Category Archives: Charter Schools

Betsy DeVos’ 6-month report card: More undoing than doing

Source: Associated Press, August 10, 2017
 
Since the inauguration of Donald Trump, the news cycle has been dominated by stories of White House controversy: a travel ban, North Korea, health care and more.  Meanwhile, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been busy fulfilling her conservative agenda that seeks to broaden school choice and market-based schooling in pre-K through higher education.  As a researcher of education policy and politics, I’ve been following Secretary DeVos’ first six months in office. Here’s a quick look at what’s she’s done – and what’s been left in limbo. …

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School’s out: Teachers union chief Randi Weingarten says Trump leads “most anti-public-education” administration ever
Source: Chauncey Devega, Salon, August 7, 2017
 
How can public education be saved in America? What role does Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos play in the crisis facing America’s public schools? Why do so many Americans believe in the false promises and lies of school privatization and other neoliberal so-called reforms? How are strong American public schools essential for a strong democracy and robust economy?  In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity. A longer version can be heard on my podcast, available on Salon’s Featured Audio page. …

Betsy DeVos Is Making “School Choice” Toxic for Democrats
Source: Graham Vyse, New Republic, July 26, 2017
 
Trump and DeVos are among the many opponents of public education who, for more than a decade now, have cast school privatization as a civil rights mission, arguing that vouchers and charters extend opportunity to communities of color. Even many Democrats, while maintaining that education is a public good, have bought into this narrative. But last year, the NAACP and the Movement for Black Lives called for a moratorium on charters, with the former saying the schools exacerbate segregation and destabilize traditional public schools (not least by diverting funds away from them). These civil rights groups, the Times reported, “portray charters as the pet project of foundations financed by white billionaires, and argue that the closing of traditional schools as students migrate to charters has disproportionately disrupted black communities.” …

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Is charter school fraud the next Enron?

Source: Preston Green III, The Conversation, April 27, 2017

… As a scholar who studies the legal and policy issues pertaining to school choice, I’ve observed that the same type of fraud that occurred at Enron has been cropping up in the charter school sector. A handful of school officials have been caught using the Enron playbook to divert funding slated for these schools into their own pockets. … Enron’s downfall was caused largely by something called “related-party transactions.” Understanding this concept is crucial for grasping how charter schools may also be in danger. Related-party transactions are business arrangements between companies with close associations: It could be between two companies owned or managed by the same group or it could be between one large company and a smaller company that it owns. Although related-party transactions are legal, they can create severe conflicts of interest, allowing those in power to profit from employees, investors and even taxpayers.

… Without strict regulation, some bad actors have been able to take advantage of charter schools as an opportunity for private investment. In the worst cases, individuals have been able to use related-party transactions to fraudulently funnel public money intended for charter schools into other business ventures that they control. … Fraudulent related-party transactions can also occur between education management organizations (EMOs) and their affiliates. EMOs are for-profit or nonprofit entities that sometimes manage charter schools, and might also own smaller companies that could provide services to those schools. … Because of insufficient oversight, Fastow’s fraudulent use of related-party transactions at Enron was not stopped until it was too late. Similarly, the Ivy Academia and Renaissance Academy examples reveal insufficient checks and balances in the charter school sector. In both cases, the monitors responsible for protecting charter schools found nothing wrong with the rental agreements. …

What a New Study on Vouchers Means for Trump’s Agenda

Source: Leah Askarainam, The Atlantic, April 28, 2017

… But a report released Thursday found largely negative results for students who participated in the District of Columbia’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, suggesting that many of the program’s beneficiaries might actually fare better if they turn down the private-school money.  The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) compared test scores for two groups of students: students who, through a lottery process, were selected to receive vouchers, and students who applied for yet didn’t receive them. The study compared the progress of both groups of students from spring of 2012 to 2014 and found that, a year after they applied for the scholarship, math scores were lower for students who won vouchers. What’s more, after narrowing the pool of students down to those in kindergarten through fifth grade, both reading and math scores were lower for students who won vouchers. …

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A Federal Funding Fight Over D.C. Vouchers
Source: Hannah Hess, Roll Call, Hill Blotter blog, March 17, 2015

Republicans on Capitol Hill are trying to protect the D.C. school voucher system, a GOP pet program championed by Speaker John A. Boehner and others. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Republicans are gearing up to move forward on a bill reauthorizing vouchers in the nation’s capital, an initiative known as the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. They are concerned the White House has again signaled the demise of the federally funded private-school program in its fiscal 2016 budget request…. The president’s budget includes $43.2 million to remain available until expended, a reduction from $45 million in fiscal 2015. The administration wants $3.2 million of the proposed figure to be used for an evaluation of the program…..

