Archives for category: Scandals

Carol Burris is executive director of the Network for Public Education.

She writes:

For the past four years, the Network for Public Education has collected and posted charter school scandals from across the United States on a special page of its website entitled Another Day Another Charter School Scandal which you can find here.

NPE has now turned that page into an interactive research tool, allowing you to find a collection of stories by state, by scandal type and by keyword. For example, if you want to search any published story on scandals associated with Success Academy, just type in Success Academy into the query box and ten stories pop up.

Looking for stories regarding charter theft or fraud? Use the drop down menu and 177 stories appear.

At the beginning of the month, we load up all of the stories we found during the prior month. Check back in early December to see November’s scandals. We have presently cataloged stories from 2019 to the present. We plan to add 2017 and 2018 to the research tool shortly. One thing we know from doing this work is that if it is another day, there is another charter school scandal-which is quite remarkable given that there are only about 7500 charter schools in the United States.

The authorizer of the Hmong College Prep Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, wants to fire the superintendent of the school after learning of big losses in the school’s funds.

A St. Paul charter school’s authorizer has placed the school on probation and recommended the board fire its superintendent after she lost $4.3 million of the school’s money investing in a hedge fund.

The authorizer, Bethel University, said Hmong College Prep Academy’s failed investment “illustrates areas of great concern related to managing finance, governance and legal compliance.”

Christianna Hang, superintendent and chief financial officer, founded the school in 2004. It’s now the state’s largest single-site charter school, with around 2,400 students in the Como neighborhood, and is building a $43 million middle school with financing facilitated by the city of St. Paul.

Hang was looking for opportunities to pay for that project when she ended up wiring $5 million to a hedge fund in 2019, in violation of the school’s policy and state law. The school is now suing the hedge fund.

Bethel’s Aug. 30 letter also cited “significant concerns” about conflicts of interest regarding the superintendent, her husband and a former school board member.

The first conflict involved Bridge Partner Group, a company owned by Hang and her husband, Paul Yang. The board in January approved a contract with the company, effectively converting Yang from the school’s chief operating officer to an independent contractor on a fully guaranteed, five-year contract worth around $190,000 a year; the board later reversed that move.

The second conflict involves Northeast Bank, which was chosen to finance $7 million of the middle school project while one of its vice presidents, Jason Helgemoe, served as vice chair on the Hmong College Prep board.

Bethel has directed the board to spend 90 days making numerous changes at the school, including dividing superintendent and chief financial officer into two separate positions and hiring a financial consultant who reports directly to the authorizer.

In addition, Bethel is “recommending” the board fire Hang and replace her with someone with no prior ties to Hmong College Prep and for the board to appoint a chairperson who is not employed by the school; the current chair is a teacher.

If you are wondering why there is a Hmong charter school, Minnesota has a long-established practice of authorizing racially and ethnically segregated schools. Defenders of the practice say the children are more comfortable going to school with children of the same background.

I remember when Southerners said the same about segregated schools in the 1950s.

When was the last time your school had millions to invest in the market?

Denis Smith went to graduate school in West Virginia and served as an elementary and middle school principal, director of curriculum, and director of federal programs in the suburban school system adjacent to the state capital. He subsequently moved to Ohio, where he was in charge of overseeing the state’s burgeoning and scandal-ridden charter sector. He wrote a warning to West Virginia, published in the state’s major newspaper, about its new charter law and what is likely to happen. It won’t be pretty.

He said that charters will not be accountable. They will divert money from the state’s public schools, while doing whatever it takes (campaign contributions?) to avoid academic and financial accountability.

He pointed out that the people of West Virginia will lose local control of their schools, as national charter chains move in.

Consider the irony that the leader of the founding coalition of the proposed West Virginia Academy is a professor of accounting. But then we should also know that, when it comes to all things related to charter school accounting and accountability, nothing adds up. Add to that the fact that these schools are free from many sections of state law, including school boards that are directly elected by the public. For example, in Ohio, where I live, charter schools are exempt from 140 sections of the state code.

Keep in mind that charter boards are hand-picked, selected by the companies that manage the school, where school governance by design is not accountable to the voters…

As a former resident of West Virginia and a school administrator in West Virginia and Ohio, it is my hope that the citizens of the Mountain State might learn from the mistakes of Ohio, which bears the distinction of having a refuse pile containing the wreckage of nearly 300 closed charter schools, some of which received funding but never opened, emitting a rancid, overpowering odor, a byproduct of bad public policy.

