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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Suspension Happy Charter Schools

childrenCharter schools represent 7% of New York City’s school population  but 42% of all student suspensions.  Of the top 50 schools with high suspension rates, 48 were charters.  These schools are clustered in the heart of black communities in Harlem, Crown Heights, Brownsville and Brooklyn.  The problem extends far beyond New York.  Parents are pushing back.

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Local Control Issue Finds Tennessee

by Anne-Marie Farmer

in the Voter from Nashville League of Women Voters

In response to the Nashville school board’s denial of the Great Hearts Academies charter application, the Tennessee legislature passed the state charter authorizer law, which gave the State Board of Education (SBOE) the power to authorize and oversee a potential charter school whose application was rejected by the local school board. Last year, the SBOE used this authority for the first time, overriding a decision by local officials in Nashville to deny the application for an additional KIPP charter school. That means that, while the funding for the additional KIPP school will come primarily from local funds, the school will not be under the supervision and authority of the local school district, but instead be accountable only to the SBOE. Another charter appeal, currently pending before the SBOE, will test whether the SBOE intends to expand its role in opening charter schools over the objection of the local school district.  This is an important test.

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PBS Airs Show on Florida Education

From Pat  Hall

 

florida-this-weekPat wanted you to know about a special edition of Rob Lorei’s Florida This Week.  This show is on education and airs THURSDAY (not the usual Friday show) at 9 PM on PBS.  One of the panelists is Liana Fox who reports that she plugged the League’s work on charter schools.  Here is a link that lists the rest of the  impressive line-up.

The PBS station airs in the Hillsborough County area.

Charters: Deregulation has gone too far!

business-257880_1280In a new brief, William Mathis, head of the National Education Policy Center, argues that market based accountability for charter schools just does not work.  At first glance, Florida’s policies are better than in some states.  There are, however, some fatal flaws.

He makes the case for better oversight and regulation.  His recommendations take a national perspective and include these general process requirements:

authorizers, those who approve charter contracts, control the criteria for granting charters and the length of time charters are in effect.  Authorizers (in Florida, are the local school boards) must also specify the accountability mechanism for charters, and the state should fund oversight. 

The basic difference between Florida’s policy and this recommendation is that in Florida, districts are the authorizer of charters, but they have little control over the criteria charters must meet and little access to information about charter fiscal policies and practices.  The State legislature defines criteria for granting charters which are so broad that districts are not able to designate which charters are needed and actually are innovative.

The Florida Department of Education and the State Board of Education hold the reins of power.  Thus, oversight is by design, minimal.  No one ‘close to the store’ is watching what is going on behind the scenes.  Even many charter school oversight boards have little knowledge of school practices.  The press and whistleblowers ferret out problems that fester.

The brief also addresses operational policies i.e.:

Governance including budget, admissions procedures, discipline practices, and civil rights protection should be transparent.  Annual reports and audits must be publically available and facilities must meet building codes and inspections.  Staff background checks should be required.

Again, these recommendations, on the surface, are mostly met in Florida’s charter school policies.  Annual audits are  required.  Admission lotteries for vacant seats are mandated.  Monthly budget reports are available.  What is missing?  Basically two loopholes, aa mile wide, exist.  The first problem is that there is no corrective action for fiscal mismanagement that does not reach a crisis level or for lapses in operations that impact which students enroll, retention of teachers, or suspension or dismissal of students.

The second problem is the lack of transparency that for-profit charter management firms enjoy.  Budgets of their charter schools lack the detail of where and how money is spent.  These companies control the entire budget, but financial records of for-profit privately run companies are shielded from public view.  Thus, the public has access to charter school facility costs, for example, but no access to how these costs are generated.  In some cases, it is like giving a blank check that may be nearly half of the budget without explanation of where the money ended up.

The one consolation in all of the exposure of charter mismanagement is that it is now becoming part of the public discussion about school choice.  Privitizing schools may give the appearance of facilitating innovation, but the reality is too often that it results in the loss of public trust.

John Oliver on Charter Schools

oliverLast week tonight  with John Oliver (HBO) featured charter schools.  He sums  it up.  He does not engage in the discussion about charter quality.  Instead, he goes into the management and oversight.  This is our song.  You can see it here.   It is a strong message.  He mentions Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania specifically.

The Racial Divide in Charters

directory-281476_1280Today’s New York Times delves into the divide within communities over charter schools.  The NAACP is calling for a moratorium on charters because they are increasing not only the racial divide but also the economic divide.   Charters in some cities, particularly cities with fewer charter schools as in Newark, Boston or Washington tend to do better than in cities with many charters, but as the number of charters increases, achievement decreases.  The reasons become clear:

Charters are viewed by some parents as an ‘escape’ from schools that must serve children with discipline and other emotional problems.  Charter educational programs may be no better than in traditional schools, but ‘problem’ students are either screened out or suspended.  Suspension rates are higher in charters and disproportionately impact minority students.  Achievement for those who remain may rise giving the appearance of being better.

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When is Poor Really Poor?

raccoon-1510501_640Which children do charter schools serve?   Students are identified based on their demographics including free and reduced lunch (FRL) status.  Yet, half the student population in Florida qualifies.  FRL status may just mask what is really happening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Children who qualify for FRL are not all alike.  Nearly half of the FRL children, about 950,000 live in deep poverty.  The difference is between families of four earning about $47, 000 vs. about $24,000 i.e. those who qualify for reduced cost lunch and those who qualify for free lunch.  How many truly poor children attend charters?

Remember the post about Duval County charters?  Between  2013 and 2014, the percentage of students classified as economically disadvantaged dropped in most cases about  30%.  The reason was a change in the definition of economically disadvantaged by their charters.  Skewed enrollment in charters has become a civil rights issue.

In  a report from the August 14th New York Times, 14% of all children persistently qualify for free lunch (not reduced cost lunch) over time.   A University of Michigan study shows the achievement gap of the persistently poor is a third larger than generally reported by NAEP and other measures.  Grouping children in FRL together masks the real achievement gap between lower and higher income groups.

In Florida, 24% of all children fall below  the federal poverty level. This includes about 950,000 children below the age of 18. Another 25% qualify for reduced lunch.  These are not just statistics.  They are real children with lives complicated by the trappings of poverty.    If charters are ‘skimming’ students from the public schools, their percentage of students who qualify for free lunch not just for reduced cost lunch, will be much lower.

Charters are supposed to find innovative ways to solve academic problems.  They may just be masking them. It is time to take the mask off and see which children are being served.

 

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