Archives for category: Scandals Fraud and Hoaxes

The charter industry is nearing a flection point. The number of schools that open each year is almost the same as the number that close. The charter industry is rushing to open new schools before the public is fully woke to the crisis of charter corruption.

The Network for Public Education started a hashtag (#) on Twitter called #AnotherDayAnotherCharterScandal. Every day a new scandal, sometimes two or three.

Mercedes Schneider describes the latest charter debacle in Texas, where Betsy DeVos has dropped many millions to open new charters.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) will be closing the Kauffman Leadership Academy (KLA) (Cleburne) charter school with one week’s notice, as reported in

In this February 13, 2020, letter to KLA leadership, TEA cites, “the [closure] order was issued as a result of the financial situation at the charter school having deteriorated significantly, including federal tax liens and levies issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that had frozen all accounts of the charter school.”

KLA filed with the Texas Secretary of State (SOS) as a business entity on August 23, 2010 (search here; KLA’s taxpayer ID# is 32042519895). According to KLA’s charter application dated 02/23/11 and on file with TEA, KLA planned “to open in August 2011 operate as a private school, pending charter approval.” These archived web pages from July 2011 and May 2015 have KLA identifying itself as an “open enrollment private school pending charter approval.”

According to the IRS, KLA received nonprofit status in August 2014, and according to KLA’s website, the school opened as a charter school in August 2016.

What took TEA so long to identify KLA’s suspicious financial situation is a looming question.

According to the IRS, KLA has only ever filed 990-N tax forms, also known as “e-postcards,” because according to KLA, for tax years 2013 to 2017 (the most recent filing,) KLA has reported “gross receipts not greater than 50,000.”

So, for five tax years, KLA told the IRS, “We have almost no money,” and the public– including TEA– had ready access to that information.

Meanwhile, on its website, KLA states, “every employee of the Academy earns the same salary, $35,000,” a statement that has remained consistent on its website since the time KLA received its charter in fall 2016, as evidenced by this October 2016 archived web page announcing KLA’s grad opening celebration.

If KLA had $50K or less per annum in 2016, that would have been enough for only a single KLA employee based upon state funding for perhaps 8 students.

Red flag, no?

Question: Why didn’t they just write to the Waltons or John Arnold or any number of other billionaires to get an infusion of cash?



Jack Schneider, a historian of education who often collaborates with Jennifer Berkshire, analyzes the fading allure of charter schools. After years of claims that they would “save” public schools and poor children, the public has given up on them. Why? They have not delivered, and the public gets it.

For most of the past thirty years, charters seemed unstoppable, especially because their expansion was backed by billions from people like the Waltons, Gates, and Broad, as well as the federal government. But they have not kept their promises.

Today, however, the grand promises of the charter movement remain unfulfilled, and so the costs of charters are being evaluated in a new light.

After three decades, charters enroll six percent of students. Despite bold predictions by their advocates that this number will grow fivefold, charters are increasingly in disrepute.

First, the promise of innovation was not met. Iron discipline is not exactly innovative.

Second, the promise that charters would be significantly better than public schools did not happen. In large part, that is because the introduction of charters simply creates an opportunity for choice; it does not ensure the quality of schools. Rigorous research, from groups like Mathematica Policy Research and Stanford University, has found that average charter performance is roughly equivalent to that of traditional public schools. A recent study in Ohio, for instance, concluded that some of the state’s charters perform worse than the state’s public schools, some perform better, and roughly half do not significantly differ.

Finally, charters have not produced the systemic improvement promised by their boosters.

Competition did not lift all boats. In fact, competition has weakened the public schools that enroll most students at the same time that charters do not necessarily provide a better alternative.

Schneider does not mention one other important reason for the diminishing reputation of charters: scandals, frauds, embezzlement, and other scams that appear daily in local and state media. A significant number of charters are launched and operated by non-educators and by entrepreneurs, which amplifies the reasons for charter instability and failure.




I am very excited!

My new book was just announced!