And speaking about waste, Ohio has spent more than $4 billion on the charter school experiment so far, an exercise that is hell-bent on using public funds for private purposes while skirting transparency and accountability requirements.

Smith asks the people of the state:

Are West Virginians, exploited for generations by energy companies, in favor of selling off their public schools?

Republicans have whipped up a frenzy in the states and in the conservative media that they control about “critical race theory.” They are blowing up the issue because it benefits their party in two ways:

First, it distracts public attention from the violent and unprecedented assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. They want to pretend that day—where their own lives were at risk—never happened. It was like “a normal tourist visit,” as one House Republican member said. It was a day of infamy that should never be forgotten, but Republicans are trying to bury it.

Second, the CRT dispute is the kind of cultural wedge issue that fires up the Republican base. They cheer as legislatures pass laws that would criminalize teaching about racism and sexism, because some students might feel bad to learn what really happened in the past.

Nikole Hannah-Jones is a celebrated journalist who has won major awards for her work. The current controversy was launched in reaction to “The 1619 Project,” which she organized and to which she contributed the introductory essay about the resilience of racism. It waspublished in a full issue of The New York Times magazine.

You know the story by now about how the journalism school at the University of North Carolina offered her the Knight Chair of Race and Investigative Journalism. But when the faculty decision reached the board of the university, they decreed that—unlike her white predecessors—she would not be offered tenure.

In response to ongoing protests by students and faculty, the board took another vote and agreed (9-4) to reverse their original decision and to offer her tenure. Hannah-Jones rejected their grudging offer and will instead create a journalism center at Howard University, the most prominent Historically Black University in the nation.

Mercedes Schneider posts here the story behind the scene, as written by Joe Killian of NC Policy Watch. Killian fills in the blanks about the influence on the original decision by Walter Hussman, the wealthy and conservative magnate who donated $25 million to UNC for the journalism school, which was renamed the Hussman School of Journalism. Initial reports suggested that he did not use his influence to affect the board’s decisions. Killian says otherwise.

Carol Corbett Burris was a teacher and principal on Long Island, in New York state for many years. After retiring, she became executive director of the Network for Public Education.

She writes:

Last spring, HBO released Bad Education, which tells the story of how a Roslyn, New York Superintendent named Frank Tassone conspired to steal $11.2 million with the help of his business officer, Pamela Gluckin.  Promo materials called the film “the largest public school embezzlement in U.S. history.”

I did not watch it. I am waiting. I am waiting for HBO to release a movie on how a crafty fellow from Australia, Sean McManus, defrauded California taxpayers out of $50 millionvia an elaborate scheme to create phony attendance records to increase revenue to an online charter chain known as A3. 

Or the documentary about the tens of millions that the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) owes taxpayers for cooking the books on attendance. Or perhaps there will be a mini-series about the fraud and racketeering that charter operator Marcus May engaged in that brought his net worth from $200,000 to $8.5 million in five years and landed him a 20-year sentence in jail. 

The truth is, Frank Tassone and his accomplice are small potatoes compared to the preponderance of charter school scandals that happen every day. What is different is how lawmakers respond. 

When the Tassone case hit the news, I was a principal in a neighboring district. The New York State Legislature came down hard with unfunded mandates on public schools.

We all had to hire external auditors and internal auditors that went over every receipt, no matter how small. Simple things like collecting money for field trips or a club’s T-shirt sale suddenly became a big deal. Although there was no evidence that any other district was engaging in anything like what happened in Roslyn, every district transaction came under scrutiny.

Whether those regulations and their expenses were justified or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is that despite the years and years of scandal in the charter sector, state legislatures never change laws or impose new rules. For-profits run schools doing business with their related companies behind a wall of secrecy, and lawmakers do not worry a bit. 

I am puzzled. Why can’t charter schools be as transparent as public schools?  Why is the ability to easily engage in fraud necessary to promote innovation? 

No one has been able to answer my question yet. 

