Search results for: "corruption"

Betsy DeVos often says that Florida is a national model of choice. You will understand why she says this when you read the report from a government watchdog agency called Integrity Florida. This group, which is not focused on education but on government ethics, reveals in detail what happens when government money is handed out freely to entrepreneurs without any oversight or accountability.

Corruption and malfeasance run rampant.

The biggest money to finance the privatization of Florida’s schools came from Betsy DeVos and the Walton Family and a gaggle of rightwing out-of-state elites.

Betsy and the Waltons and their rightwing allies bought the privatization of Florida’s schools.

Here is the executive summary:

Underfunding, coupled with the continual adoption of tax cuts that make adequate public-school spending harder and harder to attain, prompts a look into the future. How much further growth in the number of charter schools is likely? How will that growth affect traditional schools and the public education system?

The answer to the first question appears to be that growth will continue unabated as long as private charter companies consider public schools a profit-making opportunity and they find receptive audiences in the legislature. If current trends continue, a 2015 national report concluded, “Charter schools will educate 20-40 percent of all U.S. public-school students by 2035.”1 Reaching those percentages in Florida would require doubling to quadrupling charters’ current 10 percent share of all public school students.

Some charter and school choice advocates are clear about their goal. Charters already have “created an entire new sector of public education” and they ultimately may “become the predominant system of schools,” the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has said.2 And the ultimate hope of many, as Milton Friedman wrote (see Page 8), is to bring about a transfer of government to private enterprise, in part by “enabling a private, for-profit industry to develop” in education.

Continued growth in the charter sector will exacerbate a problem that seemingly runs against the Florida Constitution’s decree that the state must provide “a uniform system” of high-quality education. As the number of charters has grown, with different rules than in traditional schools, some question whether a uniform system actually exists today. If Amendment 8 had remained on the November ballot and passed, a state charter authorizer could have approved new charter schools without the consent of the school district. In that case, the school district would not “operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district,” as another provision of the Constitution requires.

As the Miami Herald has said during a charter school investigation,
“Charter schools have become a parallel school system unto themselves, a system controlled largely by for-profit management companies and private landlords – one and the same, in many cases – and rife with insider deals and potential conflicts of interest.”

Key Findings

• Charter school enrollment continues to grow in Florida and nationwide, although at a slower rate than in previous years.

• The number of charter schools managed by for-profit companies in Florida continues to grow at a rapid pace and now makes up nearly half of all charter schools in the state.

• Although many charter schools in Florida are high performing, research has found no significant difference in academic performance between charter schools and traditional public schools.

• Numerous studies have found that charter schools strain traditional schools and school districts financially.

• Charter schools were originally proposed as teacher-run schools that would use innovative techniques to be shared with traditional schools. Over time, the concept changed to set up a competitive relationship between charters and traditional schools rather than a cooperative one.

• Charter schools have largely failed to deliver the education innovation that was originally promised and envisioned.

• Some charter advocates have explicitly said their goal is to privatize education by encouraging a for-profit K-12 industry. Today some charter proponents see charter schools, rather than traditional ones, as the “predominant system of schools.”

• Since 1998, at least 373 charter schools have closed their doors in Florida.

• Local school boards have seen reduced ability to manage charter schools in their

• The Florida Supreme Court removed Constitutional Amendment 8 from the November 2018 ballot that would have created a statewide charter school authorizer. However, future attempts by the legislature to establish a statewide charter authorizer may occur and should be opposed. A state charter authorizer would preempt voters’ rights to local control of education through their elected school boards, even though local tax dollars would pay for charter expansion.

• The charter school industry has spent more than $13 million since 1998 to influence state education policy through contributions to political campaigns.

• The charter school industry has spent more than $8 million in legislative lobbying expenditures since 2007 to influence education policy.

• The legislature has modified the original Florida charter school law significantly over the years to encourage creation of new charters, increase the number of students in charter schools and enhance funding of charters, sometimes at the expense of traditional schools.

• Some public officials who decide education policy and their families are profiting personally from ownership and employment with the charter school industry, creating the appearance of a conflict of interest.

• Lax regulation of charter schools has created opportunities for financial mismanagement and criminal corruption.

Policy Options to Consider

• Inasmuch as charter schools can be an inefficient and wasteful option for “school choice,” the legislature should evaluate the appropriate amount of funding the state can afford to offer in educational choices to parents and students.

