Archives for category: St. Louis

If anyone can explain this weird decision about St. Louis schools, please help me out. I posted about it earlier today.

St. Louis Public Radio reported:

An opinion affecting funding for city schools came out of Missouri’s 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday. It is related to the decades-old school desegregation case, Liddell v. Board of Education.

The court was considering whether sales tax revenue meant for desegregation programs in St. Louis Public Schools should continue to go to charter schools. Plaintiffs had argued that more than $80 million in revenue had been improperly diverted to charters.

The court found charter schools are entitled to that money. This upholds a federal judge’s earlier decision. Because the charters are already receiving the funding, this won’t change anything.

The court also found that charter schools are not required to provide desegregation programs with this funding. St. Louis Public Schools is supposed to use the money for those programs, which can include magnet schools, all-day kindergarten and summer school.

Charter school advocates are happy with the court’s opinion.

So the money is a special tax meant to promote desegregation. The public schools share the proceeds with charter schools. The public schools must use the money to promote desegregation. The charter schools are not required to spend the tax money to promote desegregation.

I don’t understand this decision. Do you?

This is a curious decision. A federal appeals court ruled that sales taxes intended to fund desegregation programs in the St. Louis public schools must be shared with charter schools, but the charter schools are not required to use the money for desegregation programs.

ST. LOUIS — Charter schools are entitled to sales tax dollars that were intended for desegregation programs in St. Louis Public Schools, according to an appeals court ruling Thursday.

The ruling from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals follows a 50-year-old school desegregation lawsuit that resulted in a settlement in 1999. As part of the settlement, SLPS received a portion of a special sales tax to fund desegregation programs including full-day kindergarten, magnet schools and busing students to county districts.

The first charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, opened in St. Louis in 2000. A change to the state’s education funding formula in 2006 has diverted more than $50 million from SLPS to charter schools, district lawyers argued.

The school district filed a motion in 2016 seeking to force the state to send all the sales tax revenue to SLPS. A federal judge ruled in favor of the state in 2020, as long as charter schools were offering desegregation programs. The district appealed, leading to Thursday’s decision, which also removed charter schools’ requirement to use the tax dollars for desegregation programs.

Back a few years, the business restructuring company Alvarez & Marsal became deeply involved in reorganizing school districts, despite their lack of any educational experience. As a reflection of the corporate mindset of the early 2000s, A&M’s corporate experience was thought to be a major asset in rearranging school districts.

The president of A&M, Bill Roberti, who had previously been CEO of the elite menswear company Brooks Brothers was hired to take charge of the St. Louis school district, at $5 million a year.

During his 13 months as superintendent of St. Louis public schools, former Brooks Brothers chief executive William V. Roberti closed 21 schools, lopped $79 million off the school budget, privatized many school services and laid off more than 1,000 employees. He stepped down in June at the end of his contract….

The basic assumption behind the Roberti reforms was that a school district operates in much the same way as a retail business. Both systems rely on “supply chain management,” he said. “Many people talk as if there’s some magic to education. But the job of getting supplies from a warehouse to a building is the same in schools as it is in business as it is in the federal government.”

To slash costs, Roberti outsourced many operations to private contractors. He also cut hundreds of positions, including supervisors, counselors and department coordinators. He is proud of the fact that he did not fire a single teacher — dozens of teachers were permitted to retire without being replaced, which resulted in larger classes in many schools.

He left after 13 months, and the firm was hired in June 2005 (three months before the Hurricane) to take part in the restructuring of New Orleans public schools. Roberti was in charge of finance, purchasing, accounting and human resources for $16.8 million for two years. In light of the added duties after the Hurricane, A&M’s fee for three years was double the original proposal.

Then came a nice gig in New York City, where Joel Klein paid A&M $15.8 million to reorganize the school bus routes and save money. That was a fiasco, launched on the coldest day of the year, many students left stranded.

ProPublica investigated how the super-rich avoid taxes by buying super-yachts and private jets. It’s first example: the very wealthy Alvarez & Marsal.