Graduation rates up for D.C. public schools, down for charter schools
Source: Michael Alison Chandler, Washington Post, March 17, 2015

D.C. Public Schools’ graduation rate increased last school year by two percentage points, to 58 percent, but the city’s public charter schools recorded a drop of nearly seven points, to 69 percent, according to new data. The citywide average for the Class of 2014 — 61 percent — was almost unchanged from the year before, according to data from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). The city’s graduation rate remains far below the national average of 81 percent….

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The Answer Sheet: What the Public Isn’t Told About High-Performing Charter Schools in Arizona

Source: Valerie Strauss and Carol C. Burris, National Education Policy Center, March 30, 2017

… One of the best illustrations of the “non-public” nature of charters is the much heralded BASIS charter schools that began in Arizona, a state with extremely lax charter laws. A close look at BASIS provides insight into how charter schools can cherry-pick students, despite open enrollment laws.  It also shows how through the use of management companies profits can be made — call hidden from public view. … There is no doubt that BASIS provides a challenging education. What is questionable is just how “public” their charter schools really are. … It is important to keep in mind that BASIS Educational Group, LLC. also known as Basis.ed, is also managing for-profit private schools, and it intends to open more.  These private schools are located in Silicon Valley and upscale neighborhoods of New York City. Could the taxpayers of Arizona, along with all U.S. taxpayers be indirectly subsidizing these schools and their expansion? …

Expanding the Fight for Education

Source: Michael Fiorentino & Jessica Wender-Shubow, Jacobin Magazine, March 24, 2017

Except for some pockets of suburban activism around standardized testing, education policy debate in recent years has centered on cities. In places like Chicago and Boston, grassroots coalitions of teachers’ unions and community organizations are struggling to wrest control of their public schools back from the privatization program backed by hedge-funder owners and their lackeys. Suburbs have distanced themselves from those debates. Even in the recent successful campaign against charter school expansion in Massachusetts, the suburban districts often limited their arguments to protecting their funding. In Brookline, Massachusetts, however, the discussion around schools has been changing. A campaign for fair contracts has drawn attention to how corporate education reform is seeping into the day-to-day operations of affluent schools. …

… More striking has been Brookline’s growing awareness of the composition of its school committee, which is dominated by employees of Bain Capital’s pro-charter, pro-privatization venture philanthropy arm, Bridgespan. Bridgespan’s flagship “Billionaire Dollar Bets” eschew local democratic oversight of family intervention and community development, preferring to enlist billionaires to address poverty directly. Meanwhile, wholesale economic and political dispossession of marginalized communities continues. …

Despite veto threat, Maryland lawmakers send Hogan bill to limit school reforms

Source: Erin Cox, Baltimore Sun, March 28, 2017

Disregarding Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto threat, the Democrat-dominated General Assembly passed a bill Tuesday to forbid the state from using vouchers or charter schools to fix struggling schools. Both the Senate and House approved the bill by veto-proof margins, setting in motion a political showdown with Hogan for the final two weeks of session. …

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Maryland Democrats blast Hogan’s education agenda, likening it to Trump’s
Source: Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun, February 7, 2017

Maryland Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday made their case against a series of state education bills that they say push a “privatization agenda” also championed by President Donald Trump and his controversial new education secretary, Betsy DeVos. Dozens of Democrats joined the state teachers union to decry bills backed by Gov. Larry Hogan that would provide scholarships to private schools and encourage more charter schools in Maryland. They said the Republican governor is following the same philosophy as Trump and DeVos, promoting private and charter schools at the expense of public schools. … Weller criticized Hogan’s plans to increase the amount of tax dollars used to help poor children afford a seat in private schools, as well as to set up a new state panel that would approve applications to open new charter schools, an authority currently held by local school boards. … The teachers union and Democrats rattled off a list of bills they plan to pass and Hogan efforts they plan to defeat this General Assembly session. They’re proposing a bill that would prevent the state from looking to school privatization as a way to comply with a federal law requiring turnaround plans for poor-performing schools. … The Democrats also are mobilizing to block Hogan’s proposal to help charter schools by, among other things, creating a new state board that will review and authorize new charter schools to open. Critics say Hogan can stack the panel with allies who will allow a flood of new charter schools that will siphon funding from public schools. … The Democratic lawmakers said they will oppose Hogan’s promise to gradually increase funding for a private school scholarship program known as Broadening Options & Opportunities for Students Today or BOOST from $5 million to $10 million. …

Teachers at a fifth New Orleans charter school seeking a union

Source: Jessica Williams, The Advocate, March 28, 2017

Teachers are unionizing at another of New Orleans’ independent charter schools. And, as usual, things have gotten contentious. This time, the faculty at Mary D. Coghill Charter School is pushing for union representation. It’s the fifth campus in the past few years where staff have sought to link up with the United Teachers of New Orleans, a union that once bargained for wages and benefits on behalf of thousands of employees before it was sidelined by the charter movement in the years after Hurricane Katrina. …