• Require for-profit companies associated with charter schools to report their expenditures and profits for each school they operate.

• Require charter schools to post on their website their original application and charter contract along with their annual report, audit and school grade.

• Charter school websites should include lease agreements, including terms and conditions and who profits from the lease payments.

• Companies managing charter schools in more than one school district should have annual audits ensuring local tax revenue is being spent locally.

• Add additional criteria for school boards to consider when reviewing and deciding on a charter school application.

• Give local school boards more tools to manage the charter schools in their districts, including greater contractual oversight and the ability to negotiate charter contracts.

• Increase education funding to sufficiently fund all public schools to eliminate competition between traditional schools and charter schools for inadequate public education dollars.

• Prohibit charter schools from using public education funds for advertising to attract new students.

• Limit the amount of public funds that can be used for charter school facility leases to a certain percentage of the school’s operating budget.

• Require charter schools to report annually the number of dropouts, the number of withdrawals and the number of expulsions.

Go to pages 26-30 to see where the money came from to finance this plunder and privatization of Florida’s public schools. You will see familiar names.

Angie Sullivan teaches in a low-income elementary school in Carson County, Nevada. She often writes every legislator to expose the persistent underfunding of the schools.

Remember when DeVos lied in front of the whole nation about the Nevada K12 Charter? Hardly anyone graduates – yet she claimed that charter had a 100% graduation rate. Here are the Nevada online charters again – grabbing cash and suing to keep their cash cow. Hard earned tax payer money going to whom for what?

Apparently they had $2 million in lobby money. Enough to grease all sorts of folks.

I am sure there was more money than that spread around.

One for-profit online made $6500 x 3000 students = $19 million. 3000 enrolled but only 200 test? That is not “choice”. It appears no one is actually participating. Are we paying for education that is non-existent?

It annoys me that folks blame Patrick Gavin. Gavin is dirty. He is part of this – but only one part. No one has been accountable. No one has provided data. No one has asked hard questions.

Do you see all these names in this article?

Bipartisan dirty hands.

All these folks including Canavero need to be asked serious questions about this. And they need to reveal any money that has ended up in their personal bank accounts. Who has lobbied them?

All legislators running a for-profit charter or sitting on for-profit charter boards – we see you too. Unethically voting for yourself and your corporations.

I give credit to Guinasso for trying to clean up this $350 million mess. Everyone on all sides and every level is dirty. That job cannot be fun. So many folks involved in this garbage.

The Charter Authority needs legal teeth. It also needs a board willing to shut terrible charters down if they are floundering in bankruptcy and fraud. If unaccountable charters are not publishing data – they need to be closed. If failing charters are not graduating, they need to be closed. When for-profit charter corporations start suing the state, they need to be immediately closed.

Someone has to stand up to these billion dollar for-profit corporate bullies.

How is one person supposed to keep a billion charter corporation from scamming Nevada tax payers?

Folks screaming for “choice”.

This is Nevada “choice”?

Money changing hands and no one being educated?

That is not choice – that is a scam.

This is dirty dirty dirty. It is bipartisan dirty.

Canavero? Canavero? Canavero? This has your name all over it. Where are you? Busy arbitrarily attacking public schools to make way for . . . charters? There is something disgusting about that.


Folks seem to only like that word – when it is not applied to THEM.

Senator Woodhouse? Senator Denis? Senator Hammond? Where have you been?

30 years of looking the other way. Lots of folks got used to ignoring that $350 million was being severely wasted and abused. Were they paid well?

Former Majority Leader and newly elected Attorney General Aaron Ford – you advocated for this trash. Who donated to your campaigns? What are you going to do about it now?

God help us. The corruption is thick.

Nevada Charters are NOT a remedy. No one should want to turn a public school into this. No one should think this is fine.

This is garbage and a huge horrific wicked web. 🕷

Everyone needs to be accountable.

And all hypocrites – stop pointing your finger at CCSD public school teachers. We are actually the only ones getting real education work done. We get attacked and removed from students we serve and love. You threaten our communities with charter reform. Why? Which charter is an example of excellence? I see charter segregation by money, race and religion.

While these charter scammers get paid millions to educate no one?

This is bad leadership. And total mismanagement.

Yep accountability.