Over the past two years, ProPublica has documented the many ways that the ultrawealthy avoid taxes. The biggest or most daring maneuvers scale in the billions of dollars, and while the tax deductibility of private jets isn’t the most important feature of U.S. tax law, the fact that billionaires’ luxury rides come with millions in tax savings says a lot about how the system really works.

There are dozens of examples of wealthy Americans taking these sorts of deductions, which are premised on the notion that the planes are used mainly for business, in the massive trove of tax records that have formed the basis for ProPublica’s “Secret IRS Files” series. The ultrawealthy, however, can easily blur business and pleasure. And when they purport to make their planes available for leasing, to fulfill one definition of using the planes for business, they tend to be more adept at generating tax deductions than revenue.

Flying to Ireland to inhale the seaside air as you drive a golf ball into the scenic distance. Crossing the country to reach your enormous yacht, which is ready for your Hudson River pleasure cruise. Hosting a governor’s wife on your very own aircraft. These are only a few of the joys that the richest Americans have experienced in recent years through their private jets. And what made them all the sweeter is that they came with a tax write-off.

Tony Alvarez and Bryan Marsal built a successful consulting firm specializing in restructuring — advising struggling or bankrupt companies on what to sell and whom to lay off. It can be a grim business: Marsal has been known to announce to prone firms that they were now a “community of pain.” But the partners, who are also close friends, own another enterprise, the Hogs Head Golf Club (“Built by Friends, for Friends, for Fun”), on the southwest coast of Ireland. It boasts views of the nearby mountains and bay.

In 2016, before opening their new course, the pair teamed up, via an LLC they named after their golf club, to buy a 2001 Gulfstream IV jet. The next year, President Donald Trump signed his big tax cut into law. It made buying a plane even more attractive: The full price of the plane could be deducted in the first year, a perk called “bonus depreciation.” Before, depreciation was typically only partially front-loaded, with the full balance spread over five years. The law also for the first time made pre-owned planes eligible for this treatment.

As a result, when Alvarez and Marsal sprang for their second plane in 2018, this one a Gulfstream V, the entire cost was deductible. That year, the pair’s two planes netted them a tax deduction of $14 million.

Last August, their Gulfstream V took off from Westchester County Airport in New York state for Ireland. About an hour later, their Gulfstream IV left for the same destination, a small airport in County Kerry near their club. Both planes can comfortably seat over a dozen passengers, but flight records don’t show who was on board. Over the coming month and a half, the two planes crisscrossed the Atlantic several times.

Were these business trips? Possibly, yes. (ProPublica’s records do not indicate whether specific trips were taken as deductions.) If so, operating expenses — including crew, fuel and other costs — from the partners’ trips to oversee the course would be fully deductible. These deductions would come in addition to depreciation.

On October 24, a 19-year-old entered the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis with an AR-15 style weapon and 600 rounds of ammunition. He killed a 15-year-old girl and a 61-year-old teacher. Many students were injured. The police arrived within minutes and killed the shooter, Orlando Harris. Orlando had graduated from the school last year.

ABC News in St. Louis reported:

Harris, who had no criminal history, left a handwritten document in his car speaking about his desire to “conduct this school shooting,” St. Louis Police Commissioner Michael Sack said at a news conference Tuesday.

Sack said Harris wrote: “I don’t have any friends, I don’t have any family, I’ve never had a girlfriend, I’ve never had a social life.” Sack said Harris called himself an “isolated loner,” which was [the police chief said] a “perfect storm for a mass shooter.”

Josie Johnston knew Orlando Harris when he was in middle school. He wasn’t always a monster, she writes. He was a sweet kid. She wonders if there was anything she could have done to save him. She wonders why it was so easy for such a troubled young man to buy a deadly weapon.

How can the Republican Party claim to be opposed to crime when they are making it easy for troubled people of all ages to buy weapons of death?

Josie Johnston writes:

After Monday’s tragic events, I know it’s hard for some people to imagine, but when I met Orlando on his very first day of sixth grade, he was a super sweet boy who wanted to please people. What factors led to his transformation?

