the overall growth of the industry. And a new charter opening in Columbus, Ohio, is of little help to a student whose charter just closed in Memphis, Tennessee.

To more accurately capture the big picture, we at the Network for Public Education published a report on the long-term viability of charter schools. We looked at seventeen cohorts, each composed of all U.S. charters that opened in a given year, beginning in 1998 and ending in 2014. Our goal was to track these schools over time and see how they fared when compared with one another. We found that, by year three, an average of 18 percent of charters had closed. By year ten, the proportion of failed charters topped 40 percent.

Enrollment data for the year before each school closed indicated that charter schools opening between 1999 and 2017 have collectively displaced upwards of one million students—often with almost no warning.

The alarming rate of charter school closures prompted the U.S. Department of Education to direct federal startup funding to schools more likely to succeed. But even modest proposals have met stiff resistance from the charter lobby. For them, the closures are seen positively: It is “the sector working as intended,” Chalkbeat reported, citing National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Chief Executive Officer Nina Rees.

And she’s right—charter churn, including abrupt closures, is baked into the marketplace model that believes only the most popular performers should survive. The three recent closings in North Carolina, however, were not based on popularity, or even low test scores—they were the result of greed and fraud.

To prevent this, government officials at all levels need to tighten regulations and hold charter school boards accountable. Until government officials get serious about charter school reform, each parent or guardian who enrolls their child in a charter school deserves a notice that says, “Caution: This school could close with little to no warning.”

When the Network for Public Education met in Philadelphia April 30-May 1, I was surprised and delighted to encounter David Berliner. He had never attended one of our conferences, and he flew from the West Coast to do so. David Berliner is the most eminent education researcher in the United States, a giant in his field. He is now retired but continues to write and contribute to education studies and debates. His most recent book, which he edited with Carl Hermanns, is Public Education: Defending a Cornerstone of American Democracy. It contains 29 essays about the importance of public education, written by well-known scholars and educators.

I recently received this note from Dr. Berliner about his reaction to the NPE conference.

Dear Diane,

It was so nice to see you and Carol Burris at the annual meeting of our Network for Public Education. I know how hard you and others worked to make it a success. I write to tell you and Carol that it was exactly that for me.

As I think you know, I live pretty much by myself since my wife’s illness necessitated a move from Tempe to Oakland. Thus, I no longer have the same support group that I had in Arizona. Reading your posts, and NPE articles, is certainly edifying. Both sources of information do inform me, but they do more than that. They also signal me that there are many others who share our beliefs in the necessity for, and importance of, a successful system of public education.

My attendance at the recent annual meeting of NPE, in Philadelphia, was so very affirming of our common values. It reminded me that others with similar beliefs exist and are doing important work. I got to meet some of the published heroes of mine, whose work I often read, and with whom I share common purpose. But I also got to meet heroes I had not known about before. These folks often work at the local level, doing the hard work of keeping public schools public, decently funded, and building programs that improve the outcomes for America’s most impoverished youth. They do the hardest work, I think, and I was so happy to listen to them and know that we have so many like-minded folks on the ground, at the local level.

Everyone I met at the meetings I thought of as heroes trying their best to stop the onslaught of the privateers and our slide into plutocracy. I thought everyone I met believed, as I do, in words written by the late Paul Wellstone. I keep Wellstone’s words nearby to me when I work, as a reminder of what should be reflected in my own work. He said: “That all citizens will be given an equal start through a sound education is one of the most basic, promised rights of our democracy. Our chronic refusal as a nation to guarantee that right for all children, including poor children, is a national disgrace. It is rooted in a kind of moral blindness, or at least a failure of moral imagination, that we do not see that meeting the most basic needs of so many of our children condemns them to lives and futures of frustration, chronic underachievement, poverty, crime and violence. It is a failure which threatens our future as a nation of citizens called to a common purpose, allied with one another in a common enterprise, tied to one another by a common bond.”

At the recent NPE meetings I witnessed participants called to common purpose, allied to each other in a common enterprise: To support and enhance America’s systems of public education. We shared our common bond. It was so satisfying to be there. I already look forward to attending again next year.

David C. Berliner

Regents’ Professor Emeritus,

Arizona State University

Tom Ultican, retired teacher of advanced mathematics and physics in California, is now a significant chronicler of the Destroy Public Education movement. He attended the recent national conference of the Network for Public Education in Philadelphia and recapitulates the excitement we shared at being in person after a 2-year hiatus.

After every conference, attendees say, “This was the best one yet.” They enjoy meeting people who are doing the same work to fight privatization of their public schools. By the end of the conference, attendees say they feel energized, hopeful, and happy to know that they are not alone.

I urge you to read Tom’s post. You will get a sense of the embarrassment of riches available to attendees.

I should add that the Nebraska Save Our Schools group shared the Phyllis Bush Award for Grassroots Activism. Nebraska is one of the few states that has managed to protect its public schools and keep out both charters and vouchers, despite being a Red State.