We need some of accountbility pointed at the right people. I see them crawling all around. 🕷🕷🕷

Maybe Patrick Gavin should tell us all about it.

The Teacher,

Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona has been a stalwart champion of unregulated charters and vouchers. He has looked the other way when members of the legislature pass laws to enrich themselves while running charter chains and voucher programs. He has ignored conflicts of interest, nepotism, and self-dealing because, hey, that’s how unbridled capitalism works!

But the state is now knee-deep in scandals committed by privatizers, and guess what? Governor Ducey says it is time to reign in the corruption!

In a debate with his Democratic opponent, David Garcia, Ducey claims he wants to reform charter law. Is it because of the latest scandal, where a legislator (Eddie Farnsworth) sold his for-profit charter chain to a nonprofit and cleared at least $11.8 million in profit plus a contract to manage the nonprofit chain?

Laurie Roberts of the Arizona Republic is outraged that the government is indifferent to charter fraud.

She writes:

Farnsworth says he’s just a businessman who took a risk, followed the law and is now reaping the reward.

“Charter schools have been lucrative to me because I’ve done what every other business has done to make money: I had an idea,” he told Harris. “I put the business plan into place. I followed every law and every contract. I provided a product that is a good product that people wanted.”

“It doesn’t hurt that for most of the last two decades, Farnsworth, along with other legislators who own charter schools, has helped write some of those laws. In his 16 years as a legislator, for example, Farnsworth has voted 12 times to boost “additional assistance” to charter schools (read: himself).

“But there is no conflict, we are told.“

Garcia is an education professor. He has pledged to eliminate the profiteering from the charter se tor. His own children have attended an arts-focused charter school, so he is not opposed to charters on principle, just to the rampant fraud that makes Arizona a national laughing stock.

Despite his support for charters, the Network for Public Education Action Fund Endorses Garcia because Ducey is an ALEC stooge and a voucher proponent. Garcia opposes vouchers and has pledged new dedicated funding for public schools.

Peter Wehner worked for three Republican presidents. He is now an opinion writer for the New York Times. He is a Never Trumper.

He wrote this article a few days ago.

There’s never been any confusion about the character defects of Donald Trump. The question has always been just how far he would go and whether other individuals and institutions would stand up to him or become complicit in his corruption.

When I first took to these pages three summers ago to write about Mr. Trump, I warned my fellow Republicans to just say no both to him and his candidacy. One of my concerns was that if Mr. Trump were to succeed, he would redefine the Republican Party in his image. That’s already happened in areas like free trade, free markets and the size of government; in attitudes toward ethnic nationalism and white identity politics; in America’s commitment to its traditional allies, in how Republicans view Russia and in their willingness to call out leaders of evil governments like North Korea rather than lavish praise on them. But in no area has Mr. Trump more fundamentally changed the Republican Party than in its attitude toward ethics and political leadership.

For decades, Republicans, and especially conservative Republicans, insisted that character counted in public life. They were particularly vocal about this during the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal, arguing against “compartmentalization” — by which they meant overlooking moral turpitude in the Oval Office because you agree with the president’s policy agenda or because the economy is strong.

Senator Lindsey Graham, then in the House, went so far as to argue that “impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.”

All that has changed with Mr. Trump as president. For Republicans, honor and integrity are now passé. We saw it again last week when the president’s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen — standing in court before a judge, under oath — implicated Mr. Trump in criminal activity, while his former campaign chairman was convicted in another courtroom on financial fraud charges. Most Republicans in Congress were either silent or came to Mr. Trump’s defense, which is how this tiresome drama now plays itself out.

It is a stunning turnabout. A party that once spoke with urgency and apparent conviction about the importance of ethical leadership — fidelity, honesty, honor, decency, good manners, setting a good example — has hitched its wagon to the most thoroughly and comprehensively corrupt individual who has ever been elected president. Some of the men who have been elected president have been unscrupulous in certain areas — infidelity, lying, dirty tricks, financial misdeeds — but we’ve never before had the full-spectrum corruption we see in the life of Donald Trump.

