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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Single Gender Charters in Trouble

boy-160168_640Duval County has four single gender charter schools; two for boys and two for girls.  Evidently, there are just not enough parents to make them viable.  Total enrollment for the four schools is 349 middle and high school students.  It is not enough, the schools are $333,000 in debt.  Staff cuts are being made and donors are being sought.

Superintendent Vitti doubts the non-profit management company, Profectus Learning Systems,  operating the schools can survive.  He said that even with cuts in staff, debts are likely to grow.  The schools may not be able to provide the required academic programs.

Many people like the idea of small schools.  Some children simply do better with more personal attention and less distraction.  Others thrive on the diversity and opportunities larger schools provide.  Providing an affordable balance is difficult.  Similar problems are  occurring in other communities where charters and private schools siphon off students from local public schools.  Soon, all schools are small and underfunded.

 

Who Controls Our Schools?

by Carole Hentscel

power-money-trap-5441169This is a profound piece of writing by the Independent Media Institute, read the complete report listed (e-book ).  It asks, I think, are we playing a shell game with education dollars by diverting them to charter chains, testing companies and construction?
pg 29 & 30  Tampa- addresses Charter Schools USA using tax exempt bonds to acquire land and build schools, but then its related management company rented those facilities back at exorbitant prices.  Charter Schools USA charged 5 percent management fee to local Charter School operators, but siphoned off 23 percent of one school’s budget  reported by local CBS TV affiliate.
pg 33 “Despite myriad reports detailing many conflicts of interest and examples of profiteering state legislators and congress have imposed few additional transparency and accountability requirements in Florida, Texas and California”.
pg 38 Recommendations:
1.  A moratorium on charter expansion
2.  Audit and account for all public funds granted to date
3.  Subject charter boards to public meetings and open records laws.
4.  Ban founders from hiring relatives and firms where they have ownership stakes.
5.  Require more evidence based school practices to obtain federal funds.
6.  Adopt national standards for competitive bidding and contracting by charter boards
7.  Restore elected/appointed school board oversight of charters in their district.
8.  Enforce open and inclusive enrollment practices.
9.  Require charter trade associations to disclose political donors and activities.
10.Ban on-line charters.  Except for carefully overseen pilot projects within districts, with clear evaluation, assessment, and sunset provisions, on-line charters must be abandoned.
The privatization of American public education in carefully explained in this just released report.  How a group of billionaires has aggressively pushed to privatize the traditional public school system is outlined step by step.

 

 

 

Unequal Access to Charters: It is Illegal!

directory-466935_1280Subtle and direct violations of law have been documented in charter admissions policies.  Empty seats are supposed to be filled by lottery.  Yet, which student applications make it into the lottery is frequently questioned.  For example, some parents and/or students are required to submit essays.  Or, parents may be required to certify they will contribute a certain number of hours or donate money to cover school fees.  If all else fails, charters may counsel parents that their child may not fit ‘the mission of the school’ and practice constant suspension for trivial offenses to discourage unwanted children.

In this article released by the ACLU in California, and reported by Education Justice, an expose of wide spread civil rights violations is reported.

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Charters are the Cheap Choice, not the Best Choice

power-money-trap-5441169Today’s New York Times urges the NAACP to oppose a moratorium on charter schools.  The NAACP does not want to settle for second best.  The Times argues that while some charters are mismanaged, well run charters are a better option for struggling students.  This is a weak argument and one wonders if it is really a political one.  Who benefits?

 

 

 

 

 

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FINALLY! U.S. OIG Issues Charter Management Problems Alert

cash-burningThe U.S. Inspector General has recognized the serious nature of the charter management problems.  The League of Women Voters has been calling for  better transparency and management oversight for several years.  Now, the federal government has joined us—-well, a part of the federal government.

It is one step toward better accountability for our tax dollars.

