Florida Fraud Reaches Ohio or vice versa

We have posted the Newpoint charter education management story of fraud and corruption previously. It spread from Bay County, Florida to Pinellas and included 15 charters. It’s a story of fake courses, fiscal mismanagement and out right fraud. School leaders face a criminal trial. Now it appears that the same company reaches into Ohio.

Sometimes it is difficult to keep track of these companies. They organize in small groups with different names. In Florida, they are Newpoint; in Ohio their nineteen schools are called Cambridge. They share leadership, and it is not yet clear how much else. At issue are kickbacks for high priced merchandise, misuse of federal charter school expansion funds, grand theft, racketeering, fraudulent invoices, overcharging families for uniforms…the list goes on.

It’s instructive to note that this is really a conspiracy. Here’s a list of their associated companies: Apex Learning; Consolidus, School Warehouse, Red Ignition, and Epiphany Management Group. They are all intertwined. Even worse, this charter organization was formed when the organizers left White Hat charter management firm. It had collapsed due to fraud uncovered in Ohio several years ago.

We in the League and others have asked for better regulation and oversight. Leaders, particularly in the Florida House, seem deaf to the calls. Of course several key legislators have direct ties to their own charter schools.

You can read the Ohio story here.

An uneasy feeling: It is happening here.

Will teacher certification standards tumble? Have you followed the story about SUNY’s (State University of New York) charter committee program to ‘certify’ teachers? It’s the anybody can teach approach.

With four hours of instruction by a qualified teacher holding a Master’s degree, a new teacher can become certified. You can check out the proposed New York regulations. Is it happening in Florida? Well….take a look.

Buried in HB 7069 is the teacher mentor program. For Florida district schools, teachers who hold temporary certificates and achieve a ‘highly effective’ rating do not have to sit the Professional Education Test (PET) or take additional course work.
Charter schools and charter management companies can certify their own teachers with ‘competency based programs’. They just have to have DOE approval for these programs.

The details and standards of these alternatives approaches to certification must be provided by the Florida DOE by December 31st, 2017. Districts and charters must submit their programs for approval by June, 2018.

The legislation clearly intended to improve retention of beginning teachers. Many begin teaching with temporary certificates, and about one third leave the profession without having completed the certification requirements. Four percent of district teachers leave each year, and ten percent of charter teachers leave.

Why is the charter school teacher attrition so high—low salaries, lack of retirement benefits and no teacher mentoring programs, according to a University of Florida study.

The legislature decided to fix the mentoring problem in HB 7069. See page 49. The impact of this provision could have ominous implications. The teacher shortage is real and is likely to become worse. The legislature is responding to a real problem by trying to find ways to certify teachers ‘on the job’. This has consequences that cannot be ignored.

Will small charters certify their own teachers? Will for-profit charter chains manipulate their own certification process to maintain teachers with questionable competence? Will districts maintain standards when faced with shortages? How will anyone know?

Everything is about saving money. How far down the road of lower standards will we have to go before the State recognizes that this piecemeal policy has disastrous consequences and does not address the problems we face? I remember a State Board of Education member telling me that “Teachers don’t teach for money; they teach because they love it.” Wishful thinking. Teachers have to eat too.

The Free and Reduced lunch income qualification for a family of four is 1.85 times the poverty level income or about $45,000. After twelve years, a Florida teacher average salary is $45,723. It just could be that it takes more than love to teach.

Downgrading certification standards will not contribute to the ‘love factor’, nor will it improve the quality of our schools. What are we willing to do about it? We need a continuing chorus that reaches the ears of those who do not listen carefully.

NAACP Report: A Must Read

The NAACP called for a moratorium on charter school expansion. The newly published report gives the reasons why. Charters, however well an individual school may operate, have system failures that threaten our entire public school system.

Robert Runcie, Superintendent of Broward County says that they have closed 30 charters since he has been there. Hillsborough’s experience with alternative charters was described by Albert Fields, NAACP representative, as …”the warehouse on the way to prison.’

Issues of Access and Retention: Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuit against New Orleans charters
Concerns about Quality: 2500 charters have closed since 2001. Forty percent closure rate.
Issues Accountability and Transparency: Points include: Extreme variations in salaries and expenditures in charters, lack of parent access to management; disruption of charter closures
Transportation Challenges. In Detroit, “We have created school deserts.” As charters increase, neighborhood schools close. Charters locate in more desirable areas; thus many parents are faced with major transportation problems to get their children to school.
For Profit Charters. “For-profit operators have no business in education…(Our kids) are not assets and liabilities and should not be treated as such.”

Whatever individual charters accomplish, the system failures diminish. The NAACP calls for more equitable funding and investment in the education of students in low performing schools. Districts should be the sole authorizers, and they should be empowered to reject applications that do not meet standards, and establish policies for serious and consistent oversight. For-profit charters should be prohibited, including those that send money from non-profit charters to for-profit management companies. Allowing for-profit companies to operate charter schools is an inherent conflict of interest.

http://www.naacp.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Task_ForceReport_final2.pdf

NEA Has New Charter School Position

“Charter schools were started by educators who dreamed they could innovate unfettered by bureaucratic obstacles”, said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. “Handing over students’ education to privately managed, unaccountable charters jeopardizes students success, undermines public education and harms communities.”

