Category Archives: Education

Private School Choice Programs Are Growing and Can Complicate Providing Certain Federally Funded Services to Eligible Students

Source: Government Accountability Office, September 14, 2016

What GAO Found:
Participation in voucher and education savings account (ESA) programs, which fund private school tuition and other educational expenses, has more than doubled in the past 5 years, and available information about the characteristics of participating students varies. From school years 2010-11 through 2014-15, the number of students participating in these private school choice programs—which are regarded as an alternative to public schools—grew from approximately 70,000 to 147,000. During that time period, funds provided for students also increased substantially, from approximately $400 million to $859 million, according to GAO’s survey of all voucher programs and ESA programs operating in 2015 and related follow-up. This growth reflects both creation of new programs and expansion of existing ones. GAO’s survey also found that student eligibility is often based on their disability status or family income. However, the information programs have about student characteristics varies and cannot be compared across all programs because of differing data collection methods or definitions for characteristics like race and ethnicity, disability status, and income. Voucher and ESA programs generally placed some requirements on participating private schools, according to GAO’s review of program documents, survey responses, and interviews with program officials. For example, in GAO’s survey, 18 of 20 voucher programs and one of two operating ESAs reported that teachers must meet minimum education requirements, such as having a bachelor’s degree. Similarly, 17 voucher programs and one ESA reported requiring schools to measure student performance, for example, with the same tests required for public school students. Fewer private school choice programs reported that they restrict the admissions criteria schools may use for private school choice students. Private school officials GAO interviewed identified students’ disciplinary or academic history as common admissions considerations. Federal laws and regulations for two key federal education grant programs require public school districts to provide “equitable services,” which may include speech therapy or reading tutors, to eligible private school students, and the Department of Education (Education) provides general guidance on these requirements. However, Education’s guidance does not specifically address providing these services to students participating in private school choice programs. Education officials said they had not received any recent inquiries on the subject, but officials in all four states GAO visited—comprising half of all private choice programs and two-thirds of participating students—said that vouchers and ESAs complicate their efforts to implement these requirements. Further, although Education officials said that a student’s participation in private school choice programs does not affect the federal equitable services requirements, officials GAO spoke to in two states expressed confusion about whether a student’s participation in these programs changed their eligibility for these services. Providing quality information to clarify requirements and responsibilities—including adapting to emerging trends—is a key federal internal control. Providing such information would help clarify how to implement equitable services requirements in the context of growing private school choice programs.

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Unions Enter the World of Online Charter Schools

Source: Michelle Chen, The Nation, September 14, 2016

A new organizing victory at a controversial “cyberschool” offers lessons on how the labor movement fits in the brave new world of “virtual classrooms.” Hundreds of teachers at Agora Cyber Charter school voted overwhelmingly to join the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) in May. The social workers and family coaches are also in the process of a union election, following the unionization of staff counselors. One of Pennsylvania’s largest charters, with some 8,500 online students, Agora has for years been wracked by mismanagement and instability. Unionization is giving the teachers, who work remotely through digital networks, a collective voice in a virtual workplace. … Shadiness has tainted Agora’s virtual schooling model for years. Founder Dorothy June Hairston Brown and other Agora executives were indicted in 2012 on more than 60 federal charges, including financial fraud, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering. The alleged fraud amounted to $6.5 million at three different taxpayer-supported Pennsylvania charters. Pennsylvania’s 14 cyber charters are notorious underachievers, long criticized for lacking public oversight, producing abysmal standardized test scores and maintaining lax grading standards and chronically poor student attendance in virtual classes. On the state’s annual School Performance Profile, Agora has scored below 50 points, out of a passing grade of 70, for the past three years. … Labor law is shifting its attitude toward charter schools as well. After many years of operating in the gray area between public and private, charter schools were deemed to be private government contractors—and thereby private employers—in two recent National Labor Relations Board decisions involving union drives at Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School and the Brooklyn-based Hyde Leadership Charter School. While there are many solid arguments for regulating charters as public institutions, when it comes to labor, teachers deserve the right to organize under state labor law, like regular public schools, or under the National Labor Relations Act governing employees of private enterprises. …

