Will Anyone Stop Charter School Corruption?

When politicians and pundits take to the barricades to defend “wonderful charter schools,” is this what they’re thinking of? A recent article in a Minnesota newspaper reported about a change in state law that could imperil the existence of a charter school that serves a student body sorely in need of heroic efforts. According to … Continue reading “Will Anyone Stop Charter School Corruption?”

When politicians and pundits take to the barricades to defend “wonderful charter schools,” is this what they’re thinking of?

A recent article in a Minnesota newspaper reported about a change in state law that could imperil the existence of a charter school that serves a student body sorely in need of heroic efforts. According to the reporter, “Nine out of 10 of the school’s 275 high schoolers meet the legal definition of ‘highly mobile,’ meaning they do not have stable housing; 109 are flat-out homeless. Some couch-surf. Some sleep in cars, some in bus stations. Often they spend the night in small groups, for safety. Poverty – a given – is usually the least of their worries. To teens forced to support themselves, a diploma is a life raft.”

The schools founder and chief operator is quoted: “We have kids who are one credit away from graduating … We are one of the first consistent things in their lives.”

A compelling story for sure and likely one example, among others, that was in the minds of most in Congress when the US House of Representatives recently passed controversial legislation to expand federal funds for more charter schools without placing any substantial new regulations on those schools.

What lawmakers in Washington, DC had been told, of course, was that starting up lots and lots of charter schools was going to create a “marketplace of education,” where the problem of “quality” would take care of itself as “bad” charters “go out of business,” and the wonderful ones that do such great things for the most unfortunate children get picked up and replicated all over the world.

For sure, there were those on “the outside” who advocated against expanding charter schools without taking into account steps toward stricter regulation. As The Nation’s Zoe Carpenter pointed out, the bill’s emergence in the House coincided with publication of a report by the Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education that documented “shocking misuses of the federal funds being funneled into the poorly regulated charter industry.”

Nevertheless the charter sector won the Hill that day and has continued to ascend in state capitals around the country since. Meanwhile, real evidence of “the good charters” remains mostly anecdotal, as financial corruption and poor education results from “bad ones” continue to mount with every passing month.

Just look at Ohio.

Buckeye State Boondoggle

The Buckeye State, where charter schools have operated for well over a decade, has had loose regulations, business-minded state governance, and a Beltway-based conservative think tank serving as a charter sponsor. According to a recent report in the Akron Beacon, “Enrollment in Ohio charter schools now stands at more than 120,000 in nearly 400 schools, with seven more schools expected to open next year. These quasi-public schools enroll less than 7 percent of Ohio’s students and receive $912 million in state tax dollars, about 11 percent of all state funds set aside for primary and secondary education.”

According to charter school enthusiasts at the Center for Education Reform, Ohio is a “Top Ten” state – number 3, in fact – on its rating scale for states that provide “parent power” – something that is, apparently, in abundance when lots of charter and virtual schools and just about anything else but good traditional public schools are prevalent. (Vermont, one of the top performing school systems in the country, based on the National Assessment of Education Progress, is number 47 in “parent power.”) Contributing significantly to Ohio’s top rating no doubt is the state’s citation for “providing even more growth” in the charter school sector. But nowhere on the CER site is there a hint of how all this choice and growth have actually benefited Ohio students and taxpayers.

For that information, you have to turn to the progressive state group Innovation Ohio who earlier this year found that, in the 2011-2012 school year, the state’s enthusiastic support of charter schools had resulted in a transference of $774 million from the public school system to charter schools that tend to perform worse on the state’s school performance rating system.

Since that report, very little to any improvements seem to have occurred. As a recent series of reports appearing in the Akron Beacon revealed, one of the states’ most popular charter school chains, run by White Hat Management, has enjoyed such carte blanche operation that Ohio lawmakers approved additional funding for about 77 of those schools and exempted them from “full accountability until at least 2017.” The legislation passed despite the fact that dropouts are so prevalent at these schools that many of them report “single-digit graduation rates.” The Beacon reporter found that during last school year, more students dropped out of these schools than attended on the average day.

Anther Ohio newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, carried a recent editorial explaining that the primary beneficiary of the loophole legislation favoring White Hat run charter schools is not the state’s students nor its taxpayers but the charter school operator, Akron businessman David Brennan who “has poured more than $4 million into the coffers of Republican candidates in Ohio during the last decade.”