He was a great drummer. He loved the drumline, and his face lit up when he played. Yes, he was quiet, but he was also shy. He didn’t have many friends, but he had a couple of good friends in middle school. I do know that as he got older he was bullied and that continued into his high school career.

I am not saying that is what made him act out, but I know it was a factor. I am sure there is so much more that we will never fully understand that contributed to Orlando feeling like he had no other option than to do what he did. According to the police reports, he tried to commit suicide multiple times. He must have been hurting so badly and he clearly felt as if he had no one.

In a few short years, I went from teaching middle school to high school. There was the coronavirus, virtual teaching, and then moving from one building to another. When Collegiate School of Medicine & Bioscience moved into the same building as Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, I had the pleasure of seeing many of my former middle school students at different events shared by both schools. These were always happy meetings, and I was always on the lookout for more of my former middle school babies. I never imagined the scenario of events that happened on Oct. 24 would occur.

Even though I am a logical person, when I replay that morning in my mind, I keep thinking: What if, when Orlando was my student, I had said just one more kind word to him? What if I had asked him how he was doing one more time? What if I had checked on him more in seventh and eighth grade? What if I had found out he was down the hall from me attending CVPA and made a point to go talk to him? What if, what if, what if?

Could all of this have been avoided if someone like me had just done one nicer thing or reached out one more time? I won’t ever get the answer to those questions because the only person who could tell me is gone.

My heart is breaking for Orlando’s mom. I only met her once at parent-teacher conferences, and I am sure she doesn’t remember me, but I remember she wanted the very best for her son. From the reports, it sounds like she did everything she could think of to help Orlando and, unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough to save him.

She tried to do the right thing by asking the police to take his gun away. But because of Missouri’s current laws, police felt they couldn’t. That gun would be used a few short weeks later to change my life and the life of my students forever.

I do not blame Orlando. I do not blame his mom. I do not blame the police. I blame those making the laws that think it okay for a 19-year-old to own an AR-15-style rifle and a trove of 30-clip magazines. Please come tell my students, who had to see the lifeless body of an innocent teenage girl lying on the ground covered in blood as they fled the school building fearing for their lives, why anyone should own a weapon that can only be used to kill people.

And before anyone says I don’t know anything about guns, I grew up hunting. I grew up on a farm. I grew up respecting guns. They were a daily part of my life. But I never needed an AR-15 to kill a deer, a duck, a goose or a turkey. I do believe in a person’s right to own a gun, but if you aren’t a police officer or in the military, you have no reason to own an assault rifle at age 19.

Missouri needs a red-flag law, otherwise known as an “extreme-risk protection order” law. It prevents individuals who show signs of being a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing any kind of firearm. It would provide safeguards and procedures to ensure that no firearm is removed without due process while helping to prevent tragedies like the school shooting that happened here in St. Louis.

Fixing gun laws won’t solve everything. It wouldn’t give back the lives of those lost on Oct. 24. It wouldn’t take away the trauma my colleagues, my students or I will have to live with for the rest of our lives. But it might prevent anyone else from experiencing these same events. It might prevent another teenager or teacher from dying. And that alone is worth changing the laws.

Do you think the Missouri legislature will change the law? Do you think they will act to prevent future shootings?

Gloria Nolan is a parent of children enrolled in St. Louis public schools. She recently joined the board of the Network for Public Education.

She wrote the following article, which was published in the St.Louis Post-Dispatch.

She begins:

For about three years I worked for an organization that was invested in growing the charter school movement locally and around the country. Thankfully, I moved on, and now I fully support charter school reform, such as the reforms included in the new regulations for the federal charter school program proposed by Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. Here is why.

I fully began to realize what I was a part of during lunch when I had a chance to talk to the chief executive of The Opportunity Trust, Eric Scroggins. I rattled off a list of ideas I had for turning the public schools in the St. Louis district around.

That wouldn’t work, he responded. He said the objective was to burn the system down.

