Truth From Fiction – The real story about CT School Funding (by Wendy Lecker)

A primer about Connecticut School Funding by Wendy Lecker

In September, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher issued a controversial decision in Connecticut’s long-running school funding case, CCJEF v. Rell.  Judge Moukawsher set forth a very narrow vision of what is needed in public schools in order to provide an adequate education; a vision that contradicted precedent across the United States and precedent from the Connecticut Supreme Court itself.  He essentially ruled that the State need only provide the “bare minimum” of facilities, teachers and instrumentalities of learning, and labeled anything beyond these three narrow categories as “extras;” even though it is accepted that students, especially our neediest students, need much more than that in order to have the opportunity for an adequate education.

Judge Moukawsher did highlight the inequities in wealthy versus poor districts in Connecticut. However, he refused to recognize that the extra resources that districts with needy students require are part of a constitutionally adequate education. Thus, if allowed to stand, his decision would render it impossible to create an equitable school funding system in Connecticut- one that provided adequate resources to our neediest districts. His decision has been appealed by both the State and CCJEF, and will reach the Connecticut Supreme Court in the spring of 2017.

In the meantime, there have been calls for Connecticut to fix its school funding formula before the CCJEF appeal is heard. The loudest calls have been coming from the charter lobby, which wants to seize this opportunity not to create a more just school funding system, but rather to create a system that facilitates the diversion of public dollars intended for public schools to privately managed charter schools.

The charter lobby has usurped the language of equity to advance its cause. It claims that Connecticut needs a system that funds “all public schools the same” and provides the same funding to students “no matter which public school they attend.”  As discussed below, while charter schools are considered public schools, they are by no means the same as traditional, district public schools, and should not be funded at the same level. Any claims about funding “students not schools” or “all public schools equally” should raise alarm bells. These claims lay the groundwork for not only diverting state funding to charter schools, but also diverting local funding to charter schools that are not part of a local district.

In their effort to persuade the public to divert more public funds to privately managed charter schools, the charter lobby will often use questionable statistics. For example, they will compare the $11,000 state allocation to charters to the full amount, including state, local and federal dollars, a local school district spends per pupil on its students.  This false comparison will always make it appear as if charters are being shortchanged. Thus, one must view any charter funding claims with a healthy skepticism.

Successful school finance reform always begins with an assessment of how much education costs, and always entails an increase in funding for public schools.  It is rumored that an organization close to the charter lobby, The Connecticut School Finance Project, is working with Governor Malloy to revamp the school funding system.  Governor Malloy already has stated that this year will be a “lean” budget year. Therefore, it is suspicious that he would choose a year in which he essentially acknowledges he will not provide adequate funding to public schools to engage in school finance reform.  This move should signal that he is not interested in providing adequate resources to public schools, but rather intends to shift money away from public schools to other “choice” schools, such as charters.

Now more than ever it is essential that we all understand some basic principles for school funding in Connecticut.

Some Principles for Connecticut School Funding

The goal of a state school funding system is to ensure that school districts, no matter what the wealth of those districts is, have sufficient resources to provide all students, no matter what the students’ needs and circumstances are, an opportunity for an adequate education.

Resources Necessary for an Adequate Education

Courts in school funding cases across this country have developed a consistent “basket of goods” that are necessary to provide all students the opportunity for an adequate education, including:

  • Reasonable class size;
  • Sufficient number of teachers, administrators and other personnel who are adequately trained and qualified;
  • An expanded platform of services for at-risk students (this usually means additional academic and social supports, including extra learning time, to enable at-risk children to access the same educational opportunities. It can include preK, as preK gives at-risk students additional time to catch up. There are those who advocate universal prek- i.e. prek as its own essential resource. That is a viable approach, although viewing prek as an at-risk intervention may be easier for courts and legislatures to accept)
  • Sufficient resources for children with extraordinary needs;
  • Up-to-date broad curriculum;
  • Adequate facilities;
  • Adequate instrumentalities of learning (books, textbooks, computers, supplies, etc);
  • Safe and orderly environment.

The goal in a state funding system, therefore, is to ensure that all districts are able to provide these essential resources to their students. In order to do so, the state must assess the cost of providing these programs, staff and services, and devise a fair manner in which to allocate funding (state/local share) for these resources.