In the face of lagging academic results, higher dropout rates, and the aroma of crony corruption, what do Ohio charter promoters do to improve their performance? Amp up their marketing. As another recent Beacon report found, “State audits suggest that some Ohio charter schools spend more than $400 in public money per student to attract them away from public schools.” Using keywords such as “free, flexible, one-on-one and find your future,” Ohio charter school companies are “advertising on television, radio, billboards, handbills and even automated telephone messages to entice students away from public schools.”

You have to wonder if this is how the taxpayers in Ohio like to see their hard earned money spent.

In the meantime, one state over in Pennsylvania, the situation with charter schools doesn’t look any better.

Quaker State Cash Cow

In the Quaker State, charter schools have long competed for funds with traditional public schools on an uneven playing field that exempts them from serving the full range of student abilities and revealing financial details of their operations to the public. Despite all this freedom from regulation, according to the Pennsylvania School Board Association, “Charter schools continue to academically underperform traditional public schools, with less than half of the brick and mortar charter schools meeting acceptable benchmark scores … None of the cyber charter schools met the mark. Nearly three-quarters of traditional public schools, however, earned passing scores in the first year of the new measuring system.”

Despite poor academic results, Pennsylvania scores a 12 on the reform index contrived by CER. But what CER calls “parent power” in Pennsylvania is actually “no real oversight” according to the Keystone State Coalition, a “non-partisan public education advocacy group of several hundred locally elected, volunteer school board members and administrators from school districts throughout Pennsylvania.” That organization’s recent report tallied exorbitant costs associated with charter school operations and lavish CEO salaries and bonuses for charter school operators despite vastly underperforming the state’s traditional public schools.

A more recent KSC report revealed how Pennsylvania charters have gamed the system for special education funding, resulting in annual profits of $200 million to the schools. As one local Pennsylvania blogger explained, “Charter schools collected $350,562,878 last year for special education funding and spent $156,003,034 for special education! Where did the other $200 million go? The fact of the matter is that charter schools are not obligated to spend special education funding for special education purposes. That money can be spent for numerous miscellaneous reasons.” (emphasis original)

A KSC video that education historian Diane Ravitch linked to on her blog explained how Pennsylvania charters also game the special education financial process by luring away students from public schools who are classified special education in the least expensive disability categories, which would include relatively mild disabilities such as speech impairment, and neglect to educate students in more expensive disability categories that would include more severe disabilities such as autism.

This is especially devastating to school districts such as Philadelphia where budgets are in perennial crisis. As the local news outlet The Notebook reported, ” Philadelphia charter schools received more than $175 million last year to educate special education students, but spent only about $77 million for that purpose … nearly $100 million gap at a time when city education leaders are considering raising some class sizes to 41 students and laying off 800 more teachers.”

To fix a funding system that rewards charter schools for services they do not provide, Pennsylvania lawmakers from both parties introduced a bill (HB 2138 and SB 1316) to fund each district based on the actual number of students with disabilities it has and on each child’s needs. Charter advocates responded to this proposed legislation by opposing it.

As bad as the situation is with charter schools in Ohio and Pennsylvania, it may be even worse in Michigan.

The Great Lakes Robbery

In the Great Lakes State, a series by the Detroit Free Press this month reported, “Michigan taxpayers pour nearly $1 billion a year into charter schools – but state laws regulating charters are among the nation’s weakest, and the state demands little accountability in how taxpayer dollars are spent and how well children are educated.”

The yearlong investigation found, “Wasteful spending and double-dipping. Board members, school founders and employees steering lucrative deals to themselves or insiders. Schools allowed to operate for years despite poor academic records. No state standards for who operates charter schools or how to oversee them.”

Meanwhile, “38 percent of charter schools that received state academic rankings during the 2012-13 school year fell below the 25th percentile, meaning at least 75 percent of all schools in the state performed better. Only 23 percent of traditional public schools fell below the 25th percentile.”

For-profit corporations are permitted to run 61 percent of charter schools in Michigan even though over a third of those schools are in the bottom 25 percentile for academic performance.

The variety of scams at work in the Michigan charter sector make your head spin. In one example, a real estate/investment firm bought property for $375,000 that it sold six days later to a charter school, for $425,000. The quick $50,000 profit went to founders of the firm – one the president of school’s management company, the other married to the school’s top administrator.