The title is: SLAYING GOLIATH: The Impassioned Fight to Defeat the Privatization Movement and to Save America’s Public Schools. 

It will be published on January 14, 2020, by Knopf, the most prestigious publisher in America. The editor is the brilliant Victoria Wilson, who is also an author, having written the definitive biography of Barbara Stanwyck.

In Slaying Goliath, you will read about the heroes of the Resistance, those who stood up to Big Money and defeated disruption in their schools, their communities, their cities, their states.

It is a book of inspiration and hope.

It shows how determined citizens—parents, students, teachers, everyone—can stand up for democracy, can stand up to the billionaires, and win.

Please consider pre-ordering your copy so you can be sure to get the first edition.


The charter schools of California continue to be riddled with corruption, and to date, the state has ignored the multiplying scandals. California has more Charters than any other state (about 1300) and virtually no regulation.

Another leader at the Celerity Charter Network will Be Charged with Embezzlement and other charges.

“The former CEO of Los Angeles charter school network Celerity Educational Group is expected to be arraigned next month on federal charges of conspiracy to misappropriate and embezzle public funds.

“Grace Canada, 45, of Torrance is the second ex-Celerity official to be charged with corruption by Los Angeles federal prosecutors. Celerity founder Vielka McFarlane pleaded guilty earlier this month to a conspiracy charge that she misspent $2.5 million in public education funds intended for students.

“Canada — currently principal of Kelly Elementary in Compton — was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury in downtown Los Angeles on nearly the same charges as McFarlane and is expected to be arraigned on Feb. 11, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

Legislators in South Carolina must have been following an ALEC script when they authorized Virtual charter schools to enroll students and take money away from their underfunded public schoools. Or maybe they were paid off by lobbyists. There is certainly massive evidence, even from charter advocates, that virtual charters get terrible results. Yet no matter how much they fail, they are never closed or held accountable.

Consider this report in the “Post & Courier” in South Carolina:

“Online charter schools have grown exponentially across South Carolina and the nation — and questions about their effectiveness are growing, too.

“Today, the state has five virtual charter schools that together enroll roughly 10,000 students, up dramatically from about 2,100 students nine years ago when the state’s first cyber schools opened. A 2007 bipartisan bill fueled their growth by authorizing the state’s virtual schools program, and since then, taxpayers have footed the bill to the tune of more than $350 million.

“Despite this hefty investment, online charter schools have produced dismal results on almost all academic metrics, according to state and district data. On average, less than half of their students graduate on time. At one cyber school, nearly a third of students dropped out last school year. Data from the S.C Public Charter School District, which oversees these schools, shows just one in two virtual students enroll for a full year.

“Supporters of online education, including U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, praise virtual schools for their flexibility, innovation and reach. For struggling, home-bound or bullied students, advocates argue, these schools are lifelines.

“But critics contend state taxpayers have spent tens of millions of dollars lining the pockets of the for-profit companies that manage these schools at the expense of their flailing students.

“It concerns me,” said Don McLaurin, chairman of the S.C. Public Charter School District Board of Trustees. “Right now, for a variety of reasons, the virtuals are having performance problems, at least some of them. … We may have more than we need.”

The online charters have a graduation rate of 42%, compared to the state rate of 82.6% for public schools.

But, says DeVos, we need more failing virtual charters because parents choose them.

As reported earlier today, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed legislation that would have allowed privately managed charters to be authorized without the approval of the local school board. This legislation would have invited into Virginia all the scandals, frauds, scams, and profiteering that have marred the charter industry in other states.

The state’s major newspaper, the Richmond Times-Dispath, blasted Governor McAuliffe’s veto. It claimed that the Governor was stopping innovation, yet it didn’t name a single innovative practice that charter schools engage in. Is it innovative to treat children like convicts in a chain gang, punishing them for the slightest infraction? Punishing them if their shirt is not tucked in? Punishing them if they speak out of turn? Punishing them if they don’t walk in a straight line?

