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  This is still less than it used to be, but it would help generate income to remodel outdated science labs or replace dying air conditioning units.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.

 

 

 

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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