The National Labor Relations Board Says Charter School Teachers Are Private Employees

Source: Rachel M. Cohen, The American Prospect, September 8, 2016

The National Labor Relations Board issued a pair of decisions in late August, which ruled that teachers at charter schools are private employees, therefore falling under the NLRB’s jurisdiction. The cases centered on two schools with teachers vying for union representation: PA Virtual Charter School, a statewide cyber charter in Pennsylvania, and Hyde Leadership Charter School, located in Brooklyn. In both cases, the NLRB concluded that the charters were “private corporation[s] whose governing board members are privately appointed and removed,” and were neither “created directly by the state” nor “administered by individuals who are responsible to public officials or the general electorate.” The NLRB determined that a charter’s relationship to the state resembled that of a government contractor, as governments provide the funding but do not originate or control the schools.

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National Labor Relations Board decides charter schools are private corporations, not public schools
Source: Emma Brown, Washington Post, August 30, 2016

The National Labor Relations Board decided in two separate cases last week that — as far as federal labor law is concerned — charter schools are not public schools but private corporations. The decisions apply only to the specific disputes from which they arose, involving unionization efforts at charter schools in New York and in Pennsylvania. But they plunge the labor board into a long-running debate over the nature of charter schools: publicly funded, privately run institutions that enroll about 3 million students nationwide. Charter school advocates have long argued that charters are public schools because they are tuition-free, open-enrollment institutions funded primarily with tax dollars. But union leaders and other critics describe charters as private entities that supplant public schools, which are run by elected officials, with nonprofit and for-profit corporations that are run by unelected boards that are unaccountable to voters. In its recent decisions, both issued Aug. 24, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Hyde Leadership Charter School in Brooklyn and the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School are — like other government contractors — private corporations that receive taxpayer dollars. … Miscimarra said the board should refrain from becoming involved in any charter school cases: The labor board’s definition of public vs. private is so specific that it must be evaluated case by case, creating unacceptable uncertainty for schools and their employees, he wrote …

Editorial: ‘We are ready’ for the new New Orleans school system

Source: New Orleans Times-Picayune, September 7, 2016

It will take hard work to reunify New Orleans public schools by July 2018, but the Orleans Parish School Board took a major step last week. The board unanimously approved a transition plan Aug. 30 that lays out how charter schools from the state-operated Recovery School District will be blended into the city’s school system. The vote signifies the progress made in the 11 years since Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaches, when the Legislature took the vast majority of city schools away from the School Board to be run by the state. … Lawmakers approved the return of recovery schools to the OPSB earlier this summer. Senate Bill 432 safeguarded charter schools’ independence, forbidding the School Board from interfering in personnel, collective bargaining, contracts, curriculum and other matters. The legislation set up an advisory committee to come up with the transition plan. That group held multiple public meetings this summer to get New Orleanians to help refine the system’s guiding principles.

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Editorial: Hold onto reforms as New Orleans schools move back to School Board control
Source: New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 15, 2016

New Orleanians who have chafed at having most city schools under the control of the state will be able to go to their elected School Board members with concerns again. But the new unified system won’t look like the pre-Katrina version, which was controlled by a massive central bureaucracy. … Once Gov. John Bel Edwards signs the bill, the committee has to come up with a plan to transfer services now being handled by RSD to the School Board. They are vital issues: enrollment, expulsion, truancy, a program for students in psychological crisis. The transition plan is due by Sept. 1, which is a quick turnaround. But the group will continue to meet over the next two years until reunification is complete. … Transitions like this aren’t easy. The RSD had a rough start in the first few years after Katrina as it took responsibility for dozens of schools. But over time, the state figured out how to provide important support to schools. … The legislation provides a good framework for that. But it will be up to the School Board, Mr. Henderson and his staff and individual school leaders to follow through. New Orleanians must hold them to it — and must commit themselves, as they have in the 10 years since Katrina, to ensuring every child has an excellent school to attend. The transformation of education in New Orleans can’t happen without the hard work of all of us.