Is it innovative to expect teachers to work sixty or seventy hours a week, so they leave after a year or two, burned out?

The newspaper says Virginia should have charter schools because Florida and North Carolina have charter schools. Does the editorial demonstrate that charter schools in these states have produced better education? No. Does it admit that charter schools in these states are enriching entrepreneurs who profit by leeching taxpayer money from public schools? Does it acknowledge the hundreds of charter schools in Florida that have closed because of financial or academic deficiencies? Does it acknowledge that charters in some states–like Nevada and Ohio–are among the lowest performing schools in the state? No.

The newspaper falsely claims that charter schools are public schools; they are not. Whenever they are hauled into court for violating the rights of students or teachers, they defend themselves by insisting they are NOT state actors, they are private corporations with state contracts. Let’s take their word for it. They are private contractors, not public schools.

The newspaper doesn’t acknowledge that privately managed charter schools are not obliged to accept children with disabilities or English language learners. Leaving them out falsely boosts the scores of charter schools.

The newspaper editorialist might learn from the example of Michigan, which embraced charters at the behest of Betsy DeVos and saw its national rankings plummet from the middle to the bottom 10% on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Governor McAuliffe was absolutely correct to veto this legislation, which would have undermined local control and given free rein to raiders of public funding.

The legislation was probably written by ALEC (the noxious American Legislative Exchange Council, which hates public education and any role for government).

Governor McAuliffe, the Network for Public Education thanks you for standing up for the 90% of children who attend public schools, real public schools under democratic control. Your vote strengthened our democracy and warded off the privatization plans of Betsy DeVos and ALEC.

God Bless Governor McAuliffe!

Tom Ultican teaches physics in San Diego after a career in the private sector. He likes evidence. He reviews the failure of various privatization schemes. Vouchers have failed to “save” children, and voucher schools are often far worse than public schools. Charters are scandal-ridden, supported too often by profit-seekers.

He writes: American Schools Rock!

Don’t be fooled.

“By the middle of the 20th century, cities and villages throughout the USA had developed an impressive educational infrastructure. With the intent of giving every child in America the opportunity for 12 years of free education, this country was the world’s only country not using high stakes testing to deny the academic path to more than a third of its students. The physical infrastructure of our public schools was of high quality and schools were staffed with well-trained experienced educators.

“This system that is the foundation – to the greatest economy in the world, the most Nobel Prize winners and democratic government – has passed the exam of life. It is clearly the best education system in the world. To diminish and undermine it is foolhardy. Arrogant greed-blinded people are trying to steal our legacy.”

Duke University reports on North Carolina’s voucher program after three years.

The report adds to the growing evidence that “escaping” a public school to a religious or other private school does not “save” children.


Vouchers may be as much as $4,200, far below the tuition of elite private schools ( which don’t have empty seats and are unlikely to accept students with low test scores anyway).

” The number of children receiving vouchers has increased from approximately 1,200 in the first year to 5,500 in 2016-17. The General Assembly has authorized an additional 2,000 vouchers for each year over the next decade, bringing the total to 25,000 by 2027.”

The current annual expenditure is $60 million. By 2027, the program will have cost $900 million.

 Based on limited and early data, more than half the students using vouchers are performing below average on nationally-standardized reading, language, and math tests. In contrast, similar public school students in NC are scoring above the national average.”

93% of the vouchers are used at religious schools.

There is virtually no accountability for voucher schools. “Accountability measures for North Carolina private schools receiving vouchers are among the weakest in the country. The schools need not be accredited, adhere to state curricular or graduation standards, employ licensed teachers, or administer state End-of-Grade tests.”

Vouchers are evidence-free. Rifhtwing ideologues believe that choice is the goal of choice. They promise dramatic gains that never materialize. One can only conclude that they they don’t care about the children because choice is an end in itself.

The Los Angeles Times ran a first-page story about the latest charter school scandal, only a day before the school board election that will decide whether charter advocates will take control of the Los Angeles school board.

