Cyber charters in Pennsylvania are a money pit because they are not subject to the same rules as public schools. Charter lobbyists must have written the charter laws as they have in other states. And they protect their freedom from scrutiny despite the fact that the founder of the first and biggest cyber charter operator in the state was sentenced to prison in 2018 for his failure to pay taxes on $8 million that he skimmed from the school’s funds. (Note that he was not jailed for embezzling funds but for not paying taxes on the money.)

Peter Greene discovered another way that the state’s cyber charters get favored treatment. Public schools are not allowed to sit on millions of dollars of rainy day funds. Cyber charters are.

I remember what charter advocates promised back in the late 1980s when the idea of charters was first being sold. Charters would be more “accountable” than regular public schools.

But now we know:

Accountability is for public schools, not for charter schools.

Perhaps you recall when Betsy DeVos testified at her Senate hearing about her worthiness to be Secretary of Education. Among her most memorable lines was her fulsome praise of virtual charter schools. This was both sad and hilarious, coming as it did more than a year after the Walton-funded CREDO at Stanford released a report finding that a year at a virtual charter school was akin to not going to school at all (students in these schools lost the equivalent of 72 days in reading and a full year in math).

Over the past few years, there have been several major virtual charter school scandals involving the loss of many millions of dollars (the EPIC scandal in Oklahoma, the Pennsylvania CyberCharter School scandal, the A3 scandal in California, the ECOT scandal in Ohio).

Now Steve Hinnefeld writes about a virtual charter school scandal in Ohio.

He writes:

A Hamilton County court hearing this week may determine whether Indiana taxpayers have a chance to recover $154 million from two virtual charter schools and their leaders and business partners.

The hearing, set for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday before Hamilton Superior Court Judge Michael Casati, concerns motions to dismiss a lawsuit to recover charter school funds that were allegedly obtained by fraud or improperly spent.

Attorney General Todd Rokita filed the suit in July 2021 on behalf of the state. Defendants include the schools — Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy — and several of their officers and employees. Also named are businesses that were affiliated with the schools.

The lawsuit relies on an investigation by the State Board of Accounts, the findings of which were released in early 2020. Auditors found that the online schools inflated their enrollment or failed to ensure students were being taught, resulting in overpayment of more than $68 million by the state. Auditors also identified more than $85 million in improper payments to vendors and businesses.

The schools closed in 2019 after their authorizer, Daleville School Corp. revoked their charter. The previous year, their claimed enrollment peaked at more than 7,000 students.

Problems with the schools came to light in 2017, when Chalkbeat Indiana revealed poor test scores, abysmal graduation rates and hefty payments to businesses connected to the school’s founder. Indiana Virtual School employed only one teacher per 200 students and spent just 10% of its funds on instruction, Chalkbeat found.

But the schools enjoyed political connections. They employed a state legislator as a consultant and had a retired state appeals court judge on the school board. Businesses affiliated with the schools gave $140,000 to Indiana Republican election campaigns. The schools paid a lobbying firm $300,000.

When will state legislators stop pumping money into these money pits?

SB 167 in the Indiana Legislature received national attention when its chief sponsor, Republican Scott Baldwin, proclaimed that teachers must not take sides when discussing Nazism, fascism, or Marxism. He later apologized for the statement but not until after he became a subject of ridicule on national news. Now it is dead, although a similar bill is moving in the House.

The Indiana bill that sparked national outrage will not move forward, Senate leadership confirmed on Friday. 

Members of the Senate continued to work on Senate Bill 167, but have determined there is no path forward for it and it will not be considered,” Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, said in a statement. 

Less clear is the fate of a similar bill moving through the Indiana House. That bill was passed out of committee, 8-5, and heads to the full House floor next. Should it pass the House, it will be sent to the Senate.

A spokesperson for Bray said Senate Republicans would review the bill, if it passes out of the House.

More on bill:Indiana Senate bill that spurred Nazism remarks stalls; similar proposal advances

Senate Bill 167 was originally scheduled for a vote in the Senate’s education committee Wednesday but was pulled from the calendar, IndyStar previously reported, signaling it faced a rocky path forward. Earlier in the week, Bray said it was so lawmakers could address concerns raised during public testimony on the bill the previous week. 

An exchange during that testimony between the bill’s author, Sen. Scott Baldwin, R-Noblesville, and a history teacher from Fishers set off a viral firestorm after Baldwin said it would require teachers to remain impartial, even when discussing concepts such as Marxism, Nazism and fascism. 

“Of course, we’re neutral on political issues of the day,” teacher Matt Bockenfeld said at the committee hearing Jan. 5. “We don’t stand up and say who we voted for or anything like that. But we’re not neutral on Nazism. We take a stand in the classroom against it, and it matters that we do.”