Note:  In the CCJEF trial court decision, now on appeal, Judge Moukawsher, in contrast to all precedents across the country, limited the notion of adequacy to comprise only sufficient teachers, facilities and instrumentalities of learning- and he said the state is already providing adequate funding.  He called interventions for at-risk students “extras.” Thus, pursuant to his vision, it would be impossible to construct a funding system that is adequate or equitable.

State Funding Formula:

Many states, including Connecticut, adopt a “foundation” formula.  Most simply, a foundation formula establishes a “foundation amount,” which is supposed to represent the cost of educating a student with no additional or special needs.  The foundation amount is then adjusted to reflect the number of students in a district, and the needs of the students in those districts.  Often the foundation amount is also adjusted to reflect regional costs of education.  Once the amount for a district is calculated, the state must have a mechanism to determine the state share and the local share of paying for this amount.  That mechanism should take into consideration the municipality’s ability to raise revenue, thus the property wealth and income wealth of a municipality.

Foundation Amount:

The accepted method for determining the cost of education is to conduct an education cost study, which would essentially cost out the resources necessary to provide an education that would meet some agreed upon standard.  CCJEF conducted one in 2005, using a nationally known firm, APA.  There are several methodologies for conducting cost studies and many cost studies now use more than one (eg successful school and professional judgment) in order to assure accuracy.  It is essential that whoever conducts this cost study is recognized as an education finance expert and uses and accepted methodology.  These studies can be skewed to suit a political end.

The ECS formula has a foundation amount.  However, the Foundation Amount was never based on the actual cost of education (no cost study was ever done to determine the cost of education- the amount was based on existing spending at the time). Thus, the foundation amount in the ECS formula never represented the true cost of education.

Student Need:

Education cost studies have shown that it costs more to educate certain children than others.  Different children have needs that require additional services that cost money, therefore it costs more to provide them the same educational opportunity as it would children with no additional needs.

Poverty:  Costs studies have shown that it can cost up to twice as much to educate a child living in poverty (social supports, additional learning time, etc). Children who live in deeper poverty (eg, free vs. reduced price lunch) have additional needs that may increase the cost of educating them.  In districts with more concentrated poverty, the costs increase.  Thus, a weighting for poverty must account accurately for the existence of poverty, the intensity of that poverty and the concentration of poverty.  (Criticism of free and reduced price lunch is that it may be inaccurate and it is self–reported. Often students in secondary school do not identify as eligible for FRPL, so the poverty count is artificially lowered).  It is essential not to rely on national estimates or other measures that may not accurately reflect the facts on the ground.

The ECS formula never based its poverty weighting on the actual cost of educating children living in poverty.

English Language Learners (ELL): Costs studies have also shown that it can cost up to twice as much to educate an ELL student as a student with no additional needs.  ELL services are distinct from services provided to children living in poverty, so these weights are NOT interchangeable.

The ELL weight in the ECS formula was never based on cost. Moreover, in 2013, upon the urging of ConnCAN, the legislature completely removed ELL as a weight in the ECS formula.

Students with Disabilities:  It can cost up to four times as much to education a child with disabilities.

The ECS formula never included a weight for students with disabilities.

Regional Cost of Education

Formulas do adjust for the regional cost of education, using several possible methodologies.

State/Local Share: 

In order to accurately assess these shares, the state must have an accurate and reliable and up-to-date measure of a municipality’s property and income wealth.

The ECS measure of a municipality’s local share has been improperly skewed toward property wealth.

Any state school funding system must ensure adequate resources, equitably allocated to school districts.  Moreover, it must provide a predictable and stable source of funding. It is perfectly reasonable to use the framework of the ECS but assure that it is based on the actual cost of educating students with all types of needs, and that it accurately apportions the state and local share.

Why the state funding system should not be “student based”

Over the years, there has been a proposal to institute “student based” funding (called weighted student funding, money follows the child, among other names), in which funding gets assigned to the student no matter what school she attends.  This proposal is often pushed under the guise of equity but really is a mechanism to facilitate funding intended for district schools to go to charter schools.  These proponents claim that it is only fair for all “public schools” to get the same amount.

What this system would do would be to take the ostensible cost of educating a child, including both state and local allocation, and say each child should get this amount no matter which school they attend.  So if the state allocation does not cover the cost, the district in which that school is located would have to pay the rest of that amount.  This would mean, in the case of charter schools, that local districts would have to pay a local contribution for each student attending.  As charters expand, more and more money would be drained directly from local budgets.

