Archives for category: San Diego

There is a charter school in San Diego called the Gompers Preparatory Academy. Since 2018, its private management has been fighting teachers who want to form a union. When the COVID crisis struck and the state planned budget cuts, Gompers laid off more than a third of the staff. By coincidence (!), nearly all the teachers laid off were the very ones who wanted to form a union!

Does the charter management know who Samuel Gompers was? Hint: the first president of the American Federation of Labor and a pioneer of the union movement.

Gompers Preparatory Academy announced Monday it had rescinded a decision made two weeks ago to lay off more than a third of the school’s teachers because of state budget cuts.

The layoffs would have increased class sizes from 19 students to 28 at the public charter school in southeastern San Diego. Ninety percent of Gompers students are socioeconomically disadvantaged, and some may be the first in their families to attend college, the school has said.

Some teachers had criticized the layoffs as an attempt to end their recently formed union…

Nearly all teachers who received layoff notices last month were union supporters, a San Diego Education Association spokesperson previously told inewsource. Gompers leaders had maintained the cuts were necessary and said decisions were based on seniority.

Carl Cohn is a veteran educator who served as superintendent in Long Beach and in San Diego. He has received many awards for his service.

The selection of a new superintendent in Long Beach prompted him to write his thoughts about previous crises faced by the district and about the importance of teachers today. No superintendent can succeed without building relationships of mutual respect and collaboration with trusted teachers.

I first met Carl Cohn when he was selected to clean up the damage done by the first effort to disrupt a school district. That was San Diego. At the turn of the century, San Diego was one of the most successful urban districts in the nation—perhaps the most successful—but the school board decided it needed a massive overhaul. They hired lawyer Alan Bersin to disrupt the district. I described what happened there—including demoralization of teachers, and a philosophy of changing everything all at once because (as the saying then went) “you can’t jump over a canyon in two leaps.” The philosophy of the leadership was that change had to be abrupt, immediate, and “pedal to the metal.” Billionaires sent money. Books were written about the “bold” reforms. The infighting and controversy became so inflamed that the public eventually threw out the “reform” school board. San Diego, however, was the model for Joel Klein’s disruptions in New York City, which were the model for the same in D.C., and on and on.

I spent a week in the district interviewing teachers and principals and school board members. My last interview was with Carl Cohn. I saw him as a calming figure whose job was to restore morale, order, and professionalism. He succeeded.

After the collapse of the disruption era, the San Diego school board hired an experienced educator, Cindy Marten, who had been a teacher and principal in the district. Although she has had to impose devastating budget cuts, she has been a steady hand at the tiller. I met her in 2006, when she was a principal, running a progressive child-centered school. When I visited San Diego a few years ago, she took me for a drive, and I surprised myself for taking a paragliding ride at Torrey Pines. Needless to say, I am delighted that San Diego has such trustworthy, experienced leadership again.

I began my book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education with the San Diego story. It is a cautionary tale. If you read one chapter in that book, read that one. It ends with my interview of Carl Cohn.

Will Huntsberry of the Voice of San Diego reports that all the online charters connected to the biggest charter fraud in U.S. history will close.

Huntsberry writes:

An online charter school empire whose leaders have been charged with enrolling fake students and misappropriating $80 million in public funds will be forced to close all of its schools across California.

In May, the San Diego district attorney’s office charged 11 people in a corruption scandal of historic proportions. Prosecutors say Sean McManus and Jason Schrock, who operated A3 Education, were the ringleaders of the operation. Several who worked with McManus and Schrock have also been charged with crimes, including the superintendent of the Dehesa School District in San Diego County.

At its peak, A3 operated 19 online schools across the state, including three in San Diego, according to investigators. One closed before the charges were filed. And two more – one in San Diego and another in Los Angeles – were slated to close. But now a court-appointed receiver has decided to shutter all of the remaining schools.

Students’ records at each of the closing schools will be transferred to their school district of residence by Sept. 30, according to a letter obtained by the Marin Independent Journal, which was sent out to districts associated with the A3 schools. Richard Kipperman, the court-appointed receiver, confirmed to Voice of San Diego that all the schools will close.

How the Scam Worked

Prosecutors painted an intricate picture of a complex organization that managed to turn student records into giant sums of cash. A3 Education enrolled many students who took actual classes, but it also enrolled many students who never did any schoolwork, prosecutors say.

Most of the fake students were participants in summer athletic programs, according to the indictment. Enrollment workers would approach a football program, for instance, and offer as little as $25 a head for each player’s records. The enrollment worker would also get a commission on however many students he or she enrolled. The rest of the money – which totaled in the thousands of dollars for each student – went to companies controlled by McManus and Schrock.

In one instance, Luiz Rigney, an enrollment worker, carried several suitcases of student paperwork, worth roughly $5 million, to one of A3’s offices. Rigney had been asked to backdate that paperwork so A3 could get maximum profit, prosecutors say.