There will likely be a low voter turnout for this special election, and the question is turnout: Will enough parents vote to save their public schools, or will the profligate spending of the charter industry on propaganda and false attacks ads enable them to privatize the schools of half the students in the district? If the charter billionaires win, look for more privately run charters that produce incompetence, plunder, profit, and power for the elite.

The big story today is about Celerity Education Group, a charter chain that is thriving with public money. Its CEO is Vielka McFarlane.

In 2013, she earned $471,842, about 35% more than Michelle King, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, makes today.

McFarlane was prospering, and it showed. She wore Armani suits, ate at expensive restaurants and used a black car service.

Financial records obtained by The Times show that, as Celerity’s CEO, she paid for many of these expenses with a credit card belonging to her charter schools, which receive the bulk of their funding from the state.

It could not be determined whether McFarlane, 54, ever reimbursed the charter schools for her credit card purchases. Neither she nor a lawyer hired by Celerity responded to requests for comment about the transactions.

At a time when charter school advocates are determined to increase the number of such schools in L.A., the story of McFarlane and the Celerity schools offers a case study of the growing difficulty of regulating them. The task of spotting and stamping out risky financial practices in charters largely falls to the school district’s charter schools division, which employs about a dozen people dedicated to monitoring the schools’ fiscal health.

But as the number of L.A. charter schools has grown to more than 220, enrolling about 111,000 students, oversight has become a challenge for district officials, who are at once competitors and regulators.

In 2012, L.A. Unified’s charter schools division made a routine request for financial records from the Celerity Educational Group.

When the school network’s credit card statements arrived that fall, many of the transactions had been blacked out. One page was nearly all black.

Concerned school district staff grew even more alarmed when they received the full records, which showed that McFarlane had paid for lavish meals and out-of-state travel on the nonprofit’s credit card.

In one month in 2013, she had spent $914 at the Arroyo Chop House in Pasadena, $425 at The Lobster, a seafood restaurant in Santa Monica, and $355 at Paiche, a now-closed Peruvian restaurant in Marina del Rey.

From the arrival of the credit card statements until 2015, when it refused to allow Celerity to open two new schools, L.A. Unified took a gentle approach to the charter group’s unorthodox practices. It sent notices urging the organization to institute tighter financial controls, but continued to renew the schools’ charters when they came before the school board.

L.A. Unified officials referred Celerity’s credit card transactions to the district’s inspector general, who eventually opened an investigation into the group’s finances. Then, in late January, federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and other agencies raided Celerity’s offices, as well as the headquarters of a related nonprofit, Celerity Global Development, and McFarlane’s home. The focus of the federal investigation is unclear, and the district’s inquiry is ongoing…

While the district investigated, Celerity went national, expanding into Ohio, Florida and Louisiana, where it operates four schools in addition to the seven it runs in Southern California. McFarlane launched Celerity Global Development, the parent company of the schools in her growing empire, and began offering herself as a consultant to other charter school leaders.

In 2015, McFarlane became the CEO of Celerity Global, an organization that took in millions of dollars in management fees from Celerity’s schools. But Global wasn’t just supporting the schools; it had the power to control Celerity Educational and could appoint and remove the school network’s board members.

The Celerity schools were often short on supplies, but McFarlane spent lavishly on herself and arrived at school in a chauffeur-driven limousine.

She told staff that education was a business. And she knew how to make money–for herself and her lavish tastes.

As the CEO of Celerity Educational Group — and now of Celerity Global — McFarlane steered hundreds of thousands of public dollars to several companies providing services to her schools. Those companies are registered to her, state records show, and list their addresses as either Celerity Educational’s or Global’s offices.

Celerity Educational Group’s check register for the 2015-16 school year shows payments totaling nearly $1 million to an information technology company called Attenture, a general contracting company called Celerity Contracting Services, and Celerity Development, a limited-liability corporation that buys properties and rents them to McFarlane’s charter schools.

The organization has also paid thousands of dollars to Orion International Academy, a private high school in Chino Hills that McFarlane founded in 2013, and where she is still the CEO.