Baldwin responded that may be going too far and that teachers need to be impartial and stick to the facts. He later walked back the comments in a statement to IndyStar and condemned those ideologies.Your stories live here

More:Find out what’s in controversial 2022 education bills, read full text

A similar bill has continued to move through the House. House Bill 1134 contains the same ban on “divisive concepts,” but was amended this week to clarify that teachers may condemn Nazism and other concepts that run counter to the U.S. Constitution. 

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, wrote a stunning expose of for-profit charter operators in Ohio. It was published in Valerie Strauss’s blog The Answer Sheet.

Burris writes:

Buckeye Preparatory Academy opened its doors in September 2014, promising “rigorous academic standards” for the 117 students who enrolled. It was started by the for-profit management charter company the Cambridge Education Group, founded by Marcus May. In 2017, three years after Buckeye opened, Cambridge tried to sever all ties with May, who was indicted and later convicted of racketeering and fraud in connection with the charter schools he ran. Buckeye never received a grade from the Ohio Department of Education better than an F during its four-year existence. At the end of 2017, Buckeye Prep was more than $1 million in debt.

That enormous deficit, which equaled nearly all of the tax dollars the school took in, was due, in large part, to the astronomical management costs charged by Cambridge.

According to the 2018 audit, the for-profit took 18 percent of all revenue received by the charter to manage the school. Cambridge also collected $93,398 in overhead fees, pulling a total of $383,505 from the $1.26 million in operating aid that the school received. As debt accrued, Cambridge was charging the school 5 percent interest on money the school owed.

An additional $41,490 went out the door to the authorizing sponsor of the school, Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, whose related for-profit organization, Kent Properties, LLC, was the school’s landlord, receiving $162,000 a year in rental costs.

At the end of the school’s audit, an addendum said that the management of Buckeye Prep was transferred from Cambridge to another for-profit, ACCEL Schools of Ohio, LLC.

On the surface, that transfer might appear to be a lifeline for the students who attended Buckeye Prep. But the small charter school at 1414 Gault St. in Columbus was — and would continue to be — a big moneymaker for for-profit operators and their partners.

The orphanage with no orphans

Some states, such as New Jersey, have only one state entity that authorizes charter schools. In Ohio, there are 20 active authorizers, called sponsors. Sponsors provide oversight, deciding whether a school opens and, later, whether its charter is renewed.

For Buckeye Prep’s sponsor, the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation (BCHF), charter sponsorship is a lucrative business. According to BCHF’s 2017 audit, the foundation, involved with low-income housing, received over $3.1 million for sponsorship and services provided to 50 charter schools that year. Its related for-profit corporation owned the Buckeye Prep building and collected more than $162,000 in building and furniture lease payments during 2017, its final year.

[Biden promised to end federal funding of for-profit charter schools. A new report explains how they operate.]

As the failing school approached the date for charter renewal, its new operator, ACCEL, chose a sponsor that already managed many of its schools — St. Aloysius Orphanage. Despite its name, St. Al’s, as it is called, has not provided a home for orphans since the 1970s. It is a mental health service provider that also sponsors charter schools.

Compared with its other funding streams, charter school sponsorship provides the most income — over $3.6 million in 2019. However, while St. Aloysius collects the fees, it does none of the work. Instead, it hired a for-profit corporation, Charter School Specialists, paying out $2.3 million a year to the for-profit.

The relationship between sponsor and for-profit was so tight that in 2020, the state auditor had to remind schools that their sponsor was St. Aloysius, not Charter Schools Specialists, after several listed the for-profit as their sponsor.

In 2019, the Cleveland Transformation Alliance recommended — to no avail — that St. Al’s no longer sponsor charter schools based on its record of keeping failing schools open. Two years earlier, the same committee raised conflict of interest concerns because some school treasurers were employed by both the charter board and Charter Schools Specialists. That conflict of interest while overseeing the expenditure of millions of dollars in public funds was allowed to continue. In 2021, eight school treasurers were employees of the for-profit overseer and the charter schools’ boards, including Capital Collegiate Preparatory Academy, according to information obtained from the Ohio Education Department.

For-profit operators run more than 62 percent of the schools sponsored by St. Aloysius; many of them are other ACCEL schools.

ACCEL schools

In 2014, the online for-profit charter chain K12 Inc. announced a new, yet-to-be-named company financed by Safanad Limited, a Dubai investment company. Pansophic Learning was launched later that year as the Safanad/K12 joint venture. The name of its American-based charter school company is ACCEL Schools.

The CEO of both Pansophic and ACCEL is Ron Packard, formerly of K12 Inc., now known as Stride. Packard’s background is in finance, and he compounded the revenue of K12 by 80 percent — (a far higher percentage than its 2019-2020 graduation rate of 56.3 percent).