For many Republicans, this reality still hasn’t broken through. But facts that don’t penetrate the walls of an ideological silo are facts nonetheless. And the moral indictment against Mr. Trump is obvious and overwhelming. Corruption has been evident in Mr. Trump’s private and public life, in how he has treated his wives, in his business dealings and scams, in his pathological lying and cruelty, in his bullying and shamelessness, in his conspiracy-mongering and appeals to the darkest impulses of Americans. (Senator Bob Corker, a Republican, refers to the president’s race-based comments as a “base stimulator.”) Mr. Trump’s corruptions are ingrained, the result of a lifetime of habits. It was delusional to think he would change for the better once he became president.

Some of us who have been lifelong Republicans and previously served in Republican administrations held out a faint hope that our party would at some point say “Enough!”; that there would be some line Mr. Trump would cross, some boundary he would transgress, some norm he would shatter, some civic guardrail he would uproot, some action he would take, some scheme or scandal he would be involved in that would cause large numbers of Republicans to break with the president. No such luck. Mr. Trump’s corruptions have therefore become theirs. So far there’s been no bottom, and there may never be. It’s quite possible this should have been obvious to me much sooner than it was, that I was blinded to certain realities I should have recognized.

In any case, the Republican Party’s as-yet unbreakable attachment to Mr. Trump is coming at quite a cost. There is the rank hypocrisy, the squandered ability to venerate public character or criticize Democrats who lack it, and the damage to the white Evangelical movement, which has for the most part enthusiastically rallied to Mr. Trump and as a result has been largely discredited. There is also likely to be an electoral price to pay in November.

But the greatest damage is being done to our civic culture and our politics. Mr. Trump and the Republican Party are right now the chief emblem of corruption and cynicism in American political life, of an ethic of might makes right. Dehumanizing others is fashionable and truth is relative. (“Truth isn’t truth,” in the infamous words of Mr. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani.) They are stripping politics of its high purpose and nobility.

That’s not all politics is; self-interest is always a factor. But if politics is only about power unbounded by morality — if it’s simply about rulers governing by the law of the jungle, about a prince acting like a beast, in the words of Machiavelli — then the whole enterprise will collapse. We have to distinguish between imperfect leaders and corrupt ones, and we need the vocabulary to do so.

A warning to my Republican friends: The worst is yet to come. Thanks to the work of Robert Mueller — a distinguished public servant, not the leader of a “group of Angry Democrat Thugs” — we are going to discover deeper and deeper layers to Mr. Trump’s corruption. When we do, I expect Mr. Trump will unravel further as he feels more cornered, more desperate, more enraged; his behavior will become ever more erratic, disordered and crazed.

Most Republicans, having thrown their MAGA hats over the Trump wall, will stay with him until the end. Was a tax cut, deregulation and court appointments really worth all this?

Denis Smith oversaw charter schools when he worked for the Ohio Department of Education. Since he retired, he has documented the numerous instances of corruption that have gone uninvestigated.

The recent collapse of ECOT (Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow), which died while owing the state many millions of dollars for inflated enrollments garnered media attention. But the media ignored the numerous times that legislators accepted expensive gifts of foreign travel paid for by the Gulen charter chain.

Cliff Rosenberger, the powerful Speaker of the House, recently resigned because he had accepted junkets from the payday lending industry.

“Before he left on the series of overseas junkets to China, France, and the UK that sealed his doom, Rosenberger pocketed $36,843 in campaign contributions from ECOT and its founder, William Lager. In 2016, the former speaker served as the commencement speaker for the now-closed charter school in the midst of the Ohio Department of Education audit controversy which ultimately brought down the ECOT empire.

“While all of the current attention about Rosenberger seems to focus on payday lending and foreign travel, there has been zero commentary about a previous all-expense foreign junket the former speaker and several of his fellow Republican legislative colleagues enjoyed just prior to his election as leader of the Ohio House.”

Why is the press alert to the sins of the payday lending lobbyists, but indifferent to the depredations of the charter industry?

Bill Phillis of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy read Denis Smith’s article and posed these questions:

“The Speaker of the House resigned under a dark cloud precipitated by overseas junkets funded by the payday lender lobby. So why didn’t the Speaker resign after taking a trip to Turkey funded by the Gulen Islamic charter school lobby? Would the Turkey junket have had influence on the fortunes of the Gulen charter industry?

“But there is more, ECOT provided the former Speaker with $36,843 in campaign contributions plus commencement speaker perks. Would these “benefits” have had an influence on the way the former Speaker handled charter legislation?