The flow of money from the charter schools to Celerity Development is documented going back to 2011, when Celerity Educational Group signed a 10-year lease with the company, which at the time had only one owner — McFarlane. That made her, in effect, both landlord and tenant of the two sites in South L.A. on which she expanded Celerity Dyad Charter School.

McFarlane’s brother and son are on the company’s payroll. The financial entanglements among the many companies raise ethical and legal questions. Some quoted in the article suggest that there may be felonious behavior.

By late 2015, L.A. Unified officials decided they had seen enough.

Having concluded that Celerity’s financial issues had become too serious to tolerate, they recommended that the school board refuse the group’s request to open two new schools, and the board agreed. Celerity’s leaders appealed to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which could have intervened, but chose not to.

“This is effective ongoing oversight,” Jose Cole-Gutierrez, the director of L.A. Unified’s charter schools division, said in a recent interview.

Not that it stopped Celerity’s Southern California expansion.

State law allows charter schools that have been denied at the local level to appeal to the state. Last November, over the objections of L.A. Unified and the county, the State Board of Education voted to let Celerity keep growing.

More public money will flow Celerity’s way this fall when it opens two new L.A. charter schools.

Question: In light of the FBI investigations, in light of the LAUSD investigations, in light of the concerns about conflicts of interest and self-dealing, why did the California State Board of Education overrule the LAUSD recommendation and the L.A. County Office of Education? Why did the State Board of Education decide that this charter chain should open two more charters before the investigations are completed? Why aren’t the legal authorities intervening to protect citizens and the law?

If you live in Los Angeles, vote tomorrow.

Vote for either Carl Petersen or Lisa Alva.

Vote for Steve Zimmer.

Do not vote for anyone endorsed by the California Charter School Association, which defends corporations like Celerity. Taxpayers should not pay for Armani suits, chauffeur-driven limousines, or expensive meals. Citizens should support those who want to strengthen and improve the democratically controlled public schools of Los Angeles.

Michigan has one of the worst charter sectors in the nation, according to the Detroit Free Press, which conducted a year-long investigation of charters in the state. The people of Michigan pay $1 billion a year for a sector in which 80% of the charters operate for profit, in which there is neither accountability nor transparency, in which conflicts of interests don’t matter. Billionaire Betsy DeVos and her husband Dick and other members of the DeVos family control education issues in the Republican-dominated legislature with their generous campaign contributions. Governor Rick Snyder is DeVos’s personal puppet. And the state continues to waste public money on failing schools because they are privately run. No regulation needed!


This is Billionaire Betsy DeVos’s idea of how education should work!


The Detroit Free Press writes:


Michigan taxpayers pour nearly $1 billion a year into charter schools — but state laws regulating charters are among the nation’s weakest, and the state demands little accountability in how taxpayer dollars are spent and how well children are educated.


A yearlong investigation by the Detroit Free Press reveals that Michigan’s lax oversight has enabled a range of abuses in a system now responsible for more than 140,000 Michigan children. That figure is growing as more parents try charter schools as an alternative to traditional districts.


In reviewing two decades of charter school records, the Free Press found:


Wasteful spending and double-dipping. Board members, school founders and employees steering lucrative deals to themselves or insiders. Schools allowed to operate for years despite poor academic records. No state standards for who operates charter schools or how to oversee them.


And a record number of charter schools run by for-profit companies that rake in taxpayer money and refuse to detail how they spend it, saying they’re private and not subject to disclosure laws. Michigan leads the nation in schools run by for-profits.


“People should get a fair return on their investment,” said former state schools Superintendent Tom Watkins, a longtime charter advocate who has argued for higher standards for all schools. “But it has to come after the bottom line of meeting the educational needs of the children. And in a number of cases, people are making a boatload of money, and the kids aren’t getting educated.”


According to the Free Press’ review, 38% of charter schools that received state academic rankings during the 2012-13 school year fell below the 25th percentile, meaning at least 75% of all schools in the state performed better. Only 23% of traditional public schools fell below the 25th percentile.