For Opportunity Trust and so-called reform movements like it, the key to school improvement is to replace public schools with charter schools, or public schools that act like charter schools. That is when I lost all faith in what charter proponents were selling.

And where do these charter schools go to get start-up and expansion funds? The federal Charter School Program…

The same special interest groups that promote organizations like The Opportunity Trust are fighting the very reasonable rules that [Secretary Miguel] Cardona has proposed to help clean up the mess. With a campaign of misinformation, the charter lobby led by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools promotes the extreme right’s support for stopping the proposed regulations.

As a Black woman, I find it hard to believe any news outlet that promotes fearmongering about critical race theory and features an op-ed that criticizes the regulations because their frequent use of the words “diversity” and “racial” has the best interests of my children at heart…

The one regulation that the charter lobby objects to the most is the requirement to do an impact analysis to see if the school is needed or wanted by the community. Given that more than 40% of charter schools close within their first 10 years, an impact sounds like common sense to me. This particular regulation is also in line with the implementation of the City-Wide Planning Committee and its call for a moratorium on the opening of new schools. The guidelines here locally were met with strong opposition from The Opportunity Trust and its supporters.

I have been on the inside of the reform/charter school movement. Its ultimate objective is to destroy our public school system by replacing it with a system of charter and voucher schools. These new regulations will not stop that. I wish they were stronger. But at the very least they could help ensure that our federal tax dollars will be given to charter schools that have better intentions than many of the schools that are receiving Charter School Program grants now.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a front-page story about the financial shenanigans associated with a charter school founded by two TFA teachers (one of whom was the son of the former mayor). The school has a large number of uncertified teachers and an uncertified high school principal and boasts of its staff’s lack of credentials. Its teachers have a high attrition rate. And its academic performance is mediocre. The school handbook says that staff must keep all financial records confidential. Nonetheless, the school Hoovers up millions of taxpayer dollars from local, state and federal governments and claims it wants to “proselytize” about its “method.” Whether they mean to spread their “method” of sucking up public funds or producing unimpressive academic results is not clear.

Despite stories like this one, the Republican-led legislature wants to authorize more charters.

ST. LOUIS — The sponsor of Kairos Academies, a charter school in the Marine Villa neighborhood, has raised red flags over the school’s financial and leadership practices involving a shadow group that employs nearly two-thirds of the staff.

The school’s founders created Kairos Academies Vanguard for “charitable and educational purposes” before the school opened three years ago, according to records with the Missouri Secretary of State. The nonprofit has since grown to employ 36 staff members out of 56 who work at the school, including 10 teachers and all administrators.

Kairos has funneled millions of taxpayer dollars to Vanguard for bookkeeping, human resources, student recruitment, special education and other services, all without a contract. While Vanguard staff members work full time at Kairos, are listed in the school directory and share a staff handbook, school leaders say they are exempt from state laws requiring the release of financial information and participation in an educators’ pension fund.

Vanguard qualifies as a quasi-governmental body subject to Missouri Sunshine Law because its primary purpose is to contract with a taxpayer-funded school, said St. Louis lawyer Elad Gross.

“Schemes like this one to spin off a nonprofit organization are trying to do what a lot of corporations do,” Gross said. “Folks are using those same Wall Street-type practices to avoid liability and public transparency.”

In a “letter of concern” sent this month, the Missouri Charter Public School Commission that sponsors Kairos outlined a 13-point correction plan for the school to complete by March 31. The plan calls for an approved contract with Vanguard, separate audits of the school and the nonprofit, and legal oversight and training on open records laws.

Kairos violated Missouri regulations by not following policies regarding its relationship with Vanguard including approval from its sponsor, according to Robbyn Wahby, the charter school commission’s executive director.

“These requirements exist to ensure that public funds for the education of Missouri students are managed transparently and appropriately,” Wahby wrote in the Feb. 4 letter.

After receiving Wahby’s letter, Kairos set up a mailbox for Vanguard at a coworking space across the street from the school on south Jefferson Avenue. The Kairos board held a special meeting Wednesday to approve a temporary contract through March that pays Vanguard $282,480 per month. Clayton lawyer Hugh Eastwood serves as president of the board of both organizations.