Billy Townsend was a school board member in Polk County, Florida. He saw up close and personal how charters were sucking the high-scoring students out of public schools and excluding the students with disabilities. He saw up close and personal how the state’s voucher program was serving as a refuge from high-stakes testing and enabling the restoration of racial segregation. Billy believes, as I do, that if the day ever comes when so-called reformers see the harm they are doing to kids and to our democratic institution of public education, they might repent. Will shame move them more than the pursuit of profit and power? Perhaps we are naive to think it might. But hope springs eternal that even the profiteers and entrepreneurs and shady fly-by-night grifters might someday see the light.

Billy has written a powerful series about the Jeb Crow school industry and how its sole purpose is to destroy public education without helping kids. All of the articles are referenced in this post, the last of the series. He has demonstrated how the voucher schools are highly segregated and low-quality. He refers to the choice schools as “failure factories” but now calls them “Jeb Crow” schools to credit former Governor Jeb Bush for creating the Big Lie that school choice saves children. It doesn’t.

Townsend throws out a challenge to reformers who are sincere, if there are any, about equity and helping kids:

Serious “reformers” — those who actually mean it when they use the moral, racialized language of equity in justifying punitive policies that destroy public education capacity — know today that their entire life’s work is bullshit that failed on its own terms. 

They know it. Every single one of them. Some of them will cry about America’s super awesome graduation rate; but they know that’s manipulated data bullshit, too. Mostly, they’ve just gone silent while think tanks beg to keep getting useless test data and grifters use the language and weaponry “reformers” provided them to demolish public education capacity for everyone. 

The question now: if, when, and how will “reformers” ever break their shamed silence about their failures and decide to help us fix them?

Jeb Crow means wealthier, whiter kids get high capital charters; more vulnerable, less white kids get no capital vouchers; and we kill/privatize public schools altogether.

The grifting and cheating by state education officials is breath-taking. They know that school choice is a cynical ploy to shift money from taxpayers to private corporations. They know that the corporation that handles the voucher funding now has assets of nearly $700 million. They know where power lies in Florida. They know how corrupt the Legislature is. But everyone goes along to get along.

If you read one thing today, read Billy Townsend’s reports on Florida’s massive crime against children and the state’s own future.

In the Public Interest is a nonpartisan organization that protects the public interest and has a special focus on the dangers of privatization.

Here is its latest report on charter schools:

Welcome to Cashing in on Kids, an email newsletter for people fed up with the privatization of America’s public schools—produced by In the Public Interest.

Not a subscriber? Sign up. And make sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Democratic charter school advocates are starting to help elect Republicans. Author and host of the Have You Heard podcast Jennifer Berkshire pointed out a noteworthy trend in the ever-shifting partisan dynamics of public school privatization. “Well-heeled Democratic charter advocates [are] spending big to elect Republicans.” This includes cofounder of Netflix Reed Hastings, a longtime charter school backer. Twitter

This pairs well with journalist Rebecca Klein’s breakdown of how state governments are carrying former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s torch as they consider school voucher programs. HuffPost

Now the rest of the news…

“Enabling theft and fraud” in Los Angeles. Carl Peterson documents how the Los Angeles Unifed School District continues to take away building space from public school students to give to charter schools, with past due bills totaling $1.9 million. Patch

Charter school founder gets a year in prison. The founder of a defunct charter school in St. Louis, Missouri, has been sentenced to 366 days in prison and ordered to repay nearly $2.4 million in state funding obtained by falsifying student attendance. St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Charter schools invaded our neighborhoods without public input.” A group of parents, teachers, and educators in East Los Angeles detail how their neighborhoods have become saturated with charter schools to the detriment of public schools. Age of Awareness

And here’s this week’s opportunity to connect…

The Coalition for Community Schools and Institute for Educational Leadership is hosting a coalition town hall on racial equity in the “community school” model. Join February 23, 2021 2:00 – 3:00 PM ET. Coalition for Community Schools

Once again, a state audit has uncovered waste and misspent funding at a charter chain, in this case, the Richard Allen Charter Schools in Ohio. Among other findings, the head of the school leased a Maserati with public funds.

A new state audit of the Richard Allen charter schools includes multiple findings of improperly spent money in 2016-17, and allegations of ethics violations and conflicts of interest that have triggered an ongoing special investigation.