ACCEL’s primary strategy is to pluck schools from established for-profit chains that failed or are folding, including Mosaica, White Hat Management, and I CAN Schools.

With no shortage of failing charter schools to buy, ACCEL’s growth has been fast-paced. It now manages 73 charter schools (brick and mortar or online) in Arizona, California, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Washington, and it is attempting to open schools in West Virginia.
[Yes, charter schools can be bought and sold]
Global School Properties, located at the same address as ACCEL and Pansophic in Virginia, is the real estate arm of ACCEL, which allows it to acquire properties and then basically rent their own buildings to themselves — with public funds — through the schools they manage.

ACCEL’s largest portfolio is in Ohio. Forty-six schools list ACCEL as their operator. However, we also found an additional 17 schools run by a superintendent with an ACCEL email address, all but two under the Constellation Schools brand. And in 2018, ACCEL bought out White Hat’s failing online charter school, OHDELA, resulting in a total of 64 schools in that state.

ACCEL and Capital Collegiate Prep

When ACCEL took over Buckeye Prep in 2018, it operated the school as Buckeye for one year — before shutting it down to put another in its place. The for-profit needed to find a board to act as the nonprofit face for the new for-profit-run school. ACCEL’s then vice president, Mark Comaduci, introduced community member Leslie Eaves to Amy Goodson and Carlena Hart, attorneys for Buckeye Prep, via email. Eaves was told to form a board, for which she served as president. She found three educators — Malcolm Cash, Renita Porter and Said Adam — and forensic accountant Rhonda Whitfield.

By January 2019, the new board was formed. In June 2019, Buckeye voluntarily requested contract nonrenewal (see closed community schools). The following day, July 1, Kent School, LLC, sold the school building to Global School Properties for $1,380,635, records show. St. Al’s would be the new sponsor, and the school would now be called Capital Collegiate Preparatory Academy (CCPA).

From the start, the relationship between the charter school’s board and ACCEL was rocky. Unlike many of the boards recruited by for-profit operators, this board included seasoned educators who took their duties of governance seriously. According to emails between Eaves and ACCEL officials, including Ron Packard, the first problems arose with the terms of the management and lease agreements between the school and ACCEL.

Buckeye’s lease agreement was for $12,500 a month or 10.5 percent of state funds received, whichever was greater. ACCEL wanted to increase the lease by $5,500 a month, according to internal emails. In the end, the agreement was for 14 percent of revenue — state funding as well as additional federal entitlements if the grant application was prepared by ACCEL.

In 2020, the school that served only 135 students paid ACCEL’s related real estate company $145,006 in rent, with ACCEL projecting a rent payment of $319,840 for the very same building in 2025. At that rate, ACCEL would recoup what it paid in six years — precisely the length of the school’s charter. If the charter failed and closed, ACCEL would walk away with a million-dollar-plus building largely paid for by the taxpayers of Ohio.

The management contract charges the charter school 15 percent of all revenue received, with a few exceptions. But that is not where payments would end. A read of the management contract clarifies that ACCEL was in charge of, and would be compensated for, all of the school’s day-to-day operations — from the curriculum to student records to all personnel services.

The school was allowed to go into unlimited debt on which it would pay interest to ACCEL, making it nearly impossible for the school to leave the for-profit management company in the future. Financial records from 2020 show the school operating at a loss of over $420,000, with a 2021 projected loss of over $845,000.

Conflicts between the board and ACCEL ignite
The change in school management came with a wave of staff turnover, with just two teachers opting to stick with the new school, where many of the students were behaviorally challenged. ACCEL hired new and inexperienced teachers, and for the first two months, according to former board treasurer Whitfield, the campus didn’t have any pencils or paper in the classrooms. The situation was so dire that an organization that had performed an independent review of the charter school donated paper and pencils.

To get a grasp on student progress, the board authorized the use of I-Ready Assessment. However, ACCEL preferred to use its own assessment product called “Dr. Carr’s Scrimmages” to measure student progress. Carr, who became a vice president of ACCEL, previously worked for the defunct for-profit charter chain Mosaica. Student progress, and lack thereof, was discussed at length during the board meeting of February 2021, which can be found here.

The school’s principal, a former real estate agent, seemed unsure as to why the Scrimmages were being used. I-Ready results showed that most sixth-grade students were performing at two to three years below grade level in reading and math. That led to a discussion as to whether, given the poor progress made by sixth-graders, the school should expand to grade 7 or focus instead on expanding its kindergarten program. Board members expressed worry regarding a seventh-grade addition.

But the principal and the ACCEL superintendent, Ashley Ferguson argued in favor of adding a grade as being in the best interest of students and the school. Ferguson added, “We need to be up by 200 kids to eliminate our deficit. Two kindergartens would not do it.” [ Ferguson, a vice president of ACCEL Schools, attended board meetings as ACCEL’s “superintendent,” even though Shannon Metcalf is listed as superintendent on the state website.]