At another charter school, members of the founder’s family were paid to provide meals and maintenance to the school,” and “family members still rent the building to the school or collect a management fee for running it.”

How does the charter industry respond to such damning evidence of failure and corruption? With a marketing campaign of course.

As the local Michigan blog Eclectablog noted, just as the Detroit Free Press series was unfolding, the state’s largest for-profit charter chain National Heritage Academies sprung into action and proceeded to purchase nearly all of the available ad space on the newspaper’s website.

And by the way, the “parent power” ranking CER gives Michigan is 11, commending the state for its “robust charter law.”

The unchecked charter school chicanery is not limited to the Northern Mid West.

Sunshine State Scam

A new investigation by the Orlando Sun Sentinel found, “Unchecked charter-school operators are exploiting South Florida’s public school system, collecting taxpayer dollars for schools that quickly shut down … virtually anyone can open or run a charter school and spend public education money with near impunity.”

Examples cited in the series include a man who received $450,000 in tax dollars to open two new charter schools just months after his first collapsed. The schools closed in seven weeks. Another example: A man with “a history of foreclosures, court-ordered payments, and bankruptcy received $100,000 to start a charter school.” It closed in two months.

Sun Sentinel reporters found an elementary charter school that “sometimes had no toilet paper, soap or paper towels in the student bathrooms … Students sometimes ate hours after their designated lunchtimes, often from fast-food restaurants.”

School districts have little to no recourse when charters fail to submit financial reports – “some don’t file them or turn in unreliable paperwork.” And management companies that run two-thirds of South Florida’s charter schools add to the problems of transparency and financial disclosure.

Despite these problems, charter schools continue to “pop up within blocks of each other – or in the same building – offering similar programs as neighboring schools. With such wild growth, district officials say, many new charters no longer fill a niche or offer innovation. Yet Florida lawmakers repeatedly have declined to tighten charter-school regulations.”

Florida’s score in the CER ranking: 2.

Someone Please Say, “Stop!”

Despite this cavalcade of corruption – most of which has been published in just the past two months, mind you – must we now pay homage to the “wonderful” charter schools?

Take that charter program for homeless children cited above. Do we demand more of those schools to be replicated? Do we ask whether we need an outside, unregulated vendor to reveal the unsurprising conclusion that it’s important to pay attention to the special needs of children? Do we ask why these children aren’t being accommodated in local schools and take the necessary steps to ensure they are? Or do we ask, why the hell do we have record numbers of homeless school children in this country to begin with?

Good questions for sure. Yet in the meantime, at the urging of charter school advocates and others promoting “school choice,” lawmakers around the country are proposing and enacting new policies to feed more children into an increasingly corrupt charter chain pipeline.

And in Washington, DC, that house legislation that would expand federal funding to these sorts of schools has been joined by a Senate version that is now steaming toward bipartisan consideration.

Certainly, faced with such a growing calamity, it’s not being “negative” or “oppositional” or a “status quo defender” to stand in the pathway and yell, “Stop!”

18 thoughts on “Will Anyone Stop Charter School Corruption?”

  1. I bet I’m not Jeff’s only fan, as this time he highlights the corruption that will always manifest when unregulated MONEY is in play. Here come the mountebanks, the charlatans, the hustlers, and the well-intending deluded!
    And when confronted by uncomfortable facts, these aforementioned villians of course go on media campaigns, a pattern we should all have noticed by now. I’m sure Jeff’s also aware of this, as he also usefully points to it. Thanks again, Jeff.

  2. And in news that Jeff chose not to mention: the Columbus Ohio paper reported a major scandal involving school districts in Ohio has found that districts have falsified student data so that they would not have to report test scores.

    The NY Times recently reported on a state audit that found a lack of supervision from NYC public schools that led to about $3 million of public funds being mis-spent by a private school serving students with special needs. The NYC district contracts with the private school to serve students with special needs.


    Might these stories also be worth noting? If a person is interested in describing the variety of corruption going on in public education, both district & charter, yes.

    1. Thing is Joe, public school supporters don’t fight efforts to curb public school corruption. They applaud them. They oppose policies, such as grading schools by high-stakes standardized test scores, that tend to promote cheating and corruption. And they advocate for servicing the needs of special needs kids within the community of neighborhood schools rather than outsourcing those kids to contractors. Wish charter school advocates would do the same. Didn’t you read the post?