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National labor board OKs Lusher, International High unions
Source: Danielle Dreilinger, The Times-Picayune, February 1, 2017

The National Labor Relations Board has shot down challenges to two New Orleans charter school unions. That means Lusher Charter School aides and International High School teachers have the right to collectively bargain employment contracts.
The 2-1 board votes came down Wednesday (Feb. 1). … International High plans to appeal the decision, attorney Brooke Duncan III said. … Charter schools are neither fish nor fowl, publicly funded but run by independent nonprofits. The National Labor Relations Board treats them as private employers, which under federal law must bargain with unionized workers. Elected Louisiana school boards don’t. Both schools argued that they should be considered public agencies. … The board’s majority disagreed, writing, “The employer was not created directly by the state so as to constitute a department or administrative arm of the government nor administered by individuals who are responsible to public officials or the general electorate.” …

New Orleans Teachers Discuss The Future Of Unions In Charter Schools
Source: Mallory Falk, WWNO, June 17, 2016

This school year, two high profile New Orleans charter schools attempted to form unions. One voted yes: International High School. One voted no: Lusher Charter School. In light of those votes, teachers around the city shared their perspective on unions since Katrina and where things might go from here. … But schools with unhappy teachers can be harder to organize, because the staff leaves or isn’t asked to return the following year. The higher the churn, the harder to build union momentum.  Masterson says it’s no coincidence that Franklin was one of the first charter schools to unionize. Teachers there tend to stick around. It’s also a standalone charter school – the same as all the schools that have bid for unions so far. They’re much easier to organize than an entire charter network. … But the union victory isn’t assured. Both International High School and Lusher are challenging the union elections, saying the National Labor Relations Board doesn’t have the right to hold elections at charter schools because they’re public, government bodies. …

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Inside Celerity charter school network, questionable spending and potential conflicts of interest abound

Source: Anna M. Phillips and Adam Elmahrek, Los Angeles Times, March 6, 2017

… [Celerity Education Group founder Vielka] McFarlane was prospering, and it showed. She wore Armani suits, ate at expensive restaurants and used a black car service. Financial records obtained by The Times show that, as Celerity’s CEO, she paid for many of these expenses with a credit card belonging to her charter schools, which receive the bulk of their funding from the state. … At a time when charter school advocates are determined to increase the number of such schools in L.A., the story of McFarlane and the Celerity schools offers a case study of the growing difficulty of regulating them. The task of spotting and stamping out risky financial practices in charters largely falls to the school district’s charter schools division, which employs about a dozen people dedicated to monitoring the schools’ fiscal health. But as the number of L.A. charter schools has grown to more than 220, enrolling about 111,000 students, oversight has become a challenge for district officials, who are at once competitors and regulators. … In 2015, McFarlane became the CEO of Celerity Global, an organization that took in millions of dollars in management fees from Celerity’s schools. But Global wasn’t just supporting the schools; it had the power to control Celerity Educational and could appoint and remove the school network’s board members. It also served as a shield. In documents laying out their findings, L.A. Unified officials complained that McFarlane and her staff repeatedly rebuffed the district’s requests for information and acted in ways “designed to reduce, or eliminate, transparency.” … Records obtained by The Times offer some insight into why the Celerity network has drawn federal attention. They show years of questionable spending and potential conflicts of interest over a period of time when former teachers said the schools lacked basic supplies and often leaned on students to fundraise. …

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Federal agents raid Los Angeles charter school network
Source: Anna M. Phillips, Howard Blume and Matt Hamilton, Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2017

Federal agents raided the offices of a network of Los Angeles charter schools Wednesday as part of an ongoing investigation into allegations of fraud and fiscal mismanagement. The charter organization, Celerity Educational Group, opened its first L.A. school more than a decade ago, but it has recently drawn the scrutiny of the inspector general of the Los Angeles Unified School District and the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles. It currently manages seven schools in Southern California, and has ties to four more in Louisiana, all of which are publicly funded but privately operated and exempt from many of the regulations that govern traditional schools. … Holmquist added that it is his understanding that the focus of the investigation is not Celerity’s schools, but the Celerity organization that manages them, as well as businesses that have relationships with the charter group. … The first signs that Celerity and its Los Angeles schools might be in trouble came in 2015. The organization had petitioned L.A. Unified to allow it to open two new charter schools, an application process it had gone through successfully several times before. But this time, L.A. Unified’s school board said no. School district officials raised new concerns over the charter school organization’s finances and its complex governance structure. In their final report, in which they advised board members to reject the group’s charter petition, they accused Celerity’s leaders of unorthodox fiscal practices, such as borrowing money from one school in order to pay another schools’ bills, spending money on expenses unrelated to the school and commingling the organization’s finances with those of separate legal entities. …