The charter commission “is demanding that the school have a detailed contract with Vanguard so that the commission and taxpayers will know how public funds are used” by the March 31 deadline, Wahby said. “We are pleased that Kairos Academies’ board agrees with our findings and is working to put in place the remedies we are requiring of them.”

$3.3 million

Kairos Academies opened in fall of 2019 led by CEO Gavin Schiffres and chief strategy officer Jack Krewson, son of then-mayor Lyda Krewson. The founders were both 25 at the time and graduates of the two-year Teach for America program. The education reform group Opportunity Trust contributed more than $300,000 in startup costs and continues to provide annual grants.

Kairos now enrolls about 400 students in fifth through eighth grades and will start a high school with ninth graders in the fall. Last spring, 35% of students tested proficient in English and 33% in math on state standardized tests. Only eight current staff members, including Krewson and Schiffres, were with the school when it opened in fall of 2019, according to the school directory.

Schiffres said Vanguard was formed with the “idea of creating a vehicle where we could take what we learned and potentially bring it to other regions, take the Kairos method and proselytize that.”

Charter schools are publicly funded and independently operated. Under Missouri law, charter school employees are required to participate in the Public School Retirement System of the City of St. Louis. Kairos pays 15% of the salaries of 20 teachers into the retirement fund, according to an audit of fiscal year 2021 by St. Louis accounting firm KEB.

The school’s administrators, plus Spanish, art and special education teachers, the principal and head of athletics and secretarial staff are considered contractors who are exempt from the fund. Those 36 employees can receive up to a 3% match for a separate retirement fund, according to the Kairos staff handbook.

The audit of Kairos included Vanguard as an affiliate because “the entities are commonly managed.” It shows the two organizations combined received $3.3 million in local, state and federal tax revenue in fiscal 2021.

No certification

A review of state and school records shows other examples of Kairos operating like a private organization:

• Eight teachers including three English teachers have no Missouri teaching certificates. An additional seven have substitute certificates, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Nilesh Patel, who is slated to lead Kairos’ high school this fall, has no state certification. The Kairos community handbook reads, “Please assume that your child’s teachers are not certified to teach in their assigned grade level or subject. Although most are, Kairos takes cues from the best private schools around the country and recruits talent with diverse, real-world experience.”

• Like traditional public schools, charter schools are not allowed to discriminate in admissions. The Kairos staff handbook suggests that family income can play a role. “Enrolling another low-income student will make it harder to get the high academic results my team is striving for … disadvantaged students tend to come in below grade level,” the handbook describes as a hypothetical admissions decision. “On the other hand, our Finance Team understands the economic value associated with any student: they’re ‘customers’ the state pays us to educate.”

• Kairos received $163,000 in 2020 through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. The school also anticipates receiving about $2 million in coronavirus relief for public schools from the U.S. Department of Education, according to its records.

• The Kairos handbook says staff must keep financial information, vendor contracts and curriculum confidential.

Do it the Kairos way!

The Republican-controlled legislature in Missouri has imposed charter schools on the state’s two urban districts (but not their own). The legislature is now considering HB1552, which will financially benefit charter schools. Emily Hubbard, a parent in St. Louis, wrote to ask the Budget Committee to stop expanding and favoring charter schools and to fund the state’s public schools equitably and adequately. She sent this email to the Budget Committee, which I am posting with her permission.

Dear Budget Committee Members, 

I am planning to come speak to you in person, so I will keep this email brief. 

I am a parent of four children in St. Louis Public Schools. They are amazing kids who have been loved and taught well from our neighborhood elementary school to the magnet middle school my two oldest attend. With my youngest in second grade, I have another decade in SLPS, assuming that the district manages to survive.

Y’all, I am so tired of certain members of the state legislature pitting charter schools against public school districts. I am especially baffled that this bill is sponsored by someone with no charter schools in his district. Who is he representing with this bill? Because of the laws y’all or your predecessors have already made, this statewide law will only affect two cities (and maybe Normandy?), and I know you know these are the cities with the most Black kids (mine included). 