There are different types of schools that Connecticut calls “public.”  However, they are not all the same. Charter schools in particular are not at all like district public schools.  They are exempt from many of the regulations and requirements to which district public schools are subject.  They do not need to serve all grade spans, provide all programs, serve all children in a district, etc.  In addition to the sanctioned exemptions, charters in Connecticut often underserve the neediest (ELL, students with disabilities, free lunch) and most expensive students. In addition, charters have always been envisioned as transitory, and if there is proper oversight, their charters can be revoked.  For these and other reasons, courts across the country have rejected claims by charters to obtain an equal level of funding as district public schools.

The State has an obligation to students to provide an adequate education (charters have no constitutional right to an education- children do). As long as a child can attend an adequately funded school in her district, that obligation is satisfied. There is no right for students to choose the “flavor” of school they get. There is no right to have two parallel school systems, public and charter.  In fact, diverting money from a school system that must serve all students (district public schools) to one that need only serve the few undermines the state’s goal and obligation to have a fully funded school system that serves the needs of all students.

In fact, the Connecticut Attorney General has declared recently in a pending federal suit (where charter advocates are attempting to lift any cap on charter expansion) that Connecticut’s district public school system is the vehicle that the legislature has chosen to fulfill the State’s constitutional obligation to provide each child with an adequate education.  The Attorney General pointed out that magnets and charters are “purely statutory vehicles that the General Assembly thus far has authorized and funded as a matter of public policy, and that the General Assembly could discontinue at any time if it were so inclined.” Thus, district public schools fulfill Connecticut’s constitutional obligations, while magnets and charters are voluntary, transitory, purely statutory creations.

Moreover, the Connecticut Attorney General has acknowledged in these same court papers that to fund a system of magnet and charters would be more expensive than providing adequate support to the existing traditional public school system.  Connecticut should, to use the words of the Attorney General, “be devoting the State’s limited resources to improving those schools, as opposed to creating and fully funding a new and more expensive system that is based on charter and magnet schools.”

Loosely regulated, charter schools pose fiscal risk (by Jonathan Pelto) 

This article was first published in The Hill newspaper of Washington D.C.  You can read and comment on the article at: http://origin-nyi.thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/education/303815-loosely-regulated-charter-schools-pose-fiscal-risk?amp

While the subprime mortgage crisis remains the epitome of what occurs when greed and corruption go unchecked, a growing number of experts and observers are warning that a new economic scandal is taking shape in the United States.

In an article published earlier this month, Business Insider observed:

 “We just got even more evidence supporting the theory that charter schools are America’s new subprime mortgages.”

The magazine wrote:

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released the results of a damning audit of the charter school industry which found that charter schools’ relationships with their management organizations pose a significant risk to the aim of the Department of Education.

The findings in the audit, specifically in regard to charter school relationships with CMOs, echo the findings of a 2015 study that warned of an impending bubble similar to that of the subprime-mortgage crisis one of the authors, Preston C. Green III, told Business Insider.

With more than 6,700 charter schools spread across 42 states and the District of Columbia, fraudulent activities associated with the publicly funded, but privately owned, charter school industry have become the fodder for almost daily news stories.

According to an October 2015 investigation conducted by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), the federal government has spent more than $3.3 billion over the past two decades on the creation and maintenance of the charter school industry.  CMD noted:

“The Department of Education is pushing for an unprecedented expansion of charter schools while paying lip service to accountability, but independent audit materials show that the Department’s lofty rhetoric is simply not backed up by its actions.” The report added, “the lack of tough financial controls and the lack of public access to information about how charters are spending federal tax dollars has almost inevitably led to enormous fraud and waste.”

The impact of waste, fraud and corruption are hardly isolated, with newspaper and blog headlines like “Who Is Profiting From Charters?,” “The Big Bucks Behind Charter School Secrecy,” “Financial Scandal and Corruption; The Ugly Charter School Scandal Arne Duncan Is Leaving Behind and As Scandals Plague Charter Schools, Calls for Oversight Grow” becoming increasingly commonplace.

Recently, the depth of the charter school scandals even made it to John Oliver’s HBO show, “Last Week Tonight,” where he observed, in Philadelphia alone, at least 10 executives or top administrators have pleaded guilty in the last decade to charges like fraud, misusing funds and obstruction of justice.

To Watch click – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_htSPGAY7I

To Watch click – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_htSPGAY7I

And earlier this fall, the Washington Post’s “Answer Sheet” blog focused on the growing controversies surrounding charter schools observing:

Ohio and Utah are known in education circles for having extraordinarily troubled charter school sectors, and the same is true in Pennsylvania, where Auditor General Eugene DePasquale issued a report this year and declared his state’s charter school law the “worst” in the nation.