Governor John Bel Edwards signs bill bringing New Orleans public schools under local control
Source: Jessica Williams, The Advocate, May 12, 2016

Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law on Thursday a bill that will return public schools in New Orleans to local control, and officials named the members of a committee that will guide the transition as it plays out over the next few years. … The bill will start in motion a landmark transition for the city’s schools, most of which are now independent charter schools that fall under the state-run Recovery School District. Beginning in 2018, they will answer to the Orleans Parish School Board, the local body that lost control of a majority of city schools after Hurricane Katrina. …

New Orleans Plan: Charter Schools, With a Return to Local Control
Source: Kate Zernike, New York Times, May 9, 2016

Now comes another big moment in the New Orleans story: The governor is expected soon to sign legislation returning the city’s schools to the locally elected school board for the first time since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Strikingly, that return is being driven by someone squarely in the pro-charter camp, the state superintendent, John White. He is a veteran of touchstone organizations behind the efforts to remake public schools — Teach for America and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and its superintendent training program — as well as the hard-charging charter school efforts in New York City. … To Mr. White, the move to local control is not the retreat it may seem. He argues that it will make New Orleans a new model, radically redefining the role of central school boards just as many urban school districts are shifting increasingly large portions of their students to independently run but publicly funded charter schools. … This new model essentially splits the difference: The schools will keep the flexibility and autonomy, particularly over hiring and teaching, that have made charters most unlike traditional public schools. But the board becomes manager and regulator, making sure schools abide by policies meant to ensure equity and provide broad services, like managing the cost of particularly expensive special education students, that individual schools might not have the capacity or desire to do. …

Questions remain as New Orleans schools prepare to return to local control
Source: Andrew Vanacore, The Advocate, May 7, 2016

A bill now awaiting the signature of Gov. John Bel Edwards would unify the city’s school system under the Orleans Parish School Board by 2018, more than a decade after the state seized control of most New Orleans schools and began turning them over to charter groups, which are publicly funded but privately run. Right now, those schools answer to the state’s school board. By 2018 — or 2019, at the latest — oversight will fall to the OPSB. … In any case, the pairing of a locally elected board with scores of autonomous schools is something that hasn’t been attempted before on this scale. And the unification plan has generated a flurry of commentary from national education experts who have been watching New Orleans closely as a potential model for other struggling urban school systems. It is not just a question of whether OPSB members will try to impinge on how individual schools are run. The board will become the authorizer for all of the city’s charter schools, a role seen as critical in holding schools accountable for producing results and following the law. …

Bill Placing New Orleans Charter Schools Under Local Oversight Passes La. House
Source: Arianna Prothero, Education Week, May 6, 2016

A bill to return the majority of New Orleans’ charter schools to the oversight of the city’s elected school board has passed the Louisiana House of Representatives. Under the legislation, the schools will remain charters run by their own appointed boards, but the Orleans Parish School Board would have the authority to decide whether charter contracts are renewed or schools are shut down. … Today, Recovery School District oversees 52 charter schools while the Orleans Parish School Board oversees six district schools and 18 charters. The RSD would continue to run other charter schools in the state.  Both superintendents from the RSD and OPSB gave input on the bill, according to the Associated Press. A recent poll by Tulane University in New Orleans found that 38 percent of registered voters supported shifting oversight of the schools to the OPSB by 2018, 13 percent indicated the switch should happen even later, while 32 percent said they preferred the status quo. …

Returning New Orleans charter schools to local control a step closer to becoming reality
Source: Mark Ballard, The Advocate, April 27, 2016