The Pastors for Texas Children, a co-winner of the award, has repeatedly blocked vouchers in the Texas Legislature and has consistently fought for funding for public schools. PTC has opened chapters in other Red states, where they mobilize clergy to support public schools.

A high point for me was interviewing “Little Stevie” Van Zandt, a legendary rock star and actor (“The Sopranos”), who is dedicated to getting the arts into schools, not as an extra, but across the curriculum. we had a wonderful conversation. He has funded lesson plans based on rock and roll, available free at his website TeachRock.

All of the general sessions were taped. I will post them when they become available.

Jonathan Chait writes for New York magazine, where his latest article appeared, opposing the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed regulations for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). CSP currently spends $440 million annually to underwrite new charter schools. Chait titled his article “Biden Abandons the Obama Legacy on Charter Schools,” but it might as well have been titled “Biden Abandons the Betsy DeVos Legacy on Charter Schools.”

Chait also attacked the Network for Public Education, which had issued two reports (see here and here) documenting the waste, fraud, and abuse in the CSP, based on the Education Department’s own data. NPE found that almost 40% of CSP funding went to charters that either never opened or closed within a few years of opening. In the life of the program, almost $1 billion had been wasted. In addition, NPE pointed out the scandals associated with some high-profile for-profit charter operators, as well as the use of CSP money to open white-flight charters.

This year, for the first time since the CSP was created nearly 30 years ago, the Department proposed to ban the funding of for-profit charter management organizations and of white-flight charters. The regulations also ask applicants for an impact analysis that describes what effect the new charter is likely to have on existing public schools and why the new charter is needed. These sensible reform proposals sent the charter lobbyists into frenzied opposition, claiming falsely that these regulations were meant to destroy all charter schools. This was nonsense because they would have no effect on the thousands of existing charters, only on applicants for new federal funding, that is, charters that do not yet exist.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, sharply denounced the lies and misrepresentations of the “trade organization” for the charter industry. But, despite her reproach, the charter industry still promotes dishonest diatribes about the Department’s efforts to reform the CSP.

Carol Burris, the executive director of the Network for Public Education, was incensed when she read Chait’s defense of the charter industry’s effort to protect the for-profit managers who have abused CSP funds and of the operators that have used CSP funding to provide white-flight charters.

She wrote the following response.

In his recent column, “Biden Abandons the Obama Legacy on Charter Schools,” Jonathan Chait is perturbed that the U.S. Department of Education referred Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum to me for comment on an article he was writing about the Department’s proposed regulations for funding new charter schools. He then scolds Barnum for not disclosing that the Network for Public Education has received donations from unions. He calls Barnum’s story “neutral.” Chait’s source for this big scoop? The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Jonathan Chait then parrots the “wild exaggerations and misrepresentations” that Rosa De Lauro called out last week after expressing her support for CSP reforms during the Education Department’s 2023 budget hearing. The Appropriations Chairwoman noted that “this kind of information campaign is a familiar tactic for the trade organization [National Alliance for Public Charter Schools]. It does represent charter schools that are run by risky low-quality for-profit education management organizations.”

You know those “wild exaggerations.” I wrote about them here. Obviously, Chait did not read the mentioned Barnum piece, which was solid reporting, and he certainly did not read the proposed regulations carefully (which Representative DeLauro described in a letter to Secretary Miguel Cardona about the charter industry’s misrepresentations). Or he just chose to twist facts and truth.

Now let’s talk about what Jonathan Chait failed to disclose as he opposed the CSP regulation reforms, using the same misinformation that has appeared in other op-eds.

His wife worked for Center City Charter Schools as a grant writer when that charter chain received two grants from the Charter School Program (CSP), the program whose loose rules he is now defending. Download the 2019 database that you can find here and match the years of dispersion to the resume of Robin Chait. But the undisclosed conflict continues to this day. Since 2018, Robin Chait has worked for West Ed which evaluated the CSP during the Betsy De Vos era. And her employer, West Ed, once got its own $1.74 million grant from CSP.

But back to NPE funding. During some recent years we got modest donations from unions to bring teachers to our conferences. At our very beginning, we received start-up funds from the Chicago Teachers Union through a fiscal sponsor, Voices for Children. That ended in 2015. We will always be grateful to our friend, the late Karen Lewis, for that jump-start. Karen foresaw the growing attacks on public schools and teachers as an ominous trend and wanted to encourage allies to support a bedrock institution of our democracy.

We appreciate any tax-deductible donations we get. You won’t get favors, but you will always get a thank you. Our income comes from individual donations from our large number of supporters—educators, parents, family foundations, and other citizens who have a deep and abiding love for public schools.