“If the Speaker resigned due to payday lender lobby-funded trips, should there not be an investigation of those who have been fed a steady diet of ECOT campaign funds? These funds were laundered from tax money that should have been used for the education of students?”



Mercedes Schneider writes here about a company that casts its nets widely to profit from money that was intended for instruction.

There is a price to be paid by administrators who betray the public trust. Consider the sad case of Barbara Byrd Bennett, once chancellor of the Chicago public schools, now in prison.





Carol Burris, the amazing and talented executive director of the Network for Public Education, wrote this stunning investigative report on charter fraud in California. It is titled “Charters and Consequences.”

The report details the fraud and financial scams permitted by California’s weak charter law. So weak is that law that it not only tolerates fraud, it encourages it.

As you read the report, you will ask yourself why taxpayers are not outraged. They should be.

Most of the time, scandals come and go and no one remembers them after a day or two. But sometimes scandals cause a seismic reaction. Think Harvey Weinstein. Powerful men have sexually assaulted women in their employ and hoping to be in their employ or just in their proximity for as long as anyone can remember. Despite a number of high profile scandals, the larger phenomenon is ignored. Many people assumed Trump’s gloating about his sexual assaults would doom his campaign but it didn’t. Bill O’Reilly had to leave FOX news, but that passed. The Harvey story has gotten more attention and more outrage than any of the others.

Could the Ref Rodriguez corruption scandal awaken the public to the systemic problem of giving public money to private corporations and individuals without regular oversight and accountability? Could this be the Big One that tarnishes the privatization movement?

Nonprofit Quarterly writes:
“Something is rotten in the world of Los Angeles school board politics.

“Partnerships to Uplift Communities (PUC) charter school network founder and L.A. Unified School District Board member (and, until recently, board president) Refugio Rodriguez faces three felony charges, 25 misdemeanor charges, and conflict-of-interest allegations for laundering money in his school board campaigns in 2014 and 2015. Charges were filed last month by the city’s ethics commission.

“It might seem unusual that a charter school founder (and recent employee) would head the school board for a major city’s public K-12 system, but this was no accident. Rodriguez was part of a slate, “one of four board members who came into power with the strong backing of charter school supporters and who now make up a majority of the seven-member body.” As Rachel Cohen writes for The Intercept, Rodriguez “was backed by the well-heeled charter school movement, which spent more than $2 million to help elect him. This past spring, education reform advocates won three more seats, giving the board a slim pro-charter majority for the first time ever. Rodriguez was then elected board president in July.” After the ethics charges were filed, Rodriguez stepped down as board president, but remains a school board member.

“Then this past Monday, the other shoe dropped and a second investigation was launched. As another Los Angeles Times article explains, “Officials at PUC Schools, a local charter school network, have filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission.”

The filing alleges that Rodriguez, who co-founded PUC, ordered the transfer of about $265,000 from PUC to a nonprofit that appeared to be under his control. An additional $20,000 went to a private company in which he might have owned a stake.

““PUC”, according to the Los Angeles Times, “operates 17 schools in Los Angeles and one in Rochester, N.Y. It is a nonprofit that operates under its own board, with L.A. Unified authorizing its local schools individually.”

“Last Friday, PUC accepted the resignation of Rodriguez’s cousin “senior manager Elizabeth Tinajero Melendrez. In PUC records reviewed by the Times, Melendrez is listed as the person who requested eight of the checks Rodriguez authorized, adding up to nearly $188,000.”

“As NPQ has reported previously, conflicts of interest, or even the appearances of them, put the entire organization at risk of losing its credibility. Jacqueline Elliott, the cofounder of PUC, has distanced herself from the scandal in the media, perhaps hoping to maintain the reputation of the charter network with funders. (Elliott is not under any investigation.)

“A large and complicated web of money and influence has been woven under the feet of Los Angeles’ education leaders. Untangling it will certainly cost the district time and credibility, especially since, as noted above, the balance of the school board recently shifted toward charter school supporters, who strongly supported Rodriguez and who now occupy four of the seven board seats.“

NPQ ends hopefully on the note that “Big money and scandal are not, obviously, necessary or even frequent companions to large charter networks.“

As we have seen time and again, “big money” is indeed a necessary and frequent companion of large charter networks. Whether scandal follows depends on the extent to which there is public oversight of public money.