There are ways to provide flexibility to ensure charters have a positive role in meeting the needs of children. NEA lays out three criteria:

  1. Charter schools must be authorized by and held accountable to democratically elected local school boards. Locally elected school boards are the only way to ensure charters actually meet student needs in ways that the district cannot.

  2. A charter must demonstrate that it is necessary to meet student needs in the district and that it meets the needs in a manner that improves the local public school system.

  3. The charter must comply with the same basic safeguards as other public schools. This includes open meetings and public records laws, prohibitions against for-profit operations and profiteering, civil rights, labor, employment, health and safety laws, staff qualifications and certification requirements as other public schools.

There is a growing consensus that charters are overextended and inadequately supervised. This is a result of the reluctance of school reformers who are not willing to apply common sense policies to control the excesses that go along with the unbridled competition where no one wins.

Massive Last Minute Education Bill Emerges

A new mega bill HB 7069 for education was released last night–278 pages long.   It combined provisions from other bills.  The funding is dismal; for most districts there will be less money next year.  Local district capital outlay funds do not increase and must be shared with charters which seriously harms districts.

Other provisions impact teacher bonuses and scholarships and expansion of charter schools by taking over schools in low income areas without requiring district oversight.

Testing and accountability have minor changes–Algebra II EOC is no longer required and the testing window is pushed back by allowing paper and pencil test for grades 3-6.  Districts may determine data for teacher evaluations.

Schools of Excellence and Schools of Hope are created.  It seems as though current state regulations now apply only to schools earning a grade of ‘B’ or ‘C’.  The others are granted flexibility.   The logic is flawed there.  The needs for the middle (or most students) are ignored.

For more detail, continue reading.

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A Good News Bill

A rational voice has filed a charter school bill.  SB 0538  Clemons. 

Charter School applicants must demonstrate that they meet certain needs that the school district does not, or is unable to, meet and share results of innovative methods with the district. 

This is the number one recommendation in the League’s study of charters.  The premise that competition between districts and charters would improve public education has proven to be not only wrong, it is destructive.  The bill responds to the fiscal irresponsibility of unfettered expansion of charters.  This is one of our themes:   School choice means all schools are under funded.  Too many schools competing for the same students dilutes funding required to meet even basic student needs.  Everyone loses.

Louisiana Court Rules State Charters Unconstitutional

In Florida, charters are generally authorized by local school boards.  In some states, charters are authorized by local districts, universities, state boards or even cities.  This is part of the continuing struggle over control of public schools.  Florida’s legislature has tried to create state charter review boards, but the resistance is strong.

 

 

Continue reading

New Mexico: Charters Need Regulation

new-mexico
by Meredith Machen
LWVNM has a new charter school position that shows where we stand. We need to stand together to fight all attempts to drain essential resources from traditional public schools!
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LWVNM Charter School Regulation Position

Adopted by the LWVNM Board, November 12, 2016

The League of Women Voters of New Mexico believes that every student should have access to a high quality, publicly funded education regardless of race, ethnicity, family income, or geographical location.  The League believes in accountability, transparency, and equity in the use of public funds for education.

 Charter schools are discretionary programs intended to fill unmet needs and/or to test innovative instructional strategies to produce quality educational outcomes. Policy makers must ensure that adequate funds are available for traditional public schools and define how charter schools fill unmet needs.  Appropriate instructional and support services must be provided to meet the diverse needs of individual students in both traditional public and charter schools.

Regarding the mission of charter schools, the LWVNM believes the following:

  • A charter school should not be authorized unless

its mission would serve a need the traditional schools cannot;

funds are available;

there is a demonstrated need based on student population projections.

  • New Mexico should provide flexibility and supplemental funding for magnet programs and career academies within traditional public schools.
  • Charter school innovations demonstrated to be effective should be disseminated to improve the traditional public education system.
  • The state should establish a closure policy revoking the contract of a charter school that fails to meet minimum academic, financial, and organizational standards for two consecutive years or for two of the three most recent years.

 For the sake of assuring accountability and transparency and minimizing the fiscal impact, LWVNM recommends the following:  

  • A charter school’s finances should be available for public scrutiny, and budget processes should be similar to those for school districts, which require the public to be provided with an opportunity for input into decision-making.
  • Charter school governing council members should adhere to standards and best practices as delineated by the NM School Boards Association.
  • Funding to state-chartered schools should minimize the amount allocated to for-profit management and business operations with oversight provided by state-approved auditors.
  • The school funding formula should be equitable so as not to advantage charter schools over traditional public schools. 
  • NM should develop an effective performance-based accountability system for charter schools focused on increased proficiency, academic growth, and college/career readiness standards to ensure that charter schools demonstrate positive student outcomes. Charter schools that do not meet the established benchmarks should be put on time-limited improvement plans and not allowed to increase enrollment until they have met the benchmarks.

 

LWVNM believes that public funding for virtual schools should be less per student since the schools do not require brick and mortar facilities.

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For more information about the League’s formal two-year comprehensive Charter School Regulation Study and how this position was determined through research and member consensus, please contact president@lwvnm.org. This position will be incorporated into LWVNM’s complete Education position available at http://lwvnm.org/positions.html#education.

 

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