This is not the first time Chait has been called out for not disclosing his wife’s connections with charters. But given the topic and her work in organizations connected with the Charter School Program, this is the worst omission yet. Shame on New York Magazine for not making him disclose and for letting him play fast and loose with the truth. And shame on Chait’s hypocritical critique of Barnum even as he hides the family connections with the program he defends.

The Network for Public Education has just released a new report that ranks the states by their commitment to their public schools and their refusal to pass laws enabling privatization of public money.

Where does your state rank?

A NEW REPORT EXPOSES THE WEAK PROTECTIONS FOR TAXPAYERS AND WEAK PROTECTIONS FOR CHILDREN IN STATE CHARTER AND VOUCHER LAWS

America’s public schools, students, and families are under a near-constant attack from political special interests looking to privatize and profit at the expense of our children. The Network for Public Education (NPE) has released its findings in its latest report “Public Schooling in America: Measuring Each States Commitment to Democratically Governed Schools.”

Researchers examined laws and regulations in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to measure how well policymakers protect public funds from exploitative privatization through low-quality virtual and brick-and-mortar charter schools, environments without fully-vetted staff, and profit-centered systems. Most troubling were findings that expose how state laws allow charter and voucher schools to leave students behind, discriminating against the most vulnerable.

Diving into the world of school privatization led the report’s authors to some dark conclusions about the future of schooling in America. Reflecting on the school privatization movement, the report notes:

“It has achieved the full-throated support of the right-wing, which now controls many state legislatures. Conserving public schools and local control is no longer part of a conservative platform: destroying locally controlled public schools via privatized choice is.”

Some of the findings might surprise readers, as states like California lead the nation in charter school fraud.

“The reality is these voucher programs and charter school expansions being promoted in state capitols across the country are almost custom-designed to incentivize, legalize, and reward fraud, often coupled with minimal repercussions for misspending public funding meant for our students,” said Carol Burris, executive director of NPE.

The report notes that “the first step in stopping the privatization movement is to understand it.” To help the public understand the scope of the issue, NPE graded each state based on their willingness to turn public dollars over to privatized systems as well as the robustness of their protections against discrimination, fraud, student endangerment, corruption, transparency, and accountability.

At the top of the list are the schools where a commitment to conserving public schools and local control remains strong. Those states receiving an “A+” grade include Nebraska and North Dakota, where there are no voucher or charter school laws.

The details of what they found may be alarming to those working to hold states accountable to democratically governed schools. For example:

  • 50% of states with voucher programs don’t require any background checks for voucher school staff in at least one voucher program
  • 33 (73%) states don’t require charter students to be taught by certified teachers, or allow so many exceptions that any existing regulations are rendered meaningless
  • 37 states allow entirely online charter schools that have been shown to be years behind public schools in academic progress
  • 5 states have for-profit organizations running 30% or more of charter schools.

At the same time, the report is a celebration of those states like Nebraska and North Dakota that despite strong lobbying efforts continue to defend their public schools. Commenting on the highest-scoring states, NPE President Diane Ravitch said, “NPE salutes the states that have protected and cherished their public schools while fending off the siren call of privatization. They can and should build strong public schools that are open to the public and owned by the public.”

To view the full list of grades for each state and see how yours stands on protecting students and communities from the exploitation of privatization, view the report in its entirety here.

The Network for Public Education (NPE) was founded in 2013 by Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody. Its mission is to protect, preserve, promote, and strengthen public schools for both current and future generations of students. We share information and research on vital issues that concern the future of public education. For more information, please visit: networkforpubliceducation.org

Tom Ultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics, lives in California. He has attended every annual conference of the Network for Public Education, except for the first one in Austin, Texas. He met many of the people whose work he admired, and he left fired up to do his part in the struggle to save public schools from the privatizers. Now he has become one of the bloggers that everyone wants to meet! Join us in Philadelphia and share the enthusiasm!

Tom writes:

In 2014, the first Network for Public Education (NPE) Conference was held at Austin, Texas. My first conference was the following year in Chicago. That was the year after the late Karen Lewis and the Chicago teachers union decided enough is enough and stood strong against a host of privatizers and education profiteers. Their powerful teachers’ union victory sent ripples of hope to educators across America. That year, Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody, Mercedes Schneider, Peter Greene, Jennifer Berkshire, Jose Vilson, Jan Resseger and many other pro-public education activists dominated social media.

NPE Chicago was held in the fabulous historic Drake hotel just up the street from Lake Michigan. When walking into the lobby, I was greeted by Anthony Cody the co-founder of NPE. Steve Singer from Pennsylvania and T.C. Weber from Tennessee arrived just after I did. During the conference, it seemed I met all of the leading education activists in America.

Particularly memorable was lunch the following day. I met Annie Tan in the hallway heading to lunch and she said let’s get a seat near the stage. So, I followed her to an upfront table. Turned out our table mates included Adell Cothorne the Noyes Elementary school principal famous for exposing Michelle Rhee’s DC test cheating. Jenifer Berkshire who had unmasked herself as the Edu-Shyster was also at the table. The Curmugducator, Peter Greene, and his wife were there as was well known education blogger and author Jose Vilson.