… Despite their complaints, the House Education Committee voted 11-2 to advance legislation that would transfer control of 52 public schools — all charters — run by the state Recovery School District for the past decade to the Orleans Parish School Board by 2018, 2019 at the latest. Even with the move, charter schools would retain much of their autonomy. The legislation now heads to the full House. The state Senate already has approved the legislation without a single “no” vote. If endorsed by the House without any changes, the next step for Senate Bill 432 would be for the governor to sign it into law. …

Louisiana Senate Approves Bill to Return New Orleans’ Schools to Local Control
Source: Denisa R. Superville, Education Week, April 21, 2016 (Subscription Required)

A Louisiana Senate bill unanimously approved on Wednesday aims to return schools in the Recovery School District to the local school board by no later than 2019. The bill passed 36-0 and now has to be considered by the House of Representatives.   The measure came just a day after the Cowen Institute For Public Education Initiatives at Tulane University released its new poll of voter perceptions of public education in New Orleans  that showed 38 percent of respondents would like the schools under the Recovery School District to return to the Orleans Parish School Board by 2018. …

Letter to the Editor: More accountability needed for private companies

Source: Tom DeLucia, President of AFSCME Local 287, New Haven Register, September 6, 2016

I, too, am a school custodian, but my employer is the New Haven Board of Education. When I was hired, I had to go to the police station to be finger-printed. There was also a background check to make sure I did not have a criminal record. Employees of private companies do not have to go through the same process we do. That’s one of the problems with outsourcing, but it’s a problem that can be fixed by demanding greater accountability and transparency on the part of the company hired to provide a service.

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Felon arrested on New Haven gun charge worked for company contracted by city schools
Source: Estaban L. Hernandez, New Haven Register, August 2, 2016

A man police identified as a convicted felon facing gun possession charges was working as a supervisor for a company contracted by the school board for facilities services at the time of his arrest last weekend. Jorge Rivera, 35, was arrested Saturday after police said he pointed a stolen gun at another man’s face during an altercation. … Clark said Rivera worked for ABM since 2014. Mitchell Burns, project manager for ABM’s New Haven offices, said Tuesday he couldn’t comment on the matter. Burns declined to confirm that Rivera worked at ABM. Clark said the district has asked ABM to remove Rivera from the staffing they provide the district. Similar to Whaley, Rivera likely had minimal contact with students, if any. The district doesn’t have a say on Rivera’s employment with the company, Clark added. … What’s also unclear is what school facilities Rivera staffed. Clark said ABM supplies the district with more than 150 part-time custodians assigned across the district. Rivera’s duties included reviewing attendance sheets, assigning work and ensuring proper cleaning. …

Pushing Working Families into Poverty: Assessing the New Haven Plan to Privatize the Public Schools’ Custodial Services
Source: Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Political Economy Research Institute University of Massachusetts, Amherst, March 2011

The City of New Haven is considering outsourcing its public school custodial services to a private firm, GCA Services Group, to reduce the City’s projected $42 million deficit for fiscal year (FY) 2011-12. Outsourcing to this firm would cut the cost of the school custodial services in half, saving the City $8.1 million, equal to 19 percent of the deficit. This report assesses the major cuts in wage and benefits that this proposal will impose on New Haven’s currently employed custodians, including their impact on the families of the custodial workers.

The main findings are:
• The GCA Services Group proposed contract to provide public school custodial services would:

○ Reduce the current average wage among the New Haven Public School (NHPS) custodians by 40%, from $20.90 to $12.50 per hour;

○ Replace 186 full-time custodial positions with a largely part-time workforce; at minimum, 2/3 of the new positions will be part-time;

○ Eliminate health insurance benefits, overtime pay and bonuses for all part-time workers; eliminate retirement benefits for all workers.

• These severe pay and benefit reductions would effectively force the 186 lower-to-middle-income NHPS custodians and their families to bear the burden for fully 19 percent ―$8.1 million ―of the city’s projected $42 million budget deficit for FY2011-12. Yet, these 186 families represent less than one-half of one-percent of the 46,000 households in New Haven.