Board members resign

To get a better understanding of the school’s day-to-day operations, the board hired Tisha Brady in 2020 to serve as a compliance officer. What Brady observed appalled her.

Brady, a former lobbyist for School Choice Ohio and longtime supporter of charter schools, has soured on charter management organizations running schools. During a December 2021 interview with me [ Carol Burris, the author of this post], Brady expressed her concerns regarding where Ohio’s charter schools were going. “[For-profit management] is absolutely not in line with the supposed principles of school choice programs,” she said. “This is simply a cash grab using disadvantaged students as ATMs to launder public funds into the pockets of a private corporation.”

Meanwhile, the concerns of the board grew. It was difficult for the board to get a handle on expenditures and purchases, even with Brady’s assistance. During the June 14, 2021, meeting, the board objected to the $53,000 spent by ACCEL for smartboards for the school. During classroom visits, board members noticed that the smartboards were generic dry erase boards. The meeting minutes noted a prior concern regarding a large expenditure for a curriculum that was missing, as well as a refrigerator that was removed by a vendor. Eaves, the board president, objected to the lack of inventory control of school purchases, according to the minutes.

When Brady and Whitfield entered the school to inventory the items and see how they were being used, they both said, an ACCEL teacher assaulted Whitfield with a cart. Whitfield filed a complaint with the police department and the professional conduct division of the Ohio Department of Education, as well as with ACCEL.

“My concern was for the students in the classroom. I worried about what the kids had witnessed,” Whitfield said. Whitfield resigned from the board a month later. Eaves had previously resigned in October. The school’s website now lists only four board members, still including Whitfield, who is gone — a violation of law that requires five board members, which ironically St. Al’s had used to put the board on probation in the past.

Capital Collegiate Preparatory Academy expands

Despite worry over student performance, a slim majority of the board decided to add the seventh grade. According to Whitfield and Brady, one teacher teaches all subjects on a rotating basis and out of certification. But, those seventh-graders, no matter how poorly prepared, increased the head count, which in turn increased ACCEL’s fees for both rent and management. The school goes further into debt, and ACCEL collects interest.

And so, it will continue until the school’s charter is up in 2025. ACCEL could walk away from the failing school, sell the building to another for-profit, and move on to another failing school.
Right now, nearly half of all charter schools in Ohio are run by for-profits. Most of these charter schools are located in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the United States. The state of Ohio has known about the cycle of for-profits repeatedly preying on failing charter schools for years.

There is more: Capital Collegiate Preparatory Academy, which was no more than the retread of a failing school, received a $250,000 Federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) implementation grant.
Half of all of the grants distributed by Ohio from its 2015 CSP State Entities grant were given to schools run by Ron Packard’s ACCEL.

The article contains many links to sources. To see them all, open the article.

Gary Rubinstein has been following the sad career of Tennessee’s Achievement School District for a decade. The ASD was created with $100 million in Race to the Top funding, a portion of the $500 million won by the state in Arne Duncan’s competition.

The ASD was launched in 2012, when advocates of privatization earnestly believed that charter schools performed miracles. The mere act of turning a low-scoring public school over to a private operator would free the school from regulation and bad teachers and inevitably produce high test scores. Over the years, this assumption has been proven untrue, and the ASD is a leading example of great promises that produced failure.

Gary has tracked the failure of the ASD to transform low-scoring public schools into high-performing charter schools. The irony, as he notes in this overview, is that many states have copied the Tennessee ASD despite its failure to achieve its goals.

Gary writes:

The mission of the ASD was to take schools in the bottom 5% and within 5 years ‘catapult’ them into the top 25%. They started with six schools and over a period of about five years expanded into around 30 schools. The plan was to turn the schools over to charter operators and then after the schools had been successfully catapulted, they would return to the original school district.

After five years, it was clear that at least five of the original six school were still in the bottom 5%. The other one had maybe risen into the bottom 10%. Barbic resigned, Huffman resigned, the ASD changed their mission to something a lot more vague.

Now, ten years after the takeover of the original 6 schools, we learn from Chalkbeat, TN that some of those original 6 schools are returning to their district. I’ve been tracking those six schools for the past 10 years: Brick Church College Prep, Cornerstone Prep — Lester Campus, Corning Achievement Elementary School, Frayser Achievement Elementary School, Humes Preparatory Academy — Upper School, and Westside Achievement Middle School. Year after year, despite having been turned into charter schools, these schools barely budged in the rankings. One of the six, Humes, was already closed down and now, as reported by Chalkbeat, TN, two of them, Frayser and Corning are being returned to their districts even though they did not improve. Ironically, eight years ago Frayser was hailed as a miracle success story proving the effectiveness of the ASD.