It strangely turned out that Greene, his wife, Vilson and I were all trombone players. Of course, everyone knows that trombone players are the coolest members of the band.

A highlight of NPE 2015 was the entertaining hour long presentation by Yong Zhao. He is the internationally decorated professor of education who had just published Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon.

Zhao’s presentation focused on the harm caused by standards and testing. He also made fun of the concept of being college ready and the recently broached kindergarten readiness was a new abomination making the rounds. Zhou made the logical observation that it was schools that needed to ready for the children. He also shared that what he wanted for his children was “out of my basement readiness.” Zhao claimed that on a recent trip to Los Angeles that he met Kim Kardashian in an elevator. He observed that she clearly had “out of my basement readiness.”

NPE 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina

We met in the spring for the 3rd NPE conference. There was some thought about cancelling in the wake of North Carolina passing anti-transgender bathroom legislation. I am glad we didn’t. Many disrespected North Carolina teachers came to our hotel in the large downtown convention center complex to report and be encouraged. It was a great venue and I met more amazing people who taught me a lot.

The Reverend William Barber’s “poor people campaign” was leading the fight against the kind of cruel legislation emanating from the capital building an easy walk up the street. Barber might be America’s most inspirational speaker. His keynote address fired up the conference.

A major highlight for me was meeting Andrea Gabor. She is a former staff writer and editor for both Businessweek and U.S. News ξ World Report and is currently the Bloomberg chair of business journalism at Baruch College. Gabor is also one America’s leading experts on W. Edward Deming’s management theories which are credited with the rise of Toyota among other successes. She was there leading a workshop based on the research she did in New Orleans which eventually led to her 2018 book “After the Education Wars; How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform.”

Gabor was an agnostic concerning charter schools when she went to New Orleans. Her experience there gave her insight into how damaging the privatization agenda had become. A New Orleans parent accompanying Gabor described how during her eighth-grade year she was in a class with 55-students. Their room was not air-conditioned and they were restricted to running the fan 10-minutes each hour to save on electrical costs. With the promise of never before seen large scale spending on schools in black communities, residents did not care about the governance structure. It was the first significant spending on education in their neighborhoods in living memory. Now, they have no public schools left and choice is turning out to mean the schools chose which students they want.

NPE 2017 in Oakland, California

In early fall, we gathered at the Marriot hotel in the Oakland flats. The first evening, smoke from the big Napa fire made being outside uncomfortable. That night, KPFA radio hosted an event at a local high school featuring Diane Ravitch in conversation with Journey for Justice (J4J) leader, Jitu Brown. Two years earlier, Brown led the successful 34-day hunger strike to save Dyett High School from being shuttered by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. J4J, Bats, NEA, Black Lives Matter at School, AFT, Parents Across America and many other organizations had representative both attending and presenting.

When leaving the inspiring session with Jitu and Diane, I ran into San Diego Superintendent of Schools, Cindy Marten. A San Diego teacher carpooling with me had what appeared to be a heated exchange with Marten. However, when Marten was appointed Deputy Secretary of Education by Joe Biden, that same teacher lauded her saying “don’t worry my Superintendent will take care of us.”

We were one of two conventions that weekend at the Marriott. The other was sponsored by the nascent California marijuana industry. When returning to my room in the evenings, the sweet smell of pot wafted down the hallways but as far as I know there were no free samples.

In the main hall, a Seattle kindergarten teacher, Susan DeFresne, put up a series of posters that covered all of one very long wall. Her artwork depicted the history of institutional racism in U.S. schools. Six months later Garn Press published this art in the book The History of Institutional Racism in U.S. Public Schools.

In Oakland, I saw a new younger leadership appearing. It is also where I met activists, board members and researchers from Oakland who would become invaluable sources for my articles about the public schools they are fighting desperately to save.

One of our keynote speakers was a recipient of the 2017 MacArthur Genius award, Nicolle Hanna-Jones. Today everyone knows about her because of the 1619 Project.

NPE 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana

Indianapolis was a trip into Mind Trust madness and home of the second most privatized public education system in America. Diane Ravitch jubilantly opened the conference declaring, “We are the resistance and we are winning!”

Famed Finnish educator, Pasi Sahlberg, was one the first featured speakers. He labeled the business centric education privatization agenda the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) and buttressed Ravitch’s declaration stating,

“You are making progress. The global situation is getting better.”

One of the most visible people at NPE 2018 was founding board member Phyllis Bush. She was dealing with the ravages of cancer and seemed determined not to let it slow her in the least. She had always shown me great consideration so the news of her demise not long after the conference was sad, but in the last years of her life she helped build NPE into a great force for protecting public education.