But there is yet another place with a scandal-plagued charter sector, and is one that is receiving far less national attention than it should be: California.

The Washington Post continued:

“There is a never-ending stream of charter scandals coming from California. For example, a report released recently (by the ACLU SoCal and Public Advocates, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy group) found that more than 20 percent of all California charter schools have enrollment policies that violate state and federal law. A Mercury News investigation published in April revealed how the state’s online charter schools run by Virginia-based K12 Inc., the largest for-profit charter operator in the country, has ‘a dismal record of academic achievement’ but has won more than $310 million in state funding over the past dozen years.”

Charter schools were originally envisioned to serve as incubators of excellence where teachers and schools were given the flexibility to explore alternative strategies for helping children succeed. However, that model was quickly replaced by those who saw charter schools as a mechanism to profit off the privatization of public education. Today, billions of taxpayer dollars are being diverted from the nation’s public schools to charter schools and with those funds has come a growing crisis of so-called education entrepreneurs who are using some of those scarce public funds to line their own pockets.

With minimal oversight and regulation, the charter school scandals will grow until elected and appointed policymakers take dramatic action to overhaul the country’s charter school system and demand greater accountability from those involved.

More lawsuits against public education coming from charter school industry

In addition to spending tens of millions on campaign contributions and lobbying, the charter school industry is fond of bringing lawsuits in their never-ending effort to privatize public education in the United States.

Now the corporate interests behind the charter school industry are taking their strategy a step further with the development of a “charter school defense fund,” to help charter schools and their associations engage in more legal maneuvers to divert scarce public funds to their privately owned, but publicly funded entities.

As Politico, the national news website reported Friday,

NEW FUND FOR CHARTER SCHOOL DEFENSE: The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has launched a Charter School Legal Action Fund to serve as a “national watchdog and resource” when it comes to legal threats against charter school growth, funding, autonomy and constitutionality across the country. The legal action fund plans to help defend charter schools in lawsuits and get involved with “carefully selected offensive litigation to improve the statutory and regulatory environment in states that stand to impact the national charter school community,” the organization said in a letter to its allies. The Walton Family Foundation provided $500,000 in seed funding to help launch the legal action fund.

— “Legal cases can be very costly — most nonprofit [charter management organizations] and independent charter schools don’t have financial reserves to address these cases,” NAPCS President Nina Rees told Morning Education. “We started the Fund to protect students and families, and their right to keep attending a school that’s working for them. Most of these battles are being fought in the courthouse, not the statehouse through legislation.” The legal action fund will provide financial help for defending and advancing cases as long as local partners provide matching funds.

According to their website,

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (National Alliance) is the leading national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the public charter school movement. Our mission is to lead public education to unprecedented levels of academic achievement by fostering a strong charter movement.

The website also features an endorsement from Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school chain with schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island, whose board and leadership is closely connected to Governor Dannel Malloy.

Achievement First, Inc. is quoted as saying

“As we grow, we need a partner like the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools to help us continue to focus on what we need to focus on and also provide resources.”

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is led by a Board of Directors that includes;

Brian Jones – President, Strayer University

Sara Steinhardt Berman – Foundation Trustee, The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life

Andrew Broy – Chair, State Leaders Council and President, Illinois Network of Charter Schools

Jeb Bush, Jr. – Managing Partner, Jeb Bush & Associates

Moctesuma Esparza – CEO at Maya Cinemas North America, Inc.

Senator Tim Hutchinson – Former United States Senator, Senior Director, Greenberg Traurig

Senator Mary Landrieu – Former United States Senator

John Katzman – Founder and CEO, Noodle Education

Deborah McGriff – Partner, NewSchools Venture Fund

Christopher Nelson – Managing Director, Doris & Donald Fisher Fund

Paul Pastorek – Former LA State Superintendent of Education

Carol Quillen – President, Davidson College

Governor Jane Swift – Former Governor of Massachusetts;

Gene Wade – Founder and CEO, UniversityNow

Jed Wallace – President and CEO, California Charter Schools Association

Fernando Zulueta – President, Academica Corporation

The major funders for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools are the same organizations that provide money to charter schools at the state and local level.  They include;

Arnold Foundation

Broad Foundation

Louis Calder Foundation

Doris and Donald Fisher Fund

Gates Foundation

Kauffman Foundation

Kern Family Foundation

NCSRC

Robertson Foundation

Schwab Foundation

William Simon Foundation

Walton Family Foundation

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is also closely affiliated with charter school front groups like ConnCAN/50CAN, Democrats for Education Reform, Students for Education Reform, and other corporate funded lobbying and advocacy organizations.