ITT Tech shuts down all its schools; one student says he’s ‘angry times 10 million’

Source: Jim Puzzanghera and Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times, September 6, 2016

The company that operates the for-profit chain, one of the country’s largest, announced that it was permanently closing all its campuses nationwide. It blamed the shutdown on the recent move by the U.S. Education Department to ban ITT from enrolling new students who use federal financial aid. … The shutdown will affect about 35,000 students who were preparing for the start of classes this month. It will also cost more than 8,000 employees their jobs. Those students and others who left the school within the last 120 days would be eligible to have federal loans for their ITT education forgiven if they want to start over at another school, Education Department officials said. … ITT Educational Services Inc. said it would focus on helping its students obtain their records and pursue their educations elsewhere. … The company has operated vocational schools on more than 130 campuses in 38 states, often under the ITT Technical Institute name. Last year, it enrolled 45,000 students and reported $850 million in revenue. … ITT’s closure comes after Corinthian Colleges Inc. shut the doors of its schools and filed for bankruptcy last year. The Education Department agreed to forgive $171 million in loans owed by former students, most of them in California. …

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ITT Tech shutdown creates uncertainty for 40,000 students, 8,000 employeesSource: Robert Channick, Chicago Tribune, September 7, 2016

ITT Technical Institute is ceasing operations at its more than 130 campuses nationwide after the Department of Education cut off access to federal financial aid for new students. The immediate closures by for-profit ITT Educational Services will end the fall quarter before it starts for 40,000 students, and will leave more than 8,000 employees without a job, the Carmel, Ind.-based company said Tuesday. It also raises questions about everything from outstanding student loans to finding a new school. Secretary of Education John King Jr. addressed those issues in a blog post Tuesday. … Last month, the Department of Education banned ITT Educational Services from enrolling new students using federal financial aid funds after it was determined the company was “not in compliance” with accreditation criteria. It also announced stepped-up financial oversight of ITT, building on measures put in place in 2014 due to “significant concerns” about the school’s organization and “financial viability.” In a statement Tuesday, ITT said the federal sanctions were made “with a complete disregard by the U.S. Department of Education for due process,” forcing the decision to close its doors after 50 years. … Citing increased financial risk, the Department of Education told ITT on Aug. 25 the company needed to increase its $94 million surety requirement to more than $247 million, which represented 40 percent of the federal financial aid received by its schools last year. …

Opinion: Charter Schools Are Reinventing Local Control in Education

Source: CHESTER E. FINN JR., BRUNO V. MANNO and BRANDON L. WRIGHT, Wall Street Journal, September 5, 2016

America’s devotion to local control of schools is dying, but it is also being reborn as a new faith in charter schools. These independently operated public schools—nearly 7,000 across the country, and counting—provide a much-needed option for almost three million youngsters in 43 states. … Nor does local control mean what it once did. Some 90 school districts today struggle to educate more than 50,000 students each in systems sprawling over many miles and run by massive bureaucracies. The Houston Independent School District is responsible for 215,000 pupils, Chicago for 400,000, Los Angeles for 700,000 and New York City for more than a million. The governance of these systems doesn’t work well when elected boards have evolved from panels of public-spirited civic leaders into gaggles of aspiring politicians and teachers-union surrogates. … Because these boards function more like nonprofit organizations than political bodies or public agencies, their members need not stand for election. Being generally union-free, they don’t have the headaches of collective bargaining. And with freedom to engage and deploy principals and teachers, and to adjust budget, curriculum and instruction to do their students the most good, charter schools are attracting to their boards selfless citizens and community leaders who see a plausible chance to promote change. The charter phenomenon is also reinventing the school district. Instead of geographically bounded municipal units run in top-down fashion, “charter management organizations” comprise virtual networks—confederations, really—of similar schools that may be located hundreds of miles apart, that mostly run themselves, but that can draw on the organization for expertise and services that individual schools may not be able to muster for themselves. The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) started as a single classroom in Houston and now boasts 200 schools in 20 states. Eva Moskowitz’s high-performing Success Academy began in Harlem and now has 41 schools in four boroughs of New York City. …