School District investigation shows failed charter school bus inspections
Source: Jim Spiewak, NBC2, June 1, 2015

Back in April dozens of students escaped a bus after it caught fire – a quick thinking bus driver saving their lives. Now we know the company that operated that bus — had eleven other buses fail inspection. The reports obtained by NBC2 show emergency equipment that didn’t work, gauges and wipers that were out of service and front and back breaks that needed replacing. Academy Transport owns those buses. It was hired by Celerity Education Group – which runs three Charter Schools in Lee County. The report of the bus that caught fire still has not been produced. These are not District owned or maintained buses. Charter schools contract with private bus companies to take kids to and from school. Since the beginning of April, Celerity, has avoided providing us with bus inspection reports. ….

NBC-2.com WBBH News for Fort Myers, Cape Coral

Missouri House approves increase charter school funding

Source: Ryan Matheny, KMA Land, March 17, 2017

Legislation that would expand charter schools in Missouri has passed one side of the General Assembly. By a narrow 82-to-76 margin, the Missouri House approved HB-634 — sponsored by Republican Rebecca Roeber of Lee’s Summit — which would allow charter schools to be established throughout the state. Currently, charter schools — which are publicly-funded and tuition-free schools that operate independently of the public school system — are only allowed in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas. … Many Republicans in the House backed the bill because it increases choices for education, while opponents hold that the state cannot hold the schools accountable. … Governor Eric Greitens has already signaled support for the proposal. The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration, where a similar proposal is already in committee.

Kentucky Lawmakers Approve Charter School Law

Source: Lesli A. Maxwell, Education Week, March 15, 2017

After years of failed attempts, Kentucky lawmakers have approved a charter school law. The measure passed the state Senate on a vote of 23-15 Wednesday afternoon, largely along party lines. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin—an enthusiastic supporter of charters—is expected to sign the measure. The Kentucky House approved the bill—HB 520—last week and will still have to sign off on changes made by the Senate. … Kentucky has been one of the hardest places to pass a charter law, but with the 2016 election, Republicans in the state took control of the legislature and the governorship, clearing the way for a charter bill to succeed. The bill says nothing about how charters in Kentucky will be funded. Under its provisions, there will be no limit on the number of charter schools that can be authorized. … And while the bill says that parents, community members, public organizations, school administrators, and nonprofits can apply to operate a charter school, there is nothing in the legislation that prevents charter school operators from contracting out all of their management and operations to a for-profit entity. …

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Charter Schools Bill Could Start Moving Soon in Legislature
Source: Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press February 28, 2017

A charter schools bill remained stuck in committee as Kentucky lawmakers reached the two-thirds mark of their legislative session Tuesday, but the highly anticipated measure backed by Gov. Matt Bevin could start advancing later this week. House Education Committee Chairman John “Bam” Carney said his bill paving the way for public charter schools to open in Kentucky could be heard by his committee on Thursday. … Carney said he’s optimistic about the bill’s chances in the Republican-controlled General Assembly, but acknowledged the bill has drawn “fairly strong” pushback from some in education. … In past years, bills called for charter schools to be introduced as pilot projects. Carney’s bill would open up the opportunity for public charters statewide. … Prospects for charter school legislation improved dramatically when the GOP took control of the House after last year’s elections. In the past, charter schools bills died due to lack of House support when Democrats ran the chamber. The Senate is solidly controlled by Republicans. Under Carney’s bill, public charters could be exempt from some state education regulations but would comply with the same testing, safety, finance and transparency regulations as other public schools, he said. … If Carney’s bill becomes law, Kentucky would become the 44th state nationally to allow public charter schools, according to the Kentucky Charter School Project, an advocacy group.

Calls for Charter Schools in Kentucky Renewed
Source: Mike Pickett, Tristatehomepage.com, February 9, 2017

Kentucky lawmakers are back in Frankfort, and the issue of charter schools is back in the forefront. Governor Matt Bevin is calling for charter schools to become a reality in the Commonwealth. “Charter schools are coming to Kentucky,” Gov. Bevin said during his speech Wednesday night. He renewed the call for the schools in his State Of The Commonwealth address, in one of seven states still without them. … A house bill, HB 103, allowing for charter schools to be established here is the latest effort to bring them to Kentucky. The charter schools get public funding, but are run by groups independent of local school districts. In his address last night, Governor Bevin says the current education system in Kentucky isn’t doing as well as it could be. … The House bill isn’t the only one lawmakers will be considering. A separate bill filed in the senate will allow pilot charter schools in the Louisville and Lexington areas.