In another instance, two workers texted each other back and forth about the large sums of cash flowing through the company: “I had the weirdest dream last night! One was about us growing all Sean’s schools. I was running all the Facebook campaigns and you were running around my office drinking champagne throwing money everywhere yelling I love bonuses,” the texts read, according to court documents.

It has been widely reported that charter schools enroll fewer students with disabilities and few of the students they enroll have severe disabilities.

The California Teachers Association and the United Teachers of Los Angeles reviewed public records to document the enrollments of students with disabilities in charter schools in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Oakland.

The study is titled “State of Denial: California Charter Schools and Special Education Students.”

The study found that charters enroll fewer students with disabilities than public schools. Charter enrollment is 11% compared to more that 14% in public schools. Furthermore, charters enroll fewer students with severe disabilities. They avoid the students who are most expensive to educate. Consequently these charter policies cost the three districts between $64 million to $97 million each year.

In some of the charter networks, fewer than 10% of students are entitled to special education services. One celebrated charter in Oakland, the American Indian Model Schools, known for its high test scores, has fewer than 3%. The 12 Rocketship charter schools enroll only 7.34% students with disabilities. The two charters created by former Governor Jerry Brown in Oakland enroll fewer than 10% of students with disabilities.


Advocates for students with disabilities have long held that charter schools do not enroll, and therefore do not serve, students with disabilities at the same levels as public school districts—either in overall enrollment or level of need—which leads to a greater fiscal impact for public school districts.

Our analysis affirms these concerns for the first time in the three California school districts we examined. Because of the structure for funding special education in California—which arguably disincentivizes enrolling students with disabilities in charter schools by funding based on total enrollment, and not need—we have no reason to believe that similar results would not be borne out in other districts throughout the state.

These findings are particularly important at this point in time in California, when a growing body of evidence shows that the rapid growth of charter schools has led to growing fiscal impact for public school districts. As policymakers at all levels of government weigh how to best meet the needs of California students equitably, we hope they will take these findings into account.


The aim of our report was to provide an in-depth analysis of special education enrollment to quantify the anecdotal evidence so often cited by public education advocates. However, our analysis affirms the need for policy changes brought forth by advocates that would begin to address the inequities described in this report. The following represent just a few of those proposals:

1. Increase Federal Funding for Special Education: Perhaps the most obvious solution to these inequities would be for the federal government to meet its original 1975 obligation to fund 40 percent of public special education costs. This language is already in federal statute and requires only the political will to push Congress to budget the necessary resources. Federal lawmakers should make the original promise the absolute floor, rather than the ceiling, of funding for students with disabilities.

2. Federal Civil Rights Monitoring: The Office of Civil Rights within the US Department of Education must independently and proactively monitor student access to and service within charter schools across the nation. While some states are capable of effectively monitoring their education systems for civil rights abuses, the federal government’s total abdication of this power to prioritize equity and access has not, and will not, lead to a safer and more responsive system for students and their families.

3. Accountability and Oversight by the CA Department of Education (CDE) and Authorizers:
The CDE should hold accountable both the charter schools that are underserving special education students, and the authorizers who are responsible for their oversight. This would not be the first time a state has moved to protect the rights of special education students, as the New York State Education Department’s Office of Special Education recently investigated and concluded the practices at Success Academy Charter Schools were violating the civil rights of special education students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Both Success Academy and the New York City Department of Education (Success Academy’s authorizer) were held accountable and corrective action was required.8

4. Re-Examine California’s Model for Funding Special Education to Account for Special Education Enrollment Disparities Between Districts and Charter Schools: California’s system of allocating special education funding based on total student population counts, as opposed to targeted counts of students by special education eligibility categories, has led to harmful fiscal impacts for the school districts we studied due to charter schools significantly under-enrolling these students. We have no reason to believe the results would be different for other districts.
This funding model makes two critical assumptions: that need does not vary by network or location, and that all schools are open to serving all students. These assumptions require further serious investigation because the current system actively discourages charter schools from both identifying students with disabilities, and perversely incentivizes the creation of barriers to access through enrollment.

5. Require Charter Schools to Join the Same SELPA as the District in Which They Are Located:

California policymakers should return the responsibility of coordinating special education services for charter schools to local Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPAs), and end the practice of allowing charter schools to opt-out of their local SELPA in favor of remote charter- only SELPAs that are sometimes hundreds of miles away.
As it stands, from a functional perspective, a student moving between schools within the same local area may have inconsistent accommodations and experiences due to schools belonging to different SELPAs. This undermines continuity of services, which is of utmost importance for special education students. This opt-out also undermines the fiscal stability of local school districts which, as our analysis found, are serving a disproportionately larger share of special education students without a larger share of funding.