Last year, I was also saddened to learn that the woman with the walker, Laura Chapman, had died. Her research into the forces attacking Cincinnati’s public schools and the spending nationally to privatize public schools made her a treasure. I really enjoyed our breakfast together in Indianapolis and will miss her.

There were many outstanding small group presentations at NPE 2018. One that I found personally helpful was put on by Darcie Cimarusti, Mercedes Schneider and Andrea Gabor. Darcie did significant research for the NPE report, Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools. In her presentation she demonstrated LittleSis a program she used for her research. It is a free database and orthographic mapping facility. LittleSis is viewed as the antidote to “Big Brother.” Gabor and Schneider shared how they search for non-profit tax forms and explained the differences between an IRS form 990 and form 990 PF, the forms non-profits must file.

Jitu Brown and the Journey for Justice (J4J) came to Indianapolis with a message:

“We are not fooled by the ‘illusion of school choice.’ The policies of the last twenty years, driven more by private interests than by concern for our children’s education, are devastating our neighborhoods and our democratic rights. Only by organizing locally and coming together nationally will we build the power we need to change local, state, and federal policy and win back our public schools.”

J4J introduced their #WeChoose campaign consisting of seven pillars:

  1. A moratorium on school privatization.
  2. The creation of 10,000 community schools.
  3. End zero tolerance policies in public schools now. (Supports restorative justice)
  4. Conduct a national equity assessment.
  5. Stop the attack on black teachers. (In 9 major cities impacted by school privatization there has been a rapid decline in the number of black teachers.)
  6. End state takeovers, appointed school boards and mayoral control.
  7. Eliminate the over-reliance on standardized tests in public schools.

Jitu Brown introduced Sunday morning’s keynote speaker, Jesse Hagopian, as “a freedom fighter who happens to be a teacher.”

In his address, Hagopian listed three demands: (1) End zero tolerance discipline and replace it with restorative justice; (2) Hire more black teachers (he noted there are 26,000 less black teachers since 2010) and (3) Teach ethnic studies including black history.

For me personally, I had the opportunity to cultivate deeper friendships with the many wonderful individuals who I first met at NPE Chicago. That included once again speaking with my personal heroine and friend, Diane Ravitch.

#NPE2022PHILLY

I am excited to see everyone in Philadelphia to ignite a new wave or resistance to billionaire financed efforts aimed at destroying public education.

COVID-19 interrupted our 2020 plan to meet in Philadelphia and again interrupted us twice in 2021. This year we will finally have what promises to be a joyful rejuvenation for the resistance.

I do not think it is too late to be part of it. Go to https://npeaction.org/2022-conference/ and sign up for the conference. It will be the weekend of April 30 – May 1.

As we said in Texas (my home state), y’all come!

Thank you, Tom!

This year, for the first time since the federal Charter Schools program was established in 1994, the U.S. Department of Education is setting forth meaningful regulation of the program. This is a historic development and great news for those of us who have watched the charter industry escape accountability and transparency, while tolerating grift and profiteering.

As the Network for Public Education showed in two major reports (Asleep at the Wheel and Still Asleep at the Wheel), the federal charter program is riddled with waste, fraud, and abuse. Nearly 40% of the charter schools funded by this program either never opened or closed soon after opening. About $1 billion was wasted.

The Department has made a good faith effort to repair the negative aspects of the Charter School Program and to create regulations that would put guardrails in place for charter schools.

There are three key features to these regulations:

First, to qualify for federal funding, charters must develop an impact statement, describing the demographics that they will serve, whether there is a need for their proposed charter, whether the charter would intensify racial segregation in district schools, and how the charter would impact the local district schools.

Second, charters would have to demonstrate how they will serve the local community.

Third, charters operated by for-profit organizations would not be eligible for funding.

These are all significant reforms that have the potential to turn charters into good neighbors of public schools.

I urge you to write your own comment to support the Department’s bold effort to regulate the recipients of federal money for charters ($440 million). You can write 50 words in the comment or write a letter and attach it.

Please open this link to make a comment or send a letter:

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2022/03/14/2022-05463/proposed-priorities-requirements-definitions-and-selection-criteria-expanding-opportunity-through#open-comment

Please read the letter that Carol Burris wrote on behalf of the Network for Public Education, posted here.

Comments from The Network for Public Education Regarding Proposed Priorities, Requirements, Definitions, and Selection Criteria-Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Program (CSP)-Grants

Docket ID Number: ED-2022-OESE-0006

April 1, 2022

The Network for Public Education (NPE) writes in response to the invitation to submit comments regarding “Proposed Priorities, Requirements, Definitions, and Selection Criteria-Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Program (CSP)-Grants to State Entities (SE Grants); Grants to Charter Management Organizations for the Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools (CMO Grants); and Grants to Charter School Developers for the Opening of New Charter Schools and for the Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools (Developer Grants).