      1. Joe, the onus is on charters to clean there own house if they are truly public schools. Charters will have to decide this tension between deregation and accountability/transparency. The good ones understand this. Just focus on outcomes and profits will not cut it.

  3. In Louisiana, we have budget shortage of 23,000,000 dollars, Governor Jindal’s private-for -profit charter schools continue to receive funding and more are being opened. They receive total annual funding for every student enrolled, They keep all the money EVEN WHEN THEY FAIL AND THROW THEIR FAILURES BAVK IN TO THE PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM. Our public school system is being destroyed.

  4. The idea seems to be to destroy America’s public education—because they are “Government Schools”, in favor of Charters and Vouchers. Unfortunately for most of the families being given choice, those making the rules do not have children in public education, nor do they know anything about education.

    1. You want to see how your public school spends its money its public record & your community has the responsibility to do something about it.

    2. Sorry Amy, but you just don’t understand what’s really going on here. It’s much bigger than public school systems wanting to protect themselves. This charter school movement is part of an overall strategy to eliminate government entirely and to influence WHAT children learn – based on what a very few people want. You need to understand the beliefs of the John Birch Society and the Koch family. Your tax money is supposed to be used for the good of all (I know, it often doesn’t work out that way), not to enrich a very few. Plus it is ridiculous to base outcomes solely on the quality of teaching – children who come to school unprepared, unsupported, and sometimes unfed and homeless have a very difficult time surviving, let alone learning. A lot of failure in school is due to parents who either don’t care or unable to provide a half-decent home environment.

  5. Public schools are much more regulated than charters. While public school officials have been guilty in some cases of illegal or unethical behavior, that sort of thing certainly seems to be much more common in charters, and because charters are so poorly regulated, much unethical behavior that would be illegal for public school officials is completely legal (but no more ethical) when it’s done in charters.

    This isn’t about “sharing.” This is about allocating limited public funding. Public schools are given a harder job to do and are usually more successful at doing it, with less fraud. That’s where we should be putting our money.

  6. Yes, people concerned about students and public schools should be critical of corruption.

    Jeff, you wrote, “public school supporters don’t fight efforts to curb public school corruption. They applaud them.”

    Have you even mentioned the problems in Ohio or NYC that I cited? I read a fair # of blogs from people critical of charters and so far have seen no mention, much less criticism.

    I’ve worked hard to help close ineffective or corrupt charters all over the nation, via testimony, writing and work with legislators. The National Alliance of Charter School Authorizers has been very critical of badly run charters, has and is working in a number of states to close them.

    Our organization and I personally have worked in a number of states to help improve public schools, district and charter. This includes working at the school, district, community and policy levels. We’ve also helped communities & states bring together district & charter educators together. Many classroom teachers and principals are very pragmatic and want to do a better job. they welcome the opportunity to learn from each other, as in a program earlier this month where district, charter, college and university faculty met to share expectations and successful teaching strategies.

    thanks for caring and for responding.

    1. Ya gotta have laws. It’s not good enough to count on honorable people such as yourself to run from pillar to post trying to correct things. Right now it’s completely legal in the states cited in this article for charters to do whatever; they’re ‘private’ (tho operating on public funds) & not subject to audit. You can’t make that OK by citing corruption in public schools.

  7. All you have to do is reverse engineer the money flow, who is allowing charter schools to open and operate with no over sight and you see who is getting rich of this heinous immoral crime to the students who depending getting a education to seek a better life for themselves and family.

  8. I have worked at both charter and public schools. In Cincinnati, every March our charter school would get a surge of enrollment as public school administrators setup suspensions for kids who were not likely to do well on the state tests.

    On the other hand, once they got to our school, there would be a somewhat caring teacher in the classroom, but most of the staff turned over from year to year. Inexperienced, for the most part, they struggled. The principal/”CEO” had no management experience, and it showed.

    That charter school is closed now.

    If the schools were doing a better job with their students, there would be less justification for the charters. If the charters had better oversight, there would be less waste and corruption. If charter schools allowed unions, there would be some protection for the whistleblowers, and MUCH more fraud would come to light.




    Chicago Public Schools are currently Under Fire for providing STUDENTS with Rotten Food, Nasty Classrooms and Discussing Germy Bathrooms!

    The new school year is off to a messy start in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school district.