My new neighborhood school (we recently moved from Rep. Aldridge’s district to the 81st) is a school that serves students who speak many different languages at home. ESOL services cost money. I don’t know if you have the time to watch this video from the October legislative committee of the Board of Education, but let me remind you that around 20% of SLPS kids do not have stable housing. That’s around 5000 children. This data is 2018-2019 (from this site) , but please look at these numbers: 

all SLPS kids: 21,814

all Charter kids: 10,109

homeless population at SLPS: 4,771

homeless population at charters: 470

SLPS homeless percentage: 21.87% 

charter homeless percentage: 4.65% (but some have zero, some are high as 13%, some have closed 2019)

SLPS serves a student population with disproportionately higher needs than charter schools, whether it’s through our fantastic ESOL programs; the difficult task of walking through trauma with kids (one of my daughter’s classmate’s mother was murdered over Christmas break); the cost incurred by the desegregation program which doesn’t seem to have done that much to integrate our schools (especially the neighborhood ones) and instead allows white and privileged parents the ability to cluster in the particular magnet schools and hoard their resources for the sake of their already resourced children; or the special education costs which we shoulder alone, not shared like in the county. 

And then there’s the whole transportation thing–did you know that some charter schools don’t provide transportation? So you can’t really choose that school if you don’t have a safe way to get your kid to school and home again.

I don’t know anything about the education system in Kansas City, so I can’t speak to that, but please please please consider the effect that passing this bill will have on the children of St. Louis. 

I am an evangelical Christian (a pastor’s wife, even), and I have seen our school be the means that does the Lord’s work: they feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take care of the orphan, minister to the foreigners within our gates, not to mention, for our family at least, providing an education that has enabled my children to grow in their faith as we take what they’ve learned at school and use it to glorify God together. 

Please don’t take away from funds that enable SLPS to do the work it does, however imperfectly.

And could we just as a state, fund education at a higher rate all together? I know the rural schools are struggling too. 

Also if we could alleviate homelessness, do what it takes to end gun violence, prioritize the health of all Missourians, raise the minimum wage, deal with our opioid addiction crisis…there are a ton of non-education things that if addressed, would significantly and positively affect not just our district, but all the districts. Just think about it, okay?

Thanks so much for your time–see you on Tuesday! I’m sorry that this wasn’t brief at all, I just care a whole lot.

With appreciation for the difficult work you do,

Emily Hubbard

Carondelet, St. Louis

An organization of business leaders in St. Louis issued a demand for more “high quality schools” (by which they mean privately managed charter schools). But it’s not clear that charters are synonymous with “high quality schools.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the University of Missouri-St. Louis, which manages seven charter schools in the city, is likely to close one of them. The Arch Community Charter School opened in 2017 and has an enrollment of 95 students.

In fact, charter schools and competition has weakened the city’s struggling public schools.

Here is some useful information from the story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

The potential closure comes as city leaders focus on the fluctuating public school landscape, including a sharp population decline among school-aged children, which dropped to 45,000 from 60,000 over the last decade.

On Thursday, the Education and Youth Matters Committee of the Board of Aldermen will discuss a resolution to support a moratorium on opening new schools and the development of a citywide plan for public education. The resolution would amount to a symbolic ban on charter schools, which are governed by state law.

But after looking at the Arch’s academic records, the school does not have the numbers and planning to meet students’ needs, Marino said.

In 2019, the most recent state data available, 3% of students at the Arch tested proficient or advanced in English and none in math.

UMSL’s decision about Arch follows the closure several months ago of Clay Elementary School, one-half mile away in the Hyde Park neighborhood. That was part of a St. Louis Public Schools downsizing. Enrollment below 200 students was among the criteria considered for closure, and Clay had dropped to 128 students last year.

The aldermanic resolution says: “The local, state, and federal support for school choice programs continues to create a system of schools and programs that fight over a declining population of children and a shrinking pool of resources, leading to duplicated services and system-wide inefficiencies.”

