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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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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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.