There is no reason to celebrate the failure of a school, especially one enrolling vulnerable children. But there is every reason to point to the P.T. Barnum School of Charter School Propaganda. in did not achieve its goals. It disrupted the lives of children, parents, and teachers.

How shallow are the promoters of these grand plans that tear apart communities, then move on to another gig.

Catherine Truitt, the Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction in North Carolina sneered at critical thinking, as she put forth her own definition of what education is for.

North Carolina teacher Stuart Egan wrote:

A Little Soma Made in 1984 Cooked At F451 Degrees For You? Why Every Teacher Should Be Insulted By State Superintendent Truitt’s Words

“Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change.”

– FAHRENHEIT 451

“A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which [leaders] control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.”

– ALDOUS HUXLEY, AUTHOR OF BRAVE NEW WORLD

“The ideal set up by the Party was something huge, terrible, and glittering—a world of steel and concrete, of monstrous machines and terrifying weapons—a nation of warriors and fanatics, marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting—three hundred million people all with the same face.”

– 1984

“We’ve got to redefine what the purpose of K-12 education is. Some would say it’s to produce critical thinkers. But my team and I believe that the purpose of a public K-12 education is to prepare students for post-secondary plans of their choice so that they can be a functioning member of the workforce.”

– STATE SUPERINTENDENT CATHERINE TRUITT, JANUARY 6TH, 2022

That last statement is a hell of a statement from the top ranking official for public education in the state – especially that part about free thinking.

In her short tenure as state super, Truitt has said many things to insult teachers, demean advocacy for public schools, and belittle the profession.

This is the most insulting – not just because as a teacher my job is to help students become critical thinkers, but as a parent of young lady who has graduated from public schools and a son about to enter high school, I don’t want the person who makes the biggest decisions about our schools to think of my children (and others’ children) as “functional members of the workforce.”

It’s almost like saying that our job as public school teachers is to create good workers for those who can profit from them.

Writing in “PoliticsNC,” Alexander H. Jones was incredulous. He wrote:

In my years of following state politics, I have heard North Carolina Republicans say stupid, outrageous, incomprehensible and otherwise foolish things. Pat McCrory said Caitlin Jenner would have to use the men’s shower if she ran track at UNC-Chapel Hill. Larry Pittman and others declared that the State of North Carolina has a right to nullify U.S. Supreme Court decisions within its borders. And so forth. But nothing I have heard echoing out of right-wing avenue was more utterly discrediting to a public servant than what DPI leader Catherine Truitt recently said about the purpose of K-12 education. Read on, if you can stomach it.

““We’ve got to redefine what the purpose of K-12 education is,” she declared. “Some would say it’s to produce critical thinkers. But my team and I believe that the purpose of a public K-12 education is to prepare students for the post-secondary plans of their choice so that they can be a functioning member of the workforce.” In one quick stroke, the leader of public education in North Carolina discounted and disparaged critical thinking, the foundation of an enlightened citizenry. In saying this she definitively sided with the forces of political authoritarianism and capitalist plunder, the two great foes of the American experiment that have always fought against liberal education.

Open the link and read the rest of his post.

Five years ago, Florida’s Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran announced his plan to “save” the state’s lowest performing schools. He called it “Schools of Hope.” The idea behind the plan was to turn public schools over to charter operators.

Corcoran believes in choice. He despises public schools. He wants to replace public schools with vouchers and charters. His wife ran a charter school, and he was Speaker of the House of Representatives before Governor DeSantis put him in charge of education. Corcoran, needless to say, is not an educator.

Billy Townsend tells the sad ending to Corcoran’s bold (but old) idea: Florida’s first charter “School of Hope” is, utterly predictably, abandoning all “hope” in Jefferson after just 5 years.

The failure of a plan to turn low-reforming schools to charter operators should not be a surprise. It has been tried and failed elsewhere: the Achievement School District in Tennessee absorbed $100 million of Race to the Top money without meeting its goals; the Education Achievement Authority in Detroit was an expensive fiasco. Despite the failures of these “models,” other states created their own charter districts, with the same results.

Townsend describes Florida’s own fiasco:

Jefferson County’s public school system is tiny — about 800 kids. Its test scores are historically the lowest of Florida counties. This made it a showcase for Richard Corcoran’s “Schools of Hope” charter law, which was designed to convert zoned public schools with low test scores into unzoned charter schools. The Jefferson experiment predates the “Schools of Hope” law. But when the state seized Jefferson’s three-in-one school campus and converted it into a charter school run by the Somerset company, it was touted as the first “School of Hope.”

Here’s how NPR reporter Jessica Bakeman put it in 2019:

Two years into Jefferson County’s transformation, the still-unproven charter-district “experiment” is being used to justify a potentially massive expansion of charter schools in the state’s poorest communities. A state law dubbed “schools of hope,” first passed in 2017 and broadened this year, offers millions of dollars to charter schools that open near traditional public schools that have struggled for years. Jefferson County is home to the first charter “schools of hope.” Neighborhoods in Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville are next.