NPE is a national non-profit organization with 350,000 subscribers. We network with nearly 200 national, state, and local organizations all committed to the same mission—to preserve, strengthen and support our democratically governed public school system. For the past several years, we have been deeply concerned by what we view as endemic corruption and waste in the Federal Charter Schools Program.

The U.S. Department of Education (USED) must update its priorities and its requirements to address loopholes and flaws in the program that have resulted in for-profit run schools receiving grants, 12% of all CSP grants going to charter schools that never open, grants received by schools and charter management organizations that provide false and misleading information, and sub-grants issued to charter schools with a history of exacerbating racial segregation and that exclude, by policy or practice, students with disabilities and students who are English Language Learners.

The Award of CSP Grants Charter Schools Operated by For-Profit Organizations

We strongly support the Department’s attempt to ensure that charter schools operated by for-profit management corporations do not receive CSP grants, specifically this language:

(a) Each charter school receiving CSP funding must provide an assurance that it has not and will not enter into a contract with a for-profit management organization, including a non-profit management organization operated by or on behalf of a for-profit entity, under which the management organization exercises full or substantial administrative control over the charter school and, thereby, the CSP project.

The federal definition of a public school under IDEA and ESEA is “a nonprofit institutional day or residential school, including a public elementary charter school, that provides elementary education, as determined under State law.” 20 U. S.C. §§ 1401(6) (IDEA), 7801(18) (ESEA) Similarly, the statutes define a “secondary school” as “a nonprofit institutional day or residential school, including a public secondary charter school, that provides secondary education, as determined under State law․” 20 U.S.C. §§ 1401(27) (IDEA), 7801(38) (ESEA).

Former for-profit entities have created non-profit facades that allow the for-profit and its related organizations to run and profit from the charter school, following the judgment of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Arizona State Bd. For Charter Schools v. U.S. Dept. of Educ. in 2006 (464 F.3d 1003).

Ineffective provisions undermine the present regulations against the disbursement of funds from the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) to charter schools operated by for-profit entities. We identified over 440 charter schools operated for profit that received grants totaling approximately $158 million between 2006 and 2017, including CSP grants to schools managed with for-profit sweeps contracts.

We offer as examples the recent CSP grants awarded to Torchlight Academy Charter School of North Carolina and Capital Collegiate Preparatory Academy of Ohio. We also bring your attention to the audit of a charter school run by National Heritage Academies in New York. The State Comptroller specifically chides the charter board for the fees taken by a for-profit that played the role of applying for and managing grants. National Heritage Academies schools have frequently received CSP grants and operate under sweeps contracts.

The relationship between a for-profit management organization is quite different from the relationship between a vendor who provides a single service. A school can sever a bus contract and still have a building, desks, curriculum, and teachers. However, in cases where charter schools have attempted to fire the for-profit operator, they find it impossible to do without destroying the schools in the process.

Recommendations:

Many for-profit organizations operate by steering business to their for-profit-related entities. They are often located at the same address, and the owner of the management company or a member of the immediate family is the owner of the related entity. Therefore, it is recommended that wherever references to for-profit organizations appear, the phrase “and its related entities” is added.

(a) Each charter school receiving CSP funding must provide an assurance that it has not and will not enter into a contract with a for-profit management organization, including a non-profit management organization operated by or on behalf of a for-profit entity, under which the management organization and its related entitiesexercise(s) full or substantial administrative control over the charter school and, thereby, the CSP project.

Quality Control of Awards and the Importance of Impact Analysis

We strongly support the proposed regulations that seek to bring greater transparency and better judgment to the process of awarding CSP grants. We especially support the inclusion of a community impact analysis.

We are pleased that “the community impact analysis must describe how the plan for the proposed charter school take into account the student demographics of the schools from which students are, or would be, drawn to attend the charter school,” and provide “evidence that demonstrates that the number of charter schools proposed to be opened, replicated, or expanded under the grant does not exceed the number of public schools needed to accommodate the demand in the community.”

More than one in four charter schools close by the end of year five. A foremost reason for both public school and charter closure and the disruption such closures bring to the lives of children is low enrollment, as seen this past month in Oakland. In New Orleans, school closures have resulted in children being forced to attend multiple schools during their elementary school years, often traveling long distances. Between 1999 and 2017, nearly one million children were displaced due to the closure of their schools, yet only nine states have significant caps to regulate charter growth.

We applaud language that states, “The community impact analysis must also describe the steps the charter school has taken or will take to ensure that the proposed charter school would not hamper, delay, or in any manner negatively affect any desegregation efforts in the public school districts from which students are, or would be, drawn or in which the charter school is or would be located, including efforts to comply with a court order, statutory obligation, or voluntary efforts to create and maintain desegregated public schools…”

In some states, charter schools have been magnets for white flight from integrated schools. Other charter schools have attracted high achieving students while discouraging students with special needs from attending. And, as you know from the letter you received in June of 2021 from 67 public education advocacy and civil rights groups, the North Carolina SE CSP sub-grants were awarded to charter schools that actively exacerbated segregation, serving in some cases, as white flight academies The information requested by the Department is reasonable and will help reviewers make sound decisions.