Given the fact that the charter industry controls the school board in Los Angeles, don’t expect LAUSD to clean its own house. Expect it to join the coverup, even if Ref is thrown off the island as a necessary sacrifice.

Will the public wake up to the waste of their tax dollars? Will this scandal be the one that ignites outrage? Should the public pay $1 Million a year for visas for Turkish teachers? Should the public pay charter CEOs over half s Million a year? Should the public pay for executives at virtual charters who collect millions a year in compensation? Should the public turn a blind eye to the millions from hedge fund managers and other financiers and rightwing foundations that want to privatize public education?

When the editorial boards of the nation’s most powerful newspapers—the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times— consistently defend private and unaccountable charters and support privatization, it makes you wonder how big a scandal is necessary before they wake up and defend the public interest? Do they know they are supporting the agenda of ALEC and Betsy DeVos? Do they care?

In some states, like Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania, charter operators get what they want by making campaign contributions to state legislators and the governor.

Florida is different. The charter operators and members of their families are members of the legislature. They shamelessly engage in self-dealing. You may well wonder: How can this be legal? I don’t know.

This article in the Miami Herald by Fabiola Santiago describes the flagrant abuse of power that typifies charter legislation.

He writes:

“Florida’s broad ethics laws are a joke.

“If they weren’t, they would protect Floridians from legislators who profit from the charter-school industry in private life and have been actively involved in pushing — and successfully passing — legislation to fund for-profit private schools at the expense of public education.

“Some lawmakers earn a paycheck tied to charter schools.

“One of them is Rep. Manny Diaz, the Hialeah Republican who collects a six-figure salary as chief operating officer of the charter Doral College and sits on the Education Committee and the K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

“Some lawmakers have close relatives who are founders of charter schools.

“One of them is the powerful House Speaker, Richard Corcoran, the Land O’Lakes Republican whose wife founded a charter school in Pasco County that stands to benefit from legislation. He was in Miami Wednesday preaching the gospel of charter schools as “building beautiful minds.”

“Other lawmakers are founders themselves or have ties to foundations or business entities connected to charter schools.

“One of them is Rep. Michael Bileca, the Miami Republican who chairs the House Education Committee and is listed as executive director of the foundation that funds True North Classical Academy, attended by the children of another legislator. Bileca is also a school founder.

“These three legislators were chief architects in the passage of a $419 million education bill that takes away millions of dollars from public schools to expand the charter-school industry in Florida at taxpayer expense.

“They crafted the most important parts of education bill HB 7069 in secret, acting in possible violation of the open government laws the Legislature is perennially seeking to weaken. There was no debate allowed and educators all across the state were left without a voice in the process.

“It’s no wonder it all went down in the dark. It’s a clear conflict of interest for members of the Florida Legislature who have a stake in charter schools to vote to fund and expand them. Their votes weaken the competition: public schools.

“This issue has nothing to do with being pro or against school choice. It’s about the abuse of power and possible violations of Florida statutes.

“The bill funds, to the tune of $140 million, an expansion of for-profit charter schools in the neighborhoods of D and F public schools, handing over to the private sector not only public money but allowing and encouraging charter schools to take the best students. In other words, instead of pouring those public resources into struggling public schools, the Legislature is turning publicly funded education into two school systems. In the struggling but also vibrant public system where choice already exists through magnets, there’s oversight and regulations that ensure standards. The charter system — which since its inception has demonstrated quite a range, including well-documented flops — is a free-for-all. Private corporations operating the schools make the rules.”

Read more here:

Jeff Bryant points out an irony that should enrage every taxpayer and citizen: Both major political parties love charter schools, despite the numerous scandals that accompany unregulated, unaccountable charters.

Here is a part of his great piece on the malfeasance that is now commonplace in the charter industry. There are many links:

“Charter schools have become a fetish of both Democratic and Republican political establishments, but local news reports continue to drip, drip a constant stream of stories of charter schools doing bad stuff that our tax dollars fund.

“An independent news outlet in New Orleans, where the school district is nearly 100 percent charter, reports that two homeless children were kept out of class for a month because they didn’t have monogrammed uniforms.
In Oakland, California, a state-based news outlet reports charter school enrollment practices ensure charter schools get an advantage over district schools when academic performance comparisons are made. The advantage comes from charters being able to enroll students who are more “academically prepared” than students who attend district-run schools.