    Michael Flynn, who has taught sixth grade at Otis Elementary in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood since 1977, said he’s never seen his school dirtier. A whole floor went untouched overnight recently, leaving surfaces unswept and heaps of garbage in classrooms.
    “It’s a germ factory,” Flynn told HuffPost. “And it’s as bad now as it’s ever been in terms of kids not getting what they need.”
    The Chicago Public School system has faced notorious budget cuts in recent years, and closed 49 schools in 2013. Recent money-saving moves to privatize management of custodial and cafeteria services have drawn the ire of parents and faculty, who have alleged schools are dirtier — and school lunches are worse — than ever.
    A teacher at a high school on the city’s Southwest Side, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal from the district, described where he’s taught for the past eight years as “gross and disgusting.”
    “We’re running out of toilet paper,” he said. “I’m seeing more bugs than ever before. There’s overflowing trash that sits for days and weeks in some cases.”
    The teacher said his classroom has had a leaky ceiling that’s gone unfixed for two years, and roaches were recently spotted in a student locker room, causing students to avoid using the showers after phys ed class.
    “It’s gross and disgusting and my health is being affected,” he said. “I want to be outside the minute I’m in here. It smells. Everything smells and I can’t focus. If I can’t focus to teach, how can kids focus to learn?”
    The complaints follow the school district’s hiring of Philadelphia-based Aramark in February to supervise and train school custodians. Aramark in the spring pulled many custodians from their longtime schools and assigned them to a floating pool of janitors. This led to fewer permanent custodians in schools, and talk of layoffs.
    CPS chief administrative officer Tim Cawley introduced the Aramark custodial contract by telling school principals, who were previously responsible for managing custodians, that service under Aramark would be “like Jimmy John’s,” with fast responses. Aramark, Cawley said, would make schools cleaner at a lower cost.
    But the new management system has left many Chicago schools markedly messier. Some people have taken to using the Twitter hashtag #CPSfilth to document the conditions, including this shot purportedly taken inside a school restroom.

    NAAWP STANCE: The CHICAGO SCHOOL DISTRICT needs to clean up these SCHOOLS in order give CHICAGO STUDENTS a chance at being SUCCESSFUL in LIFE!


    1) http://www.villagevoice.com/2013-04-03/news/system-failure-the-collapse-of-public-education/
    2) http://www.city-journal.org/html/13_1_how_i_joined.html
    3) http://www.benross.net/Public%20School%20Desegregation%20and%20the%20White%20Flight.htm
    4) http://interactive.sun-sentinel.com/charter-schools-unsupervised/investigation.html



    The U.S. Department of Education is investigating claims in three school districts—New Orleans, Newark and Chicago—that black children are facing discrimination and segregation in school-enrollment programs.
    The key to success in any industry is innovation. That is at the heart of the reform movement that has overtaken public education over the last few years and shuttered public schools that were labeled failing or underresourced. Many of the reformers likely had the children’s best interests in mind, like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who donated $100 million in 2010 to help turn around schools in Newark, N.J. Unfortunately, the reforms have not gone as planned.
    In Newark, students and their parents in the city’s South Ward boycotted the first day of school to protest One Newark, the school-choice enrollment plan that moved some children far from their neighborhood schools. Weeks later, hundreds of high school students walked out of class in protest.
    More than a month after school started, some parents say that hundreds of children still have not been assigned a school, and frustrations over transportation issues, uncertainty about where to send their children and dissatisfaction over closed neighborhood schools have led to many more not showing up for class.
    “For me, as a parent, I know that my children deserve better,” says Sharon Smith, a mother with three children in Newark schools. “And not because they’re just mine, but because every child deserves the best opportunity that they can receive with education. But that’s not happening here. The parents here are stuck with whatever decision the district makes.”
    Smith and other critics have chided One Newark on behalf of families without cars, who, she says, sometimes have to put children on two buses to get them to school. The plan doesn’t provide wholesale transportation, and many charter schools don’t offer it.
    Zuckerberg’s $100 million matched donation has vanished, mostly into pockets of contractors and consultants and given to teachers unions as back pay. As Vivian Cox Fraser, president of the Urban League of Essex County, famously remarked in a New Yorker story about the debacle, “Everybody’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read.”
    Schools Being Set Up to Fail

    Find out more: http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2014/10/school_districts_face_investigation_for_discrimination_and_segregation_complaints.html?wpisrc=newsletter_jcr%3Acontent%26


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