Advocates argue that charter schools have a much higher percentage of children in poverty compared with traditional schools. But traditional schools, on average, perform slightly better on standardized tests even when poverty levels are taken into account.


In late 2011, Michigan lawmakers removed limits on how many charters can operate here —opening the door to a slew of new management companies. In 2013-14, the state had 296 charters operating some 370 schools — in 61% of them, charter boards have enlisted a full-service, for-profit management company. Another 17% rely on for-profits for other services, mostly staffing and human resources, according to Free Press research.


Michigan far exceeds states like Florida, Ohio and Missouri, where only about one-third of charters were run by a full-service, for-profit management company in 2011-12, according to research by Western Michigan University professor Gary Miron, who has studied charters extensively.


While the Free Press found disclosure issues with both for-profit and nonprofit companies, the state’s failure to insist on more financial transparency by for-profits — teacher salaries, executive compensation, vendor payments and more — is particularly troubling to charter critics because the for-profit companies receive the bulk of the money that goes to charter schools. In some cases, even charter school board members don’t get detailed information.


Without that, experts say there is no way to determine if a school is getting the most for its money.


Authorizers in Michigan receive 3% of the state tuition money for every student who attends a charter school they authorize. That means millions of dollars flow to the authorizing groups, who have no responsibility or accountability. Anyone can open a charter school in Michigan. Charter schools can fail and be reauthorized. Charter operators can run failing schools and get to open new ones. Success is unimportant. Michigan is a free-for-all with public money.


State law sets no qualifications for charter applicants


In Michigan, anyone and everyone can apply to open a charter school. There are no state guidelines for screening applicants.


And in many cases, authorizers have given additional charters to schools managed by companies that haven’t demonstrated academic success with their existing schools.


Central Michigan University, for example, gave two additional charters to schools managed by the for-profit Hanley-Harper Group Inc. in Harper Woods, before its first school had any state ranking and despite test scores that showed it below statewide proficiency rates in reading and math. The school’s first ranking, released last year, put it in the 14th percentile, meaning that 86% of schools in Michigan did better academically.


“We have a product, yes, we are trying to sell and constantly working to make … better and better and better,” company founder Beata Chochla, who has run several small businesses, including janitorial and home health care, told the Free Press in an interview.


Ferris State University has authorized a fourth Hanley-Harper school, expected to open this fall in Oak Park.


“We were convinced they had a good plan,” Ferris State’s interim charter schools director Ronald Rizzo said, adding that critics who believe an operator should have a successful academic track record before adding schools are “welcome” to their views.


Authorizers also have been slow to close poor performers. Among the oldest and poorest performing schools in metro Detroit:


■ Hope Academy, founded in Detroit in 1998, ranked almost rock-bottom — in the first percentile — in 2012-13.


■ Commonwealth Community Development Academy, founded in Detroit in 1996, ranked in the third percentile.


Both schools are authorized by Eastern Michigan University, which said in a statement that it is not satisfied with either. Yet just last year, EMU renewed Hope Academy’s charter.


The article includes a list of recent charter scandals:


■ A Sault Ste. Marie charter school board gave its administrator a severance package worth $520,000 in taxpayer money.


■ A Bedford Township charter school spent more than $1 million on swampland.


■ A mostly online charter school in Charlotte spent $263,000 on a Dale Carnegie confidence-building class, $100,000 more than it spent on laptops and iPads.


■ Two board members who challenged their Romulus school’s management company over finances and transparency were ousted when the length of their terms was summarily reduced by Grand Valley State University.


■ National Heritage Academies, the state’s largest for-profit school management company, charges 14 of its Michigan schools $1 million or more in rent — which many real estate experts say is excessive.


■ A charter school in Pittsfield Township gave jobs and millions of dollars in business to multiple members of the founder’s family.


■ Charter authorizers have allowed management companies to open multiple schools without a proven track record of success.


Want to get rich quick? Move to Michigan and open a charter school.