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.

 

 

Lake County Rejects New CSUSA Charter

curriculum plate-413157_1280NOTE: FROM KAREN WEST:  I served on the charter review committee as the “community member” for the second year.  Our strategy was to highlight all the weaknesses in the CSUSA proposal when we presented it to the Lake Cty. School Board in a workshop Sept. 19.  However, we did recommend approval of the application – with strong reservations – knowing that a rejection would then be handled by the appeals committee in Tallahassee which is heavily populated with friends of charter schools.

This vote by 4 of the 5 school board members was a surprise and delight to me!  It may have an impact of the selection of the new superintendent of schools, which will take place after the election of two new school board members.  As a representative of LWVTRI, I serve on that advisory board as well.

Many thanks to Sue M. Legg – chair of the LWVFL Education Committee for providing strong factual information about charter school companies and their financial dealings.

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Washington’s Charter Shell Game and Another Lawsuit

justiceThe League is in a new lawsuit in the state of Washington.  Charters were approved by the voters in 2012, but the League of Women Voters called the move unconstitutional.  The Charter School Case filed by the League et al in 2013 was appealed all the way to the state’s Supreme Court.  In 2015, the Court ruled that charter schools violated the Washington constitution.  Charters were not public schools.  In order for the legislature to fund charters, they must be governed by elected school boards, and of course, they were not.

The  legislature was not deterred.

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Charter School Parents Have No Rights

justiceIn charter schools, parents may have choice but no rights.  What does this mean?  In this brief from the American Bar Association, the rights that parents assume they have are valid for public schools but not charters.  According to recent court decisions in a California Appeals Court and a U.S. District Court in Hawaii, charters have the right to dismiss students in a manner that would be unconstitutional in a regular public school.

As the number of charters grows, charter parents need to beware.

 

 

 

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Charters: ‘Summer of our Discontent’

curriculum plate-413157_1280I just read an exceptionally candid lament from the charter school industry.  In response to a summer of miserable news about the charter movement, Steve Zimmerman, Co-Director of the Coalition of Community Charter Schools states:

The truth is that there have been a slew of scandals…..concentrated in states that, in their haste to provide market-based reforms,  did not provide strong charter oversight and failed to keep foxes out of the proximity of chickens.  

But my greater concern is

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