Charter schools enroll close to 12,000 students in the city, while St. Louis Public Schools enrollment dropped below 20,000 last year. The district has lost more than 50% of its enrollment since the first charters opened in 2000.

Open the article to see the graph, which demonstrates the folly of expanding the charter sector, which drains resources and students from a weakened public sector.

The average annual performance score for local charter schools, which includes factors such as attendance, academic achievement, and high school or college preparedness, was 80% in 2018, the most recent figures available. St. Louis Public Schools scored 79%, according to state data.

Of the 30-plus charter schools that have opened in St. Louis since 2000, about half have been shut down for academic or financial failure. Carondelet Leadership Academy was the latest to shutter in June 2020, displacing 400 students and 50 staff members.

One new charter school will open in 2022, sponsored by—wait for it—the Opportunity Trust.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen endorsed the moratorium on new schools and agreed on the need for a master plan for schools. However, the state legislature decides what happens in St. Louis to St. Louis schools. The Republican legislature does not believe in local control..

The board voted 24-1 for a nonbinding resolution that notes that charter schools and the city public school system have been fighting “over a declining population of children and a shrinking pool of resources.”

Supporters included Alderman Marlene Davis, a former city school board president, who said charter schools were forced upon the city by the Missouri Legislature.

Any new restrictions on the opening of additional charter facilities also would have to be imposed by state lawmakers.

“It’s a sin,” said Davis, of the 19th Ward. “We have gone through trauma after trauma” when some charter schools have suddenly closed.

She also complained about the performance of many of them, while acknowledging that there have been a few with adequate or superior records.

“Nobody can tell me that there’s appropriate oversight of these schools,” Davis said.

The resolution also won support from a critic of the city public schools, Alderman Carol Howard, 14th Ward.

“We need a master plan” for all types of schools, said Howard, a retired school principal in the city school system. “We need to all agree — Black, white, whatever — that our children are important.”

A coalition of organizations in St. Louis combined to promote a new vision of education. Even the superintendent of schools added his name.

But when the school board realized that the “new vision” was funded by Opportunity Trust, a pro-charter outfit, they insisted on a moratorium.

Once again, an astroturf group was planning to hasten the pace of privatization. The city currently has 18,000 students in its public schools, and 12,000 in charter schools. The charter industry is never satisfied. It always wants more.

This article was co-authored by a group of educators who oppose privatization. They have identified the primary driver of privatization in their different communities: The City Fund, subsidized primarily by corporate “reformers” Reed Hastings and John Arnold. The City Fund is led by experienced privatizers who have tried their hand in places like Tennessee and New Orleans, where the PR was great but the results were not. It opened its operations with $200 million in hand from its funders. Lots of money, no members, and a charge to go out into the nation and find cities where they could disrupt the local school board elections by underwriting advocates of privatization. They are undermining public schools and democracy at the same time. They should hang their heads in shame. They won’t.

The authors of the following are: Dr. Tracee Miller was an elected member of the St. Louis Board of Education. Dr. Keith Benson is president of the Camden Education Association. Christina Smith is Secretary of Indianapolis Public Schools Community Coalition. Dawn Chanet Collins, East Baton Rouge Parish School System Board Member and Candidate for Metro-Council 6. Bobby Blount is a San Antonio Northside ISD Trustee. Don Macleay is a member of Oakland Public Schools Action 2020.

They wrote the following article:

Education Privatization: Eerie Similarities in Stories from 15 Major US Cities

A new education reform movement has made its way across the country whose goal is not reform, but privatization. That coalition is led by billionaires forcing their extreme market bias onto our school system. Its framework steers tax dollars away from the public schools and toward their chosen consultants, partner groups, curricula, and other products and services without oversight from elected officials. The movement manifests in the expansion of charter schools and their enrollment, division of public districts into factions, incubation of community advocacy groups, promotion of anti-public school legislation, and influencing of state and local campaigns. 

