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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Florida Gets an ‘F’ Again

FAILED1Which 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.

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NAEP 2015: Should we worry or celebrate?

dmbtestYes, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) average scores are slightly down overall in 2015 from 2013.  The grade four reading scores did go up from 217 in 2002 to 221 in 2015.  This is a one point increase from 2007  Average eighth grade math and reading as well as fourth grade math scores declined.

  • Math grade four scores dropped one point and grade eight dropped 3 points.
  • Reading grade four was the same and grade eight dropped two points.

Do changes of a point or two have any significance?  Not really.  It is comforting when scores tend to rise, but they often fluctuate some.  It is more meaningful to look at scores over time.  This is a very revealing exercise.

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Florida Education Funding: Holding the Purse Strings

taxes-646512_1280Does Florida short change its students?  Where does the education funding come from and where does it go?  Answers to such questions require some ‘tax literacy’.  Florida is one of seven states with no income tax.  As a percentage of personal income, Florida has the fourth lowest tax rate in the country.  Corporate taxes currently are 2.9% of Florida’s revenue.  Yet, Florida is not a poor state; some areas are quite wealthy.
Now there is a legislative proposal to eliminate property taxes.  What are the implications of such an idea?  Clearly, sales taxes would have to go up.  The question prompted me to put together Florida’s funding stream for education.  I asked some questions:
  • How much of its budget does Florida allocate for education?
  • How does Florida’s education funding compare to other states?
  • How much of the education budget is funded from states sales tax, the lottery, local property taxes and the federal government?
  • How much is diverted from the education budget by corporate tax rebates for private school scholarships?
  • How much money is diverted from school districts to charter schools?
The answers to these questions explain a lot.  We can understand the power of the federal purse when we oppose federal mandates on testing and accountability programs.  We can understand public school districts’ concerns about the attempts to privatize the educational system.  We can evaluate the impact of proposals to reduce taxes.  Most of all, we can examine our state’s priorities.

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Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness

by Pat Drago and Sue Legg

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This is not an easy walk into the woods, but you need to know where the funding for charter schools comes from and where it goes. It is your money.

There is a lot money to be made and lost with charter schools, and it is public tax dollars. As usual, independent schools tend to lose it, and large charter management chains come out on top.  This is not always to the children’s benefit.  How does this happen? We looked at the audits and found huge disparities in facility and fee expenditures. This meant that instructional parts of the budgets were reduced accordingly.

We wanted to know how these facilities were financed. If State funds were creating opportunities to make real estate venture capitalists wealthy, we wanted to know how this worked. Unfortunately, public dollars that go to private companies are hard to see. The lack of transparency for their financial records provides only vague outlines. We did find some clues by looking at how facilities are financed.

We wondered what other states were doing to ensure that state money was allocated for instruction and not for profit making ventures. We found some answers. As always, different approaches have their share of unintended consequences. As we groped in the darkness, there was a glimmer of light. The brave among you are invited to go down this path with us.

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Pure Serendipity: Thinking Outside the Box

outside the boxReading Freakonomics (by Steven Leavitt and Stephen Dubner) was supposed to be a lark for me.  You know, perusing fun ideas. There are certainly some of those.  Who would believe, however, that the book was full of information about educational reform!  Now the title of the book really makes me smile.

Some interesting data about Chicago schools may explain U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s thinking.  For some students, there really is a problem that no one can solve alone, and it is the culture of some schools that inhibits learning.  Is it better to help a few to leave a bad situation than to do nothing?  Or, do you take on the whole problem knowing you do not have the resources and capability to solve it?  People will be hurt; children will be lost either way.  What would you do?  Leavitt’s data makes you think out of the box.

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What is the Unkindest Cut of All?

Charters and traditional public schools are claiming that their funding allocations are inadequate and unfair.budget

 

Given the massive cuts in education funding, their claims are not trivial.  Their arguments, however, are different. Judges are ruling differently as well.  Based on information reported by Education Justice, a  program of the New Jersey based Education Law Center, and Access, a research institute at Columbia University, charters want facilities and traditional public schools seek fairness.Continue reading