The audit comes 15 months after the Dayton Daily News published an investigation into lack of oversight at Richard Allen, which operated four schools in 2016-17 and now has buildings on Salem Avenue in Dayton and Shuler Avenue in Hamilton.

Last year, the state attorney general’s office did not know that Michelle Thomas — whom the state sued, alleging $2.2 million in misspending — was still running the schools.Thomas, who is still the Richard Allen superintendent, on Tuesday called the audit process “a complete farce.”

School leadership “strongly objected” to the state auditor’s findings in their official response.

Auditor of State Keith Faber’s office said Tuesday that it stands by its work.

The documents released Tuesday cover the 2016-17 school year, as multiple years of Richard Allen audits have been delayed.

The audit’s findings include:

• The schools overpaid their former management company (the Institute of Management and Resources, which was also run by Thomas) by $852,618 in 2016-17 — $139,277 for Richard Allen Academy, $613,870 for Richard Allen II, $15,686 for Richard Allen III in Hamilton and $83,785 for Richard Allen Prep.

A finding for recovery seeking repayment of those funds was issued against IMR, which filed for bankruptcy protection more than two years ago, and against former treasurer Brian Adams and eight school board members: Alphonse Allen, Michael Brown, Gerald Cooper, Laquetta Cortner, Wanda Mills, Lonnie Norwood, Rhonda Ragland and Kelli Vaughn.

• The school also overpaid those eight board members by $1,110 to $1,375 each for attending meetings. The state filed findings for recovery against those eight and Adams for a total of $10,725 on that charge.

• Thomas improperly served as the superintendent of Richard Allen schools while serving as director of IMR, the school’s management company.As the Dayton Daily News reported last year, the audit shows IMR leased a 2015 Maserati for Thomas, while claiming that Thomas made the lease payments. But elsewhere in the audit, the state makes clear that IMR “failed to provide a detailed accounting” of the services it provided to the school, bringing into question how its management fees were spent.

Wendy Lecker is a civil rights attorney who writes often for the Stamford (Ct.) Advicate. she writes here about the disgraceful double dipping of charter schools in Connecticut, taking funds designated for public schools, then seeking and getting federal funds intended for small businesses.

Are charter schools to be defined as public schools or private businesses? When it’s time to get public money, they insist they are public schools, even though they are controlled by private boards. But when the money is for private businesses only, they line up to get the money. They are shape-shifters.

Lecker writes that the charters got their share of money intended for public schools:

With the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act, Congress provided federal aid to public schools, and specifically directed that charter schools receive aid as public schools. Connecticut public school districts and charter schools are receive comparable aid under the CARES Act’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (“ESSERF”). For example, New Haven will receive about $8 million, so a little more than $400 per student, and Amistad and Elm City charters, part of the Achievement First chain, will get similar per-pupil amounts. Bridgeport will receive about $9 million, or about $450 per student and Achievement First Bridgeport will be allocated a similar per-pupil amount. Hartford will get a little more than $10 million, or about $547 per student, and Achievement First Hartford will receive about the same per pupil. The per pupil amounts in Stamford’s public schools and charter school are similar as well. Stamford will receive $2.74 million for its approximately 16,600 students and Stamford Charter School for Excellence will receive a little more than $100 per pupil for its approximately 395 students — about the same as Stamford’s per-pupil allocation.

But that was not enough for the charters. They went for the federal Paycheck Protection Program to claim more money.

Lecker writes:

These charter schools, however, decided that when it comes to going after more federal dollars, it pays to be private entities as well. So each of these charters applied for and received significant forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans offered to small businesses in dire need as a result of the crisis.

Amistad Academy was approved for a loan of $2.7 million. So Amistad, a charter with a little more than 1,000 students, will receive a forgivable loan for more than the entire ESSERF allocation for Stamford Public Schools’ more than 16,000 students. Elm City’s loan is for $1.24 million; Achievement First Bridgeport’s loan totals $1.4 million, Achievement First Hartford’s loan is for $2.36 million and Stamford Charter School for Excellence’s loan is for $520,648. All these loans are forgivable, thus unlikely to be repaid.

In total, these loans total more than $8.2 million, covering 4,544 students. To compare, New Haven’s $8.5 million in ESSERF aid has to spread over 20,6675 students.

Public schools are in dire financial straits. Charters are not.