To say that the proponents of this model engage in deceptive tactics would be a gross understatement. Aside from disguising their approach with buzzwords like innovation, transformation, and social justice, they funnel money through PACs, then through individuals and groups, to make their funding difficult to trace. This shroud of financial and ideological secrecy also makes the money, desperately needed in public education, easier for schools and organizations to accept.

One major national funder of this reactionary education philosophy is The City Fund. The City Fund distributes money from corporate school reform philanthropists, such as John Arnold and Reed Hastings, to local city organizations to accomplish the goals listed above. Its political organization, Public School Allies, makes campaign contributions to local school board candidates who are likely to adopt the same philosophy. “Reform” money has changed what used to be $1,500 local campaigns into $20,000 races for school board.The model being promoted by The City Fund and its affiliated organizations has been seen nearly to fruition in New Orleans and Indianapolis, and the stories being played out in other cities where The City Fund operates are eerily similar. 

We are education experts and advocates who represent cities and schools across the country that are being impacted by this movement and we refuse to be complicit. Our stories from Camden, Oakland, Indianapolis, San Antonio, Baton Rouge, and St. Louis account for only a fraction of the cities where these movements are underway, and we hope that sharing our experiences will help others recognize the tactics wherever they appear.

Recent articles about The City Fund and its influence in St. Louis and in local school board races inspired us to contact each other. What we discovered is unsettling. The organizations funded by The City Fund present themselves as local grassroots organizations when nothing could be further from the truth. While propping up these local organizations with millions of dollars, The City Fund also places its own supporters on the organizations’ boards to influence their ideology and decision-making. These groups and their partner community advocacy groups have equivalents in at least 15 cities. A few examples of umbrella groups sponsored by The City Fund include The Mind Trust in Indianapolis, the Camden Education Fund in Camden, City Education Partners in San Antonio, redefinED in Atlanta, RootED in Denver, The Opportunity Trust in St. Louis, San Joaquin A+ in Stockton, REACH in Oakland, and New Schools in Baton Rouge. 

Naming more equivalent organizations here would be unhelpful, but recognizing their actions is critical to identifying their influence. In addition to the strategies listed earlier, organizations affiliated with The City Fund have engaged in a variety of similar behaviors. In most locations they have created a school-finder tool and promoted a common application for traditional and charter schools. These groups host community events or support the publishing of reports where skewed data imply the deterioration of public education, and often push the idea that charters are the only solution. They make similar demands of school boards and of individual board members to conform with their ideals, and react with similar misinformation when confronted by the public or the media.  The uniformity across cities is so striking that on several of our joint calls there was audible relief when one of us realized we weren’t the sole target of this deception.

These organizations are not home-grown local groups established to solve local problems, but are experts at pretending to be. While they employ well-meaning advocates who  are energized  by words like equity or opportunity and promote themselves as organizations who seek to understand community sentiment, these groups are the local arms of The City Fund, whose model seeks to, and has experienced frightening success in, advancing the privatization of public education. With privatization comes the loss of local control and democratic ideals. 

The City Fund does not make it clear when it is investing in a city; fortunately, we have the opportunity to learn from each other and to stop the corruption before it becomes so deeply embedded in our systems that it can’t be reversed. The individuals peddling their agenda under the guise of education equity will continue to steer public dollars toward their private programs and gain financial and political capital until we decide public education is too important to jeopardize for a scheme. We are all complicit in the perpetuation of inequity if we choose to let this continue now that we know the truth.

Co-authored by: 

Dr. Tracee Miller, former member of the Board of Education for St. Louis Public Schools; 

Dr. Keith Benson, President of the Camden Education Association and author of Reform and Gentrification in the Age of #CamdenRising: Public Education and Urban Redevelopment in Camden, NJ; 

Christina Smith, Secretary of Indianapolis Public Schools Community Coalition; 

Dawn Chanet Collins, East Baton Rouge Parish School System Board Member and Candidate for Metro-Council 6; 

Bobby Blount, San Antonio Northside ISD Trustee; 

Don Macleay, Oakland Public Schools Action 2020.