6. Conduct Educational and Fiscal Impact Analyses When Considering New Charter School Petitions and Renewals: As fiduciaries of their local education agencies, and as elected officials entrusted to protect all students’ best interests, charter school authorizers must make economic and education impact analyses an essential part of both the charter school authorization and reauthorization processes. Elected officials, the authorizing body, and the public must have independent information about the impact of opening a new charter school in an established education community. Information should cover the full learning needs of all students, including essential topics regarding enrollment, retention, discipline, and the financial impact on the community and the neighborhood’s public schools. Districts must be allowed to use the findings of these impact reports as justification for denying new charter school petitions that will have an adverse fiscal impact on district programs and services.

7. Charter School Site-Based Special Education Committees: Coupled with both state and local governance oversight, charter operators themselves can take a proactive role to ensure they are open to and meeting the needs of all children in the community in which they operate. Each charter school campus should create a site-based special education committee. As those who spend the most time with special education students, both educators and parents are uniquely positioned to lead these committees.


A judge in San Diego ordered two charter schools in the district to close in response to the school district’s complaint that they were operating without local authorization and could not be supervised. About 40,000 students attend Learn4Life centers statewide.

The Learn4Life charters are appealing the decision.

Judge David Danielsen on Monday granted a motion by San Diego Unified School District to close the two Learn4Life locations operating in the district’s boundaries: Diego Hills Central, a charter school authorized by Dehesa School District, and a resource center for San Diego Workforce Innovation High, a school authorized by Borrego Springs Unified School District. Neither of those schools have active locations in the districts that authorized them.

As Carol Burris reported in Charters and Consequences, the Learn4Life charters are storefronts where students meet a teacher once every 20 days. Their graduation rates are abysmal. Typically, they are authorized by small rural districts to operate in urban districts hundreds of miles away, where they operate without oversight. The authorizing district gets a commission for every student who enrolls.


The California Legislature is considering four bills to reform the state’s massive charter school industry (1,300 schools, mostly unregulated and unsupervised). One of the bills would prohibit school districts from authorizing charters in other districts. The following story is a classic example of rural school districts authorizing online charters in San Diego and Los Angeles, solely to get the commission attached to each student. In this case, the online charters were cash cows for their owners. [A personal aside: Last February, I was in Newport Beach, California, having breakfast at a hotel. The man at the next table was loudly discussing his schools with someone who was selling athletic services, $5 a student. When he got up to leave, I asked him if he was “in the charter school business.” He said, “Yes,” and said he owned 40 schools under six different corporate names. I asked him his name. He said, “Sean McManus.” I should have asked him to join us. He is one of the key figures in the following article.]

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that eleven people connected to online charter schools have been indicted for “criminal charges of conspiracy, personal use of public money without legal authority, grand theft and financial conflict of interest.“

The online charters operate in San Diego and Los Angeles, but were authorized by other districts that get a slice of the revenues. This is one of the corrupt practices that have been rampant in California, where lax state law allows sharp operators to get public money and cheat students with no consequences. The Legislature is currently debating a proposal to stop allowing District A to authorize a charter in District B, a practice that is mercenary and predatory. Until now, the powerful California Charter Schools Association—enriched by billionaires like Reed Hastings and Eli Broad—has fought all accountability for charter schools.

At the center of the allegations are leaders of the charter school management corporation A3 Education, a Newport Beach corporation whose leaders control 13 charter schools across California, according to an indictment filed May 17.

A3’s chairman, Sean McManus, and president, Jason Schrock, essentially owned and operated the charter schools throughout California at the same time that A3 contracted with those schools, according to the indictment.

McManus and Schrock operated multiple businesses that charged their own charter schools millions of dollars for services. Then they channeled money from those businesses into their own charitable trust and personal bank accounts, according to the indictment.

A3 Education and the businesses affiliated with McManus and Schrock together have invoiced at least $83.3 million from the 13 charter schools, according to the indictment.

From the affiliated businesses, at least $8.18 million went into personal bank accounts, some in Australia, and into charitable trust accounts for McManus, Schrock and their wives, and $500,000 went to a family member of McManus, according to the indictment.

McManus and Schrock also used $1.6 million of A3 Education’s funds to buy a private residence for McManus in San Juan Capistrano, the indictment states.

Also according to the indictment, six people, including McManus and Schrock, conspired to collect state money for students who were listed as being enrolled in Valiant Charter Schools but were not receiving services.

The two Valiant schools will close permanently on June 30. Several thousand students will need to find new schools. The San Diego online charter was authorized by the Dehesa School District, and the one in Los Angeles was authorized by the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District.

The children were not assigned to teachers who have state-required professional certificates, the indictment said. The students were not in contact with the schools or provided with educational services during the summer months, as some of the co-conspirators claimed, according to the indictment…

Also indicted is Nancy Hauer, who is superintendent of Dehesa School District, which authorized several charter schools, including Valiant Academy of Southern California. The Dehesa district office did not immediately provide a comment Tuesday.

