Charter school collapse? What Should Be Done?

As many of you know, the League in Florida has been urging improvements in charter school business practices.  In this report by professors Baker, Green, and Oluwole, you will find a list of specific charter management problems and recommendations to remedy them.  We checked with Professor Green to see if the for-profit charter business practices we find in Florida correlate with those in the report.  Based on our study, he replied that it appears they do.  I am so grateful for their work.  It gives us a framework.

I hope every school district digests this list.  They can help communicate the solutions for the pending threat for a financial collapse.

 

 

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Charter Industry Poised for Financial Collapse?

The League has closely followed some for-profit charter school management company business practices.  We have reported interrelated companies that profit excessively from various management fees and real estate practices.

The former President of the Senate, Don Gaetz, has called for an end to the ‘self dealing’.  There are other reasons to call for reform.

In this analysis of charter business practices, a paper soon to be released in the Indiana Law Journal, presents evidence that Enron-like related-party transactions to defraud charter schools.  Read the abstract.  This is serious, especially for Florida where the for-profit charter sector is so large.

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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.

Possible Compromise on Corporate Charter and Public School Facility Funding?

David Simmons has an idea that may take wings.  To ease the facility backlog for renovations and maintenance, Simmons proposes SB 604 to increase the 1.5 mills that districts can assess from l.5 to 1.7 mills.  This is still less than it used to be, but it would help generate income to remodel outdated science labs or replace dying air conditioning units.  There is a catch.  In a companion bill, SB 376, Simmons would allocate some of this money to charter schools. Districts do not have to share this funding now.

 

 

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Pay For Charters that Do Not Succeed?

priority-1714375_640The 2015 Florida legislature tied charter capital outlay funds to their academic success.  Charters have privately owned school facilities paid for from public funds.  The new rules would disallow facility funding not only for charters that have consecutive failing grades but also for those with consecutive ‘D’ school grades.  The rule affects thirteen charters with consecutive ‘D’ grades.  Charter owners are protesting. An administrative judge has agreed with them, and they will get their money.  How much?  $408,500 since school began this fall.  Multiply it out and it would be over a million and a half dollars per year for 13 schools.

Let’s think about this.  Charters located in low income areas are given more facility money.  Public schools facility funding located in the same areas has steadily declined for years.   If the State shifts money from publically owned schools to privately owned failing charters, who wins?  Not the children.

Suppose a charter operating in the same neighborhood has a higher school grade than the local public school.  Is the charter doing a better job?  Or, do they enroll fewer children with learning disabilities?  Do they dismiss children who do not ‘fit their school norms’.  Do they draw the children from families at a higher income level?  It is no secret that if you want a higher performing school, select higher performing students to begin with.  This is a process called ‘creaming’.  These schools do not make students better, the students make the schools better.

What does make students better?  more time in school, tutors, support services, and good teachers and principals

Giving charters rent money is a much cheaper way to go.  The problem is that nothing changes for most kids who need a place to go.  School choice just moves children around; they go in circles leading nowhere.  We could fix this.

 

 

 

 

North Carolina Gutting Public Education

cash-burningNorth Carolina has just elected a new governor; will it mean a better direction for public schools?  In this article,    Jeff Bryant from Alter Net takes on the scramble for cash to fund public schools.  A shortage of funding is only part of the puzzle.  The impact of charters on the efficiency of funding for schools is looming large.  The open enrollment policies states are enacting cause a financial planning crisis for public schools.  Not only is it difficult to estimate how many students may shift from one school to another within a district, students now are moving across district lines to charters.  Districts have to send tax dollars to charters whose students may come from somewhere else.

The issue gets more complicated as charters managed by out of state private companies grows.  Many of these are for-profit companies seeking to expand into lucrative markets.  Making money is important to these folks.  Bryant cites work done by Pat Hall and Sue Legg of the Florida League of Women Voters to explain were the profits come from.  Think real estate.  Then Bryant goes on to summarize work by University of North Carolina law professor Tom Kelley who questions the legal and tax implications of these practices.

It is time that we the people take notice.  As my colleague Pat Drago says, ‘School Choice is a diversion, not a solution.’

 

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 is 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.