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The League in Action on For-Profit Charters

by Pat Hall and Sue Legg

money-40603_1280Pat Hall and her League committee have been digging deep.  They want to understand where tax money goes when charters are managed by for-profit companies.  There is gold in those excavations.  Unfortunately, the children are not profiting.  This report is detailed and was given to the League Board.  For those of you with a head for business, it is worth careful scrutiny.  You will see why the League is so concerned about the free wheeling charter industry.  Key points follow.  Read more to really understand the business process.  It is your money, and it is a lot of money, that is not being spent on students.

ANALYSIS OF CHARTER SCHOOL USA REAL ESTATE BUSINESS PRACTICES

 Florida now educates more than 230,000 students at more than 650 publicly funded charter schools.  While many of these schools are providing good educational opportunities, we have found that the fundamental structure of the for-profit management companies, specifically Charter Schools USA, must be questioned.  The following outline summarizes a very detailed report given the LWVF Board this past summer. 

1.      CSUSA has six non-profit school boards that operate 49 schools in 12 urban counties in Florida.  Additionally, CSUSA operates 17 schools in 6 other states.

2.      The six governing school boards cover the 49 charters and are run by CSUSA; they are not independent of the management companies.

3.      Inter related affiliated businesses include Red Apple Development, Ryan Construction Company, the Florida Charter Education Foundation and Connex (curriculum software).  Furthermore, we found over 300 limited liability companies (LLCs) initiated by CSUSA. 

4.      Facilities financing incorporates all aspects of land acquisition, site clearing, construction, bond financing and multimillion dollar lease fees.  CSUSA charges the Hillsborough County School district at one of their four schools more than $30/square foot, significantly higher than downtown Tampa skyscrapers!

5.      Tracking expenditures of taxpayer monies is impossible due to for-profit business practices which are not transparent.

6.      Long term lease agreements, after flipping (changing deeds from one related company to the next) from Ryan Construction to Red Apple Development, are charged out 40 years, and charge rent and interest amounts on top of the lease payments.  Most CSUSA lease fees in Hillsborough County take 25% of all taxpayer dollars designated for educating children.  Some are even higher.

7.      Another 13% to 15% is charged by CSUSA for management fees, hence 40% of public money is not spent instructing children.  State auditors have questioned how these costs are reported.

8.      Evidence exists of real estate “flipping” by CSUSA in Hillsborough County.  This results in new real estate appraisals to increase value.  Lease and rent costs use these values to justify cost charged to charter budgets.

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Feds Give Florida Charters Big Boost

Flodollar-726881_1280rida already has over 650 charters schools which have not made a dent in the achievement gap or any other desirable goal.  Yet, the federal Department of Education awarded more charter start up money to Florida than to any other state.  This  $58,454,516 million goes to start schools, share leading practices in theory to improve educational outcomes for students in high need communities.  A three year study of previous federal startup charters in Florida, conducted by the Collaborative Assessment and Program Evaluation Services (CAPES) at the University of Florida, makes one wonder why Florida was given so much more money.  The CAPES study found no academic achievement advantage for the charters, and where differences occurred, they favored traditional public schools with similar student populations.  There were moreover, some serious problems in these federally funded schools.  When teacher attrition was compared with traditional schools, two to three times as many teachers left the charters during the school year than at regular public schools.  The impact on those children could not have been positive.  It has already been documented that teachers are more likely to leave charters due to lower salaries and lack of benefits.  To have high attrition in the middle of the year indicates something more must be happening.

There is no explanation why Florida received no funding for recognized high quality charters.  One wonders why so few of these ‘high quality’ charter management firms even operate in Florida.  Of course, there is the other obvious question about any charter.  What makes them high quality?  Is it that they too often tend to recruit more ‘promising’ students and push out those that do not live up to expectations?  Do they have substantial funding from the private sector to be able to support extended days, tutoring and behavioral services?  We read mostly from the political sector that more money does not improve quality, but in some cities like New York, it gives the appearance of quality.  It is easy to be duped by fresh paint and laptops.