New Dining Company Replaces Aramark on Campus

Source: Univeristy of Texas-Tyler Patriot Talon, September 1, 2016

The University has expanded dining options, such as tacos and upgraded convenient store, beginning this school year by hiring a new company in charge of food on campus. The company is called Sodexo and it has replaced the previous leadership of Aramark.  Sodexo is bringing with it better quality and selection in the Met, facility upgrades to the C-Store, later upgrades to Chick-fil-A and Subway, Wholly Habaneros and Einstein Brothers Bagels, University Vice President for Business Affairs and Chief Business Officer William O’Donnell said. … O’ Donnell said the contract with Aramark was expiring and the University had to accept proposals from other interested companies.   “Five companies submitted proposals to operate the UT Tyler dining operation.  The campus was seeking the best option to provide quality food, reasonable pricing and better catering for the benefit of students, faculty and staff,” O’Donnell said.  Sodexo was chosen because there would be no increase in the meal plan rates for students, food quality would improve, its selection and service and quality catering, O’Donnell added. …

ETSU hosts grand opening ceremony for Marketplace cafeteria

Source: Zach Vance, Johnson City Press, September 1, 2016

On Thursday, that request was granted with the grand opening of the reinvigorated Marketplace cafeteria on the third floor of the D.P. Culp University Center. … In April, Sodexo was chosen over Aramark as ETSU’s new food service provider. Sodexo’s bid on the contract included renovations to the dining hall, adjustments to retail operations on campus and extending the dining hall’s hours. … Noland and Shah were joined by Sodexo Vice President Cal Thetford and Marketplace general manager Kelvin Tarukwasha during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the dining hall’s entrance. Aesthetic improvements inside the cafeteria include a larger dining area, an increased number of serving stations and an expansion of seats. Shah said Sodexo made the dining hall appear more welcoming, like a cafe …

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Could this be the end of Aramark? ETSU to end contract with food service provider early
Source: David Floyd, Johnson City Press, September 30, 2015

ETSU sent a notification two weeks ago informing Aramark that the university will end its contract with the company in June 2016 rather than June 2019. This prevents the contract from expiring when the school finishes work on a $41 million renovation to the D.P. Culp University Center in the summer of 2019. … Aramark will be eligible to resubmit a bid to the university when the school issues a request for proposals in January 2016. … The termination of the contract provides the university with a degree of flexibility in the planning process, enabling the new food service provider to have input on the kinds of renovations the university will perform to the Culp Center.

Purdue won’t outsource overwhelmed dining system

Source: Meghan Holden, Lafayette Journal & Courier, August 30, 2016

Purdue University is mulling multiple solutions to feed an influx of hungry students, but outsourcing dining operations is no longer one of them. … Concerns arose in the community last spring after the university hired an outside consultant to study its dining services and recommend necessary changes to prepare for an increased on-campus student population. Outsourcing was one option being considered because it would offer financial incentives, Vice Provost for Student Life Beth McCuskey previously told the Journal & Courier. … Sullivan said the purpose of the dining study was to determine how the university can accommodate and feed the extra students living on campus with the new 800-bed Honors College and Residences, while also shortening lines in the dining halls. The study also took into consideration Purdue’s plans to produce an additional 1,900 more beds in the next few years as part of its goal to increase housing options so at least half of its students can live on campus. … The study, conducted by Envision Strategies, found that Purdue runs an effective dining setup, so the university made the decision to now focus on where and what types of food services need to be added, Sullivan said. … The study still is being analyzed, he said, and a master plan will hopefully be done by the end of the year. …