Also among the indicted is Steve Van Zant, a former Mountain Empire Unified superintendent who three years ago pleaded guilty to violating conflict-of-interest laws, after he brokered deals with charter schools to operate in other school districts, prosecutors said at the time.

Valiant Academy had 43 students two years ago, 726 last year, and 2,250 this year. It’s academic performance was so poor that even the California Charter School Association recommended that it be closed.

Betsy DeVos says that parents always know what’s best. Why were they enrolling their children in these failing “schools.”?




Last night, the elected Board of Education of the San Diego Unified School District passed a strong resolution endorsing four bills in the State Legislature that would impose discipline on the Wild West unregulated charter industry. The bills are described in the resolution. They would impose a moratorium on charter school expansion, revive local control, and increase oversight of charters. This resolution demonstrates that the board is willing to stand up to the rapacious charter industry.

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Carl Cohn is one of the most respected figures in American education. He is a problem solver who has been superintendent in several districts in California. He won many plaudits for his leadership in Long Beach. I met him when he was superintendent in San Diego, which was probably the first urban district to be subjected to a heavy, concentrated dose of what was called “reform,” in the late 1990s, early 2000s. Cohn was called in, to clean up the demoralization left behind by top-down leaders who arrived with a script. In my 2010 book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, I devoted a chapter to the colossal failure of “reform” in SD. I interviewed Cohn and was pleasantly surprised by his candor and insight. Talking to him reassured me that my reactions were on target.

In this post, he urges the reform of California’s charter law.

He does not lay out a menu of what is needed, but he points to some genuine problems.

Note that one of the members of Tony Thurmond’s Task Force rejected Cohn’s request for some relief from the law.  That would be Margaret Fortune, Chair of the Board of the California Charter School Association, which lobbies to protect the status quo.


Is it a new day in California?

Too soon to know but there was one good sign today.

The State Board of Education, which in the past had approved charters that had been rejected by districts and then by counties, rejected the appeal by Thrive charter schools of San Diego for renewal. Superintendent Cindy Marten came with staff and data to show that Thrive was not doing well by children. In the past, the facts were not enough. Today, they were.

Today was Linda Darling-Hammond’s first meeting as chair of the state education board. She cares about facts, data, and students. Thrive lost.

This is what Tom Ultican wrote about Thrive last fall. 

Tom Ultican has written several articles about the Destroy Public Education Movement; this installment examines a failing charter chain in San Diego that continues to rake in big bucks.

The Thrive charter chain, he says, is a masterpiece of marketing, but a failure at education.

When the chain was launched, the San Diego Unified School District staff said it was not ready to open; the founders appealed and were rejected by the staff of the County Board of Education. The founders appealed to the State Board of Education, where its defective application was rubberstamped by Governor Jerry Brown’s pro-Charter State Board.

Ultican says that charter schools are supposed to perform at least as well as similar public schools or show improvement over time.

Thrive charter schools did not meet either benchmark. But that did not deter funders or founders.

They were shameless and kept growing their failing charter chain. And the money kept rolling in, to expand the failure to more children.

“Once she obtained the charter authorization from the SBE, money came. The known list of 2014 donations: Buzz Woolley’s Girard Foundation granted her $108,000; Gate’s Educause sent $254,500; Charter School Growth Fund kicked in $175,000 and the Broad Foundation delivered $150,000 for a total of $688,000. The next year, Broad gave another $50,000 and the New Schools Venture Fund pitched in $100,000. There is another $144,000 promised from Educause.

“Destroy public education (DPE) careers pay well. Tax records reveal that Nicole’s start up “non-profit” has been lucrative. Her pay: year one $122,301; year two $133,747 and year three $142,541. Her husband holds a senior management position at the CCSA which means DPE money flows his way as well.”

In 2017, the charter chain added another school, this one paid for by taxpayers, but with this addendum. The property belongs not to taxpayer who paid for it, but TO THE CHARTER OWNERS! How cool is that!

You will not be surprised to learn that the pro-privatization website “The 74,” is wild about Thrive. Nor will you be be surprised to discover that Thrive loves putting kids on computers and that one of its cheerleaders is Tom Vanderbilt Ark, a leading salesman for edtech.

Ultican reminds us that the Thrive charter chain calls itself “public schools,” but it is a private contractor that runs lucrative but failing schools. All that keeps them going is this formula:

“Bad schools like TPS survive because they are good at marketing; have deep pocketed benefactors and political allies.”

Thrive is not thriving.

Ultican says Thrive is evidence that California needs a moratorium on charter schools until lawmakers systematically root out fraud, self-dealing, waste, and abuse. That’ll be the day.