Five years later, Somerset is straight-up abandoning the kids and community of Jefferson County without explanation. They’re abandoning the “schools of hope” project.

And no other charter “schools of hope” seem willing to tackle the Jefferson challenge. They apparently see no “hope,” as an industry.

So Richard Corcoran’s DoE is admitting abject failure and converting the Jefferson School back to nominal district control — under the direction of what’s called an “external operator.” In some cases, Richard Corcoran’s DoE and Board of Education also saw personal opportunity to make a buck in that transition away from Schools of Hope.

Bidding for that “external operator” role — for the transition and presumably beyond — is what led to the scandal that saw DoE Vice Chancellor Melissa Ramsey and state Board of Education Member Andy Tuck resign in grifty disgrace. You can read my deep dives on the scandal in parts 1 and 1.5., linked above.

Yes, that’s all pretty gross.

Townsend explained the difference between charter schools and “external operators.”

Charter companies and external operators do not always grift; but when they do, which is often, they do so in different ways.

Charter schools, as shown yet again in Jefferson, pick and curate the kids they want to serve. They don’t do ESE, generally, unless it’s a special ESE charter. Charters routinely cut-and-run from any child who does not easily throw off an acceptable contribution to a charters’ aggregate test scores. In Somerset’s case, it’s cutting-and-running from an entire community, which it swaggered into boasting about “hope.” This was entirely predictable. I predicted it; basically everyone who pays any real attention predicted it. I generally referred to “schools of hope” as “schools of fraud” back in 2017. I was right.

External operators, if they’re sorry or lazy, just skim public money off the top of a school to add nothing but boring professional development power points and “critical observations” and “data analysis.” In Polk, under the orders of legislators like Kelli Stargel and Colleen Burton, the taxpayers have fed these people millions of dollars of your money. The external operator grift is just attaching yourself to a giant flow of free money and tick-sucking it. External operators do no operating. They bring no scale because they have none.

Introduced with great fanfare five years ago, “schools of hope” is yet another fraud on the children, their community, and taxpayers. But especially the children.

Townsend wasn’t the only one to connect the dots and spot grift. The Tampa Bay Times did as well.

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Education Department is under fire for trying to steer a multimillion-dollar contract to a company whose CEO has ties to the state’s education commissioner.

Records and interviews show that, before the Florida Department of Education asked for bids, it was already in advanced talks with the company to do the work, subverting a process designed to eliminate favoritism.

The company is MGT Consulting, led by former Republican lawmaker Trey Traviesa of Tampa, a longtime colleague of the state’s education commissioner, Richard Corcoran.

During a bidding process that was open for one week, MGT was the only pre-approved vendor to submit a proposal — pitched at nearly $2.5 million a year to help the struggling Jefferson County School District with its academic and financial needs.

Billy Townsend, a former school board member in Polk County, Florida, warns that the state education leaders are rotten. In this post, he accuses several of them of engineering a plan to protect their private interests.

He writes:

Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran and Senior Chancellor for K-12 Jacob Oliva should both immediately resign over the state Department of Education’s Jefferson County state bid corruption scandal. If they don’t, Gov. DeSantis should fire them.

That’s how bad it is. The scandal already quietly took down Melissa Ramsey, former DoE Executive Vice Chancellor for the Division of Public Schools, and former state Board of Education Member and Chairman Andy Tuck. Their resignations were first reported — a month after they happened — by Jason Delgado of the “Florida Politics” website. But Delgado’s story did not detail the most overtly corrupt act.

In sum: Melissa Ramsey directed her immediate DoE subordinate to draft a proposal response for Ramsey and Tuck’s personal company to a DoE Request for Quote (RFQ) to support Jefferson County schools as they transition away from charter school control back to district control.

To restate because it sounds crazy: over a few days in November, DoE Senior Chancellor for K12 Oliva (legitimately, it appears) ordered a state employee to craft a state RFQ for the Jefferson County support work. Vice Chancellor Ramsey then ordered this same state employee — her direct subordinate — to write SIP’s proposal responding to the same government RFQ that same subordinate had just written. 

Just days before, at Jacob Oliva’s direction, this same subordinate had personally drafted the same Jefferson RFQ that Ramsey was now directing her to respond to on behalf of Ramsey and Tuck’s company — known as Strategic Initiatives Partners, LLC (SIP).

Ramsey then submitted the proposal — with sitting Board of Education member Tuck’s enthusiastic support. At the time of the submission, the company’s documents also listed Oliva as a company official along with Tuck and Ramsey.