Lecker writes:

Are these charter schools really private small businesses in dire need? Last year, claiming charter schools were public schools, Dacia Toll, CEO of the Achievement First charter chain, complained that her schools were “starving” without more state funding. Looking at the most recent publicly available federal tax documents, Amistad has more than $30 million in net assets and reserves. Elm City, another Achievement First school, has more than $34 million in net assets and reserves, Achievement First Bridgeport has more than $6 million and Achievement First Hartford has almost $2 million. Stamford Charter School for Excellence has more than $2 million in net assets and reserves.

Meanwhile, public school districts across the state are facing massive funding cuts — some predicting cuts as high as 30 percent of their budgets. They also face steep increases in costs associated with reopening — from ensuring a clean and safe environment, to addressing the increased academic, social and health needs of their students. And now, with Gov. Ned. Lamont’s order that public schools reopen fully, in person, in the fall — without any promises to increase state aid — public school districts are in an even more precarious financial position. Public school districts are funded by local, state and, to a small extent, federal dollars. They have no options to tap into money intended for private businesses. Because public schools are public.

When charter schools are allowed to act as both private businesses and public schools, taxpayers end up paying twice. In these dire financial times, there are surely better uses for public funds than to double pay to pad the reserve funds of well-resourced charter schools.

The greed of the charter industry is shameful.

Tom Torkelson, c-founder of the IDEA charter chain, has stepped down as CEO and will be replaced by the other co-founder JoAnn Gama.

Based in Texas, IDEA is a favorite of Betsy DeVos, who has sent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to the chain to help it expand. Less than two weeks ago, DeVos gave another $72 million to IDEA. The chain previously had received more than $200 million from DeVos. She sure likes IDEA.

Torkelson and Gama arrived in the Rio Grande Valley aspartame’s ofTeach for America and started IDEA in 2000. It has become a charter behemoth in the past two decades.

The chain attracted bad publicity for its free-spending ways. One of its worst ideas was leasing a private jet for nearly $2 million a year for exclusive use of its executives and their families. After getting negative press, the board canceled the lease, and now the executives fly first class.

Jacob Carpenter wrote in The Houston Chronicle:

Torkelson’s resignation caps a remarkable run for the charter pioneer, whose ambition, charisma and results-driven approach helped propel IDEA’s remarkable expansion over the past 20 years. In recent months, however, Torkelson’s push to lease a charter jet and the disclosure of questionable financial practices under his watch prompted scrutiny of the charter.

IDEA students, the vast majority of whom are Hispanic and come from low-income families, routinely score well-above average on state standardized tests and enroll in college at high rates compared to their peers. Skeptics argue IDEA’s success is inflated by high academic standards that deter families from enrolling students with more intensive academic and behavioral needs.

Torkelson and Gama started IDEA in the late 1990s while working as teachers in the Rio Grande Valley, opening a single school together in the border city of Donna. After meager growth in its first decade, IDEA rapidly expanded in the 2010s in the Valley, San Antonio, Austin, El Paso and Fort Worth.

The network operates 91 schools in Texas enrolling 49,500 students, along with five campuses in Louisiana. IDEA is scheduled to open its first four Houston-area schools this year on two sites in northern Harris County.
Torkelson served as a key figure in IDEA’s expansion, pushing to enroll 100,000 students across the country by 2022. Earlier this year, Torkelson told the Houston Chronicle that he wanted IDEA to become “the largest high-performing school system in the United States of America.”

Torkelson also played a significant role in fundraising for IDEA, which has received tens of millions of dollars from philanthropic groups to aid its expansion.

However, some of Torkelson’s financial and operational moves led to criticism over the past several months.
Torkelson’s desire to lease a charter jet as a method of reducing travel hassles between the network’s hubs drew sharp backlash in December 2019.

One month later, more scrutiny followed the disclosure that IDEA spent about $400,000 annually on luxury boxes and tickets for events at San Antonio’s AT&T Center. IDEA officials said more than 1,000 employees received tickets each season as a reward for performance, with the “lion’s share” allotted to campus-level staff and students

During Torkelson’s tenure, several relatives of IDEA executives and board members also engaged in business dealings with the charter, including a company co-owned by Chief Operating Officer Irma Muñoz’s husband that billed more than $600,000 for uniforms, other clothing and gear.