Last 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.
Which states get it right? Not Florida. It was one of eight states that received an overall grade of ‘F’ when its grades were averaged across the categories studied. The Network for Public Education rated states based on six criteria.
For each category, I combined the percentages of A, B and C grades received across states. I was surprised at the results. Relatively few states (11) use test scores to punish students and teachers, but Florida is one of those that do. You can see the combined percentages (think of them as passing scores) at the end of each of the criteria.
Florida has charter fraud problems and so does Ohio–among other states. Privatization of schools opens up opportunities for profiteering without oversight. The federal government has finally gotten involved in the Ohio charter scandals. It took awhile. They are holding up a $71 million grant to they had awarded to expand charters. This is one of those scandals from which the Governor cannot hide.
The exploitation by charter school management companies in Ohio makes Florida look not quite so bad. Understanding the problems and the difficulty of correcting them is essential. Ohio citizens got the message and acted. Their legislature finally approved a strongly opposed measure to hold charter management companies more accountable. For one thing, they now have to disclose how they spend all the money that is transferred to them from the charter schools.
Many of use do not realize that school boards transfer money to a charter school non-profit organization. The non-profit is audited, but only on how they spend money. The boards of the non-profit often subcontract (between 90 to 95% of their money) to a for-profit management company to run the school. They run everything including hiring teachers, managing money, building or leasing facilities, and most often providing curriculum materials. The management company is private, so they do not have to reveal where they spend the money or how much profit they earn. For example, the for-profit company may charge the school twenty to thirty percent of its budget for facilities that actually cost much less.
How and why these management arrangements exist is complicated. One of the better explanations I have read lately is one from Jan Resseger’s blog. She explains the change in Ohio law to improve oversight of charter management companies. She also reports the latest school district take over by charters in Youngston, Ohio. Granted Youngston has problems. Equally true is that other take over efforts in inner cities have done little to improve achievement in poverty stricken areas. There is much hype, big investments, and wrenching of control from local communities. The federal government has a target list of these cities. The intention may be good; the implementation is fraught with controversy and devoid of meaningful results. There has to be a better way.
Read Jan’s account here. Do a self test. Can you fill in the names of the corresponding players in Florida?
Ohio has had as many or more charter school scandals than Florida. Maybe that is what it take to the Legislature’s attention. Ohio’s House and Senate have passed charter reform bills that are stronger than Florida’s. The charter industry is pushing back. The legislature needs to reconcile the two bills. Will they?
The reforms are strong and meaningful. Florida can learn from Ohio. Here are some specifics Florida needs to consider.
Voucher programs, funded directly by states for private school tuition, are yet another form of school choice. Vouchers are now unconstitutional in Florida which was the first state to implement them. They were replaced by corporate tax credit scholarships. In spite of the state supreme court decision, vouchers for students with disabilities have not been challenged in court.
North Carolina’s vouchers are under appeal. New York’s legislature is currently battling over whether to fund forms of vouchers and tax credits. The legal basis for vouchers varies due to differences in wording in state constitutions. Florida’s constitution Bush vs Holmes clearly specified that funds must go to public schools. A similar argument is being made in North Carolina.
The Center for Evaluation in Education Policy at Indiana University reports on private school vouchers in the four states that offer them for general education students. These are new, rapidly growing programs that now may be slowing. How they differ is instructive.
Can you make a cogent argument about which regulations are needed and which inhibit a flexible, innovative school system? It is not an esoteric topic. With the plethora of examples of charter school fraud, waste and abuse, we know something is not working right. What changes should be made?
Ohio’s Auditor of State, Dave Yost, has been doing some serious thinking. He is concerned about which aspects of charter school operations are subject to public entity law and which relate to laws governing private companies. It makes a difference in what information is subject to public disclosure. The criteria for ethical behavior differ as well. Charters are both public and private. Which set of rules apply?
This piece is not a polemic. It is a thoughtful article by a fiscal conservative who believes in small government. He is concerned about preserving the public interest when contracting with private entities for services like schools and prisons. It is a thorny problem we all need to ponder.
Remember the post on Profit Trumps Public Interest? It was the one the National Council of State Legislatures put out on for-profit education management companies. We discovered that National Heritage Academies had some serious problems. Propublica published a follow-up article on the for-profit National Heritage Academies.
The Michigan State Board of Education has now asked the legislature to outlaw “sweep contracts” to for-profit companies, but the legislator did not listen. Continue reading