In addition to our support for the proposed regulations, we have two additional recommendations to strengthen the impact analysis proposal.

Recommendations: (1) That impact analysis requirements include a profile of the students with disabilities and English Language Learners in the community along with an assurance that the applicant will provide the full range of services that meet the needs of students with disabilities and English Language Learners. (2) That applicants include a signed affidavit provided by district or state education department officials attesting to the accuracy of the information provided.

Regarding proposed rules regarding transparency, we note that in the past, schools were awarded grants without providing even one letter of support, or provided false information indicating support that did not exist.

We also strongly support the requirement state entities provide additional supervision of grants. Some will argue that they do not receive sufficient funding to provide supervision. We believe that funding is more than sufficient and we offer the following example as evidence.

In 2020, the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools(PCPCS) received a SE grant of $30 million to open 18 new or expanded charters in the Commonwealth within five years. ESSA allows state entities to retain 10% of all grant funding with 3% dedicated for grant administration. That means that this small state entity would have access to $1 million dollars to supervise the CSP grant spending of eighteen schools. Given that it is a five-year grant, PCPCS would therefore be allowed to spend from CSP funding $200,000 a year to review applications and keep track of grant spending.

To date, three schools have been awarded grants according to the two co-directors hired to administer the program.

We strongly support all SE sub-grant review requirements. These include: (a) how peer reviewers will be recruited and selected, and (b) efforts the applicant must make to recruit peer reviewers from diverse backgrounds and underrepresented groups. We applaud the requirement for a review team. In some states, including New York, CSP sub-grants are routinely distributed as part of the charter authorization process.

To those proposals we suggest adding the following:

Recommendations: (1) That review teams must include at least one reviewer representative of the district public school community. (2) that a minimum point threshold be established for an award, (3) that applications be checked for factual accuracy, and (4) that applications be posted for public review and comment for a period of no less than 45 days before award decisions.

We also recommend that the Department retain funds from the Charter Schools Program to conduct audits of all Developer, CMO and SE subgrants to ensure the funds are being properly spent and that the conditions and aspirations as described in the applications are being met. Annual audits of 5% of all active awardees in each of the programs, randomly chosen by the Department should be conducted each year.

Priorities One and Two

We strongly support the proposed priorities, which we believe will help return the charter school movement back to its original purpose and benefit the children who attend charter schools. Priority one builds off the successful community schools’ movement. Priority two encourages cooperative activities between district and charter schools. We believe that these priorities should be absolute priorities.

Unfortunately, in many cases charter schools’ employee handbooks commonly require teachers to sign nondisclosure agreements that threaten legal action if they reveal the schools “trade secrets” including such things as “curriculum systems, instructional programs, curriculum solutions … new materials research, pending projects and proposals, proprietary production processes, research and development strategies, technological data, and technological prototypes.”

Recommendation

That the Department disallows grants or sub-grants to any schools that apply under priority two if the school or the CMO considers educational material confidential and proprietary and/or does not make publicly available financial, personal or contracting information.

Planning Grants to Unauthorized Charter Schools

According to a 2019 response to Representative Raul Grijalva by then-Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, 12% of all CSP grants between 2001 and 2019 were awarded to schools that never opened and were not expected to open. In most cases, these schools had never achieved authorization. Whether unauthorized schools can receive funding for planning purposes and how much can be awarded has been left up to the states. This has resulted in large amounts of federal CSP money in the pockets of people who provided no service to the public.

It has also resulted in egregious abuse, especially in Michigan, where charter schools have received more than $100,000 in awards before their authorization was approved. An in-depth review of such planning grants by Michigan State Board of Education President Cassandra Ulbrich revealed questionable submissions, including invoices that would-be charter operators paid themselves and excessive technology purchases.

Recommendation: A school’s planning amount before an authorization is limited to $10,000. If justifiable expenses exceed that amount, they should only be compensated following authorization.

Proposed Selection Criterion for CMO Grants

ESSA places the following restriction on grants awarded to State Entities: No State entity may receive a grant under this section for use in a State in which a State entity is currently using a grant received under this section. However, ESSA is silent regarding the awarding of grants to CMOs. This has resulted in CMOs having several active grants at the same time, with new grants being issued without proper inspection of the efficacy of former grants. For example, it has resulted in the IDEA charter CMOreceiving six grants in a ten-year period totaling nearly $300 million. These grants occurred under a leadership structure that engaged in questionable practices, including the attempted yearly lease of a private jet, related-party transactions, and the rental of a luxury box at San Antonio Spurs games.