“Oakland charters, when compared to public schools, also tend to enroll fewer students with special needs and fewer students who enter the school year late and are, thus, often academically behind.

“In Arizona, which has a higher percentage of students enrolled in charter schools than any other state, the demographic characteristics of charter school students don’t resemble anything close to what characterize public schools in the state. According to a state based news outlet, “enrollment data show the schools don’t match the school-age demographics of the state and, in many cases, their neighborhoods. White – and especially Asian – students attend charter schools at a higher rate than Hispanics, who now make up the greatest portion of Arizona’s school-age population.”

“In Florida, local newspapers tell of an operator of a chain of charter schools who is charged with racketeering in a scheme to use public education money from the charter operation for his own personal gain.

“The charter operator allegedly used more than $1 million for “personal expenses and to purchase residential and business properties.” The charges include falsely marking up bills for school supplies, inflating student enrollments in grant applications, spending public funds on companies affiliated with the owner, and using school money to pay for plastic surgery and cruises and trips to the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia.

“Next up, a Philadelphia news outlet reports a charter school, unable to pay employee and other expenses due to a dispute with the district over $370,578 in missed payments to the teacher pension system, simply closed shop over the weekend. It’s unclear how parents would have found out about the closure, and teachers weren’t told until late Monday afternoon, in an email, that students would not be returning.

“In Michigan, a charter school recently closed before the school year ended because of a dispute over $640,000 owed to the financial firm supporting the school. Even though the school is closing, it will still get state school aid payments through August.

“A news report from Arkansas tells of a charter school that has been in operation for nine years and has never met proficiency standards established by the state.

“And here’s a California charter school chain that “misappropriated public funds, including a tax-exempt bond totaling $67 million” and “failed to disclose numerous conflict-of-interest relationships.” The charter operator was able to divert $2.7 million of public charter school funds without any supporting documents. Eight different entities the charter operator was associated with benefited from doing business with the schools.

“Public schools are occasionally plagued with similar scandals, but there is an important distinction to be made from public school scandals and what happens in the charter school industry.

“As University of Connecticut professor Preston Green explains to me in an email, much of the malfeasance of charter schools comes from the entities that manage them. Called education management organizations (EMOs) or charter management organizations (CMOs), these outfits “create an agency issue with charter school governing boards that generally does not occur in traditional public schools,” Green explains.

“Public schools do not sign over operations to EMOS,” Green states. “By contrast, EMOs operate 35-40 percent of all charter schools.” And while nonprofit boards governing charters may want to ensure their schools are operating in a fiscally sound manner, the EMOs running the show “have the incentive to increase their revenues or cut expenses,” says Green.

“Those incentives can lead to numerous bad acts including engaging in conflicts of interest or cherry picking students.

“Where is the regulatory function that could intervene in these cases and ensure public tax money is being appropriately spent?

“In the case of the NOLA charter impeding the education of homeless students, a federal law requiring schools to accommodate homeless students was the basis for any grievances. But the state’s charter school regulations consider such treatment of students a breach of contract that warrants the school to only provide the students with the opportunity for make-up work or tutoring. In other words, the consequences are more of a burden for the student than they are for the school.

“In the case of the Oakland charters gaining an edge over public schools because of their enrollment practices, the report that outs the malfeasance notes that state “revenue policies” incentivize charter schools’ bad behavior.

“Charter school closings like we see occurring in Florida, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere are a feature of charter schools, not a bug. An analysis by the National Education Association finds that “among charter schools that opened in the year 2000, 5 percent closed within the first year, 21 percent closed within the first five years, and 33 percent closed within the first ten years.”

“Charter school scandals of the sort we see in Florida and California have become routine occurrences, yet a national organization that ranks state laws governing the charter industry rates Florida in the top ten of its annual assessment of states with the best charter school laws. And efforts to rein in the abuses committed by California charters have been routinely turned back by the state’s governor, Jerry Brown, who started two charter schools in Oakland.

“As for that Arkansas charter school that was able to stay in business despite poor performance, the school has “powerful friends,” according to the reporter. “The Walton Family Foundation, [the charity operated by the heirs of the Walmart fortune,] provided cash infusion to fix [the school’s] red-ink-bathed books. The money was passed through an opaque, unaccountable charter management corporation,” and lobbyists in the state legislature “put the cherry on this hot mess sundae” in support of the school.”