Conflict of interest much? When the Office of the Inspector General opened an investigation, Ramsey and Tuck resigned. With their resignations, the OIG closed the investigation—case closed—but Townsend insists the case should be reopened to investigate the corruption that enables public officials to betray the public trust.

Townsend identifies the district at the heart of the scandal:

It’s not remotely surprising to me that Florida’s awful, cynical state Department of Education and Board of Education have now shipwrecked themselves on blatant conflict of interest in the tiny, poverty-stricken, majority-black, three-school Jefferson County system.

Five years ago, DoE worked closely with openly conflicted legislators to turn Jefferson County public schools over to charter company Somerset. Here’s how Florida NPR reporter Jessica Bakeman put it in her excellent and thorough 2019 account of the Jefferson charter “experiment.”

In particular, Senate education committee chair Manny Diaz, Jr., a Hialeah Republican, helped secure legislation and funding in 2017 that aided Somerset’s efforts in Jefferson County. Then a committee chairman in the state House of Representatives, Diaz was instrumental in making the district’s transition to charter schools possible.

Diaz is a top administrator at a private college also affiliated with [politically connected charter chain] Academica. Doral College was created in 2010 to offer advanced courses at charter schools, including Somerset Academy schools. Somerset alone pays Doral College more than $100,000 a year in public money for delivering college-level courses at the network’s schools, including in Jefferson County. And Diaz’s boss — the president of Doral College — has led the transition to charter schools in Jefferson as a consultant for Somerset.

Now the charter company — Somerset — is quietly dumping all the kids of Jefferson, as charter schools tend to do. It doesn’t want to operate Jefferson’s schools any more.

It’s not really clear why Somerest is bailing on Jefferson at the end of its 5-year contract; but I suspect it’s because serving Jefferson’s challenging, traditional school enrollment isn’t easy or profitable enough. When you’re a franchise-based “choice” business like Somerset, it doesn’t pay to operate in places that take a lot more overhead than you’re willing to commit to “succeed.”

Keep that in mind while considering the detailed educratic nihilism I’m about to show you. This massive, barely-reported DoE scandal makes it easy to forget the flesh and blood kids and teachers and communities that become the playthings of grift. We shouldn’t.

Townsend devotes three posts to plumbing the corruption swirling around impoverished Jefferson County. It’s remarkable that so many charter grifters see lucrative business opportunities in poor, mostly minority school districts, not only in Florida but in other states like Michigan.

Townsend calls the second post #1.5 because it is an extension of #1.

He writes:

It was prompted by an anonymous contact I received who pointed to a politically-connected company called MGT that’s all over the DoE/Jefferson bid corruption investigative report in cryptic ways.

MGT is a so-called “external operator,” called in by the state to help operate schools with school grades of D or F in certain “turnaround” circumstances. They are essentially consultants who lead or support local district personnel in school “turnaround.” They are not full-on charter companies, like Somerset, Jefferson’s current operator. When I was a Polk County School Board member, we dealt with an external operator (not MGT) for a few schools.

I should be clear that nothing in the report accuses MGT of wrongdoing — or DoE personnel of wrongdoing in relation to MGT.

However, I was perplexed by MGT’s presence in the report even before my “source” urged me to look closer. I left them out of part 1 because it was already so long.

But I still have lots of questions related to a couple of strange MGT facts identified by investigators. I want to share them with you…

Townsend notes that 25 companies were invited to submit proposals but only MGT responded. He further notes that MGT was in business with the state’s education commissioner in the past.

Curious and curioser.

A friend directed me to a website that reports good news. We all need that during these stressful times.

Here are ten good news stories about the environment.

For example, there is this story.

Researchers Pull Carbon Out of the Sky and ConvertIt to Instant Jet Fuel, Reshaping Aviation for Good.”

The story begins:

A simple, yet world-altering method of sucking CO2 from the air into airplanes where it is converted directly to jet fuel is described in a new paper published in Nature.

With the importance of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere at the front and center of so many economic and policy decisions, the invention of an onboard system for carbon-neutral flight would represent a massive step towards addressing the climate crisis.

Some estimates puts the aviation industry’s primarily-CO2 footprint of global emissions at just under 1 billion metric tons, or around 2.4% of all human activities.

Converting atmospheric CO2 into useable hydrocarbon fuel is difficult, and as until recently, expensive both in terms of capital and electricity. Using a molecule that is fully oxidized and thermodynamically stable, there are few keys that can cheaply or efficiently ‘unlock it’ for reuse.

Some catalysts, compounds that can attract and force a change in molecules, can convert CO2 into hydrocarbon molecules of a desirable configuration for jet fuels, but their use is limited because they are expensive or require huge amounts of electricity. They’re also inconsistent with producing hydrocarbon chains with the number of atoms ideal for aviation fuels.