IDEA received two awards, in 2019 and 2020, totaling more than $188 million even as the 2019 audit of the Inspector General found that IDEA submitted incomplete and inaccurate reports on three prior grants. The IG report also looked at a randomly selected sample of expenses and found that IDEA’s charges to the grants did not always include only allowable and adequately documented non-personnel expenses.

Recommendations:

That department regulations disallow the awarding of grants to any CMO currently using a grant received under the CMO program and that for any grant exceeding $25 million, the Department’s OIG conducts an audit before an additional grant is awarded.

I don’t often ask the readers of this blog to do anything other than vote. I urge you to write the Department on behalf of these urgently needed reforms.

The deadline for comments is April 13, 2022.

Please consider registering for the long-delayed annual conference of the Network for Public Education, April 30-May 1 in Philadelphia.

The speakers and panels will be outstanding. You will meet your favorite bloggers and supports of public schools.

Join us!

Due to the the Omicron surge of COVID, the Network for Public Education and NPE Action has again rescheduled our in-person conference. It will now be April 30-May 1.

Still in Philadelphia. Still a star-studded roster of parents, educators, and friends of public schools.

Certainties: Great speakers. Terrific panels. Ample time to discuss your concerns. Wonderful opportunity to meet your favorite bloggers. Guaranteed: excitement about joining with old and new friends to learn from one another and to plan for the future.

Please register now. All the details are here.

The Network for Public Education will host its annual conference in Philadelphia on March 19-20. The conference has been repeatedly delayed by COVID. We now feel confident that we can meet safely in person. Please join us!

Carol Burris writes:

We have reopened registration for our conference to be held in Philadelphia on March 19 and 20. We believe that when the current Omicron surge subsides, we will enjoy a safe and healthy conference. We appreciate that so many of you have remained registered these past two years.

If you previously registered for the conference, and never asked for a refund, there is no need to register again.

However, you must register for your hotel room. You can do that here. These are discounted rooms and they will go quickly.

If you have not registered, or, canceled your registration, you can register here.

Because we need to preorder food, which is a large part of the registration cost, no refunds will be issued after February 21.

In order to attend, you must be fully vaccinated. That is a requirement of both the hotel and the Network for Public Education. At this point, there is also a mask mandate in place (surgical or KN95 please).

It has been a difficult and long haul for all of us. Hopefully, we are nearing the pandemic’s end. We can’t wait to see you again! Let’s draw strength from each other this March.


New Board Members Welcomed by NPE and NPE Action

President Diane Ravitch is happy to announce that Cassandra Ulbrich and Keith Benson have joined the Network for Public Education Board while Gloria Evans Nolan joined the NPE Action Board.

You can read about these three accomplished public education advocates below. Last month we announced the addition of Georgina Cecilia Pérezto the NPE Board. We thank retiring Board members Denisha Jones, Susan Ochshorn, and Roxanazww as Marachi for their service.

Casandra E. Ulbrich, Ph.D.was elected to the Michigan State Board of Education in 2006 and re-elected in 2014 to serve a second eight-year term expiring January 1, 2023. She serves as the President of the Board.

Casandra has spent the majority of her career in higher education administration, currently serving as the Vice-Chancellor for Institutional Advancement at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Prior to joining UM-Dearborn, Casandra was the Vice President for College Advancement and Community Relations at Macomb Community College for eight years, where she oversaw the college’s marketing and communications, public relations, cultural affairs, and foundation, as well as serving as the College’s Title IX Coordinator. Casandra began her career as a Press Secretary to the former U.S. House Democratic Whip David Bonior, acting as the official spokesperson for the Congressman.

Dr. Keith E. Benson is the author of Education Reform and Gentrification in the Age of #CamdenRising: Public Education and Urban Redevelopment in Camden, NJ (2019) and is currently the President of the Camden Education Association. A dedicated community and public education advocate, Keith taught in Camden City public schools for fourteen years prior to being elected to the Association’s presidency. Keith is also an adjunct professor at Rutgers University-Camden.


Gloria Evans Nolan has joined the NPE Action Board.

Grounded in her experience as a St. Louis Public School graduate and parent, Gloria is now serving as Interim Parent Liaison in the St. Louis Public School district. She has over 17 years of experience working in non-profits and fostering excellence in the lives of young people through her work supporting mentoring teams, managing school partnerships, and developing volunteers and caregivers.

Nolan holds a Masters’s Degree in college student personnel administration and a Bachelor of Science in therapeutic recreation. Gloria is a fierce advocate, championing equity and transformational policy change in true public education. Gloria draws her inspiration from being a devoted wife of Kevin Nolan (also known as Cocoa Santa) and the mother of Dylan & Evan.


There is no doubt that the privatizers will continue their fight to destroy public education in 2022. We already see voucher bills introduced and we are watching for charter expansion legislation as well. You can be assured that we will keep on fighting for our democratically governed public schools, the pillar of our democracy. Happy New Year and we hope to see you in March!!

Thanks for all you do,

Executive Director


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