The University of Oxford’s Peter Edwards, Tiancun Xiao, Benzhen Yao, and colleagues designed a new iron-based catalyst that represents an inexpensive way of directly capturing atmospheric CO2 and converting it into a jet fuel-range of hydrocarbons.


The Boston Globe published a story about climate change that scared me. The story has the headline “Climate Change Has Destabilized the Earth’s Poles, Putting the Rest of the Planet in Peril.” President Biden has a sense of urgency about climate change, but thus far he has been unable to move the 50 Republicans and one Democrat (Manchin) to care about the future of the planet. Why is climate change a partisan issue? Don’t we all have a stake in the habitability of the earth? Don’t Republicans care about the world their children and grandchildren will inherit? I don’t get it.

The story begins:

The ice shelf was cracking up. Surveys showed warm ocean water eroding its underbelly. Satellite imagery revealed long, parallel fissures in the frozen expanse, like scratches from some clawed monster. One fracture grew so big, so fast, scientists took to calling it “the dagger.”

“It was hugely surprising to see things changing that fast,” said Erin Pettit. The Oregon State University glaciologist had chosen this spot for her Antarctic field research precisely because of its stability. While other parts of the infamous Thwaites Glacier crumbled, this wedge of floating ice acted as a brace, slowing the melt. It was supposed to be boring, durable, safe.

Now climate change has turned the ice shelf into a threat — to Pettit’s field work, and to the world.

Planet-warming pollution from burning fossil fuels and other human activities has already raised global temperatures more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit. But the effects are particularly profound at the poles, where rising temperatures have seriously undermined regions once locked in ice.

In research presented this week at the world’s biggest earth science conference, Pettit showed that the Thwaites ice shelf could collapse within the next three to five years, unleashing a river of ice that could dramatically raise sea levels. Aerial surveys document how warmer conditions have allowed beavers to invade the Arctic tundra, flooding the landscape with their dams. Large commercial ships are increasingly infiltrating formerly frozen areas, disturbing wildlife and generating disastrous amounts of trash. In many Alaska Native communities, climate impacts compounded the hardships of the coronavirus pandemic, leading to food shortages among people who have lived off this land for thousands of years.

“The very character of these places is changing,” said Twila Moon, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center and coeditor of the Arctic Report Card, an annual assessment of the state of the top of the world. “We are seeing conditions unlike those ever seen before.”

The rapid transformation of the Arctic and Antarctic creates ripple effects all over the planet. Sea levels will rise, weather patterns will shift, and ecosystems will be altered. Unless humanity acts swiftly to curb emissions, scientists say, the same forces that have destabilized the poles will wreak havoc on the rest of the globe.

“The Arctic is a way to look into the future,” said Matthew Druckenmiller, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center and another coeditor of the Arctic Report Card. “Small changes in temperature can have huge effects in a region that is dominated by ice.”

This year’s edition of the report card, which was presented at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting Tuesday, describes a landscape that is transforming so fast scientists struggle to keep up. Temperatures in the Arctic are rising twice as fast as the global average. The period between October and December 2020 was the warmest on record, scientists say.

Separately on Tuesday, the World Meteorological Organization confirmed a new temperature record for the Arctic: 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk on June 20, 2020.

Another story in the Boston Globe said that New England is warming faster than the world as a whole.

New England is warming significantly faster than global average temperatures, and that rate is expected to accelerate as more greenhouse gases are pumped into the atmosphere and dangerous cycles of warming exacerbate climate change, according to a new study.

The authors of the scientific paper, which was published in the most recent edition of the journal Climate, analyzed temperature data over more than a century across the six New England states and documented how winters are becoming shorter and summers longer, jeopardizing much of the region’s unique ecology, economy, and cultural heritage.

Their findings were underscored this year in Greater Boston, which is on track to having the warmest year on record since 1900, according to data compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Based on the data presented here, and the continuing increase of greenhouse gases, it is clear that humanity does not have its hand on the rudder of climate control,” the authors wrote. “We are in a climate crisis, and we need to take concerted steps to reduce our production of greenhouse gases as soon as possible. The temperature changes that are currently happening . . . threaten to disrupt the seasonality of New England, which will disrupt the ecosystems and the economy of New England….”

The warming in the region already has exceeded a threshold set by the Paris Climate Accord, in which nearly 200 nations agreed to cut their emissions in an effort to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. If global temperatures exceed that amount, the damage from intensifying storms, rising sea levels, droughts, forest fires, and other natural disasters is likely to be catastrophic, scientists say.

With New England’s annual temperatures expected to rise sharply in the coming decades, the authors of the study said the region should expect major disruptions to its economy, including coastal waters that will become increasingly inhospitable to iconic species such as cod and lobster; fewer days when skiing and other winter recreation will be possible; less maple syrup and other agricultural products produced; and a range of other consequences.