Charter School Industry – Big Donations to Malloy, No Oversight from Malloy administration

When it comes to Governor Dannel Malloy and the Charter School Industry, two things are certain.  The campaign money from charter school advocates has been flowing into Malloy’s political operation at record levels while Malloy’s administration has been turning a blind eye to the fact that charter schools are violating Connecticut laws, regulations and policies.

Even the most cursory review of state and federal campaign finance reports reveal that Malloy’s pro-charter school agenda continues to pay “big dividends.”

Major donors associated with ConnCAN, the Achievement First charter school chain and other corporate education reform entities have donated in excess of $250,000 to Malloy’s Democratic State Central Committee in just the last four years.

Leading the way has been Jonathan Sackler, a member of both ConnCAN’s and Achievement First’s Board of Directors.  Sackler and his immediate family have given Malloy’s state Democratic committee more than $116,000 and that doesn’t even count the donations that have come from Sackler’s political action committee, the Purdue Pharma PAC.

In addition to Sackler’s money, charter school executives and the financial backers of the corporate education reform movement have donated tens of thousands more to Malloy’s political aspirations in recent years

And as education advocate and school finance expert Wendy Lecker observed in an article last summer, Malloy’s education policies have led to, A void in oversight of charter schools

Writing in the Stamford Advocate, Wendy Lecker explained;

One would think that after the scandals involving Connecticut’s two large charter chains, Jumoke and Achievement First, Connecticut’s education officials would finally exert some meaningful oversight over Connecticut’s charter sector.

One would be wrong.

This week the Connecticut Mirror reported that Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell dismissed a complaint against Bridgeport Achievement First, for using uncertified teachers for 47 percent of its staff, in violation of Connecticut statute. Wentzell unilaterally decided that the law allowing complaints against public schools does not apply to charters; despite the fact that charters receive more than $100 million each year in public taxpayer dollars.

Wentzell disregarded the data showing Achievement First’s misdeeds, claiming the State Department of Education (SDE) will wait until the charter comes up for renewal. Wentzell apparently ignored the law allowing her to put a charter on probation “at any time.”

The laissez-faire attitude toward charter schools pervades this administration. At the June 1 State Board of Education meeting, where the board voted to grant waivers to six charters to increase their enrollment beyond the statutory cap, longtime State Board of Education member Joseph Vrabely stated that when it comes to charter oversight, “we operate in the dark” until the renewal process.

While SDE closes its eyes, the complaints against charters pile up. Last week, students at Achievement First’s Amistad High School in New Haven staged a mass walkout to protest racial insensitivity and harsh discipline. They might have also protested the abominable graduation rate which, counting attrition since ninth grade, was 53 percent in 2015 — well below New Haven’s.

Amistad is one of the schools granted an enrollment increase waiver on June 1; supposedly based on Amistad’s academic performance (a 53-percent graduation rate?). Recommending the increase, SDE declared that Amistad draws 100 percent of its students from New Haven. However, the New Haven Independent, in reporting the walkout story, noted “(a)t 10:20, students who live in Bridgeport went inside after they were told they would not be allowed to board buses home if they didn’t.” Indeed, students told reporter Paul Bass that half of Amistad students come from Bridgeport every day. Is anyone at SDE minding the store?

Students have well-founded complaints about Amistad’s discipline practices. While suspensions statewide decreased from 2010 through 2015, they skyrocketed at Amistad, from 302 to 1,307 suspensions. There were more suspensions in 2014-15 than there were students, who numbered 984. During that five-year period, enrollment increased by about 25 percent, while suspensions more than quadrupled.

Other charters granted enrollment expansion waivers on June 1 also have deplorable suspension rates. Bridgeport’s Achievement First had 1,641 suspensions, almost double the number of students, 977, in 2014-15. The number of suspensions more than tripled since 2010-11, when there were 456, and 409 students.

Great Oaks Charter School in Bridgeport, operating for just one year, had 154 suspensions, outpacing its enrollment of 127 students. Great Oaks received the waiver for the largest increase in seats. Explaining the basis for exceeding the statutory cap, Linabury stated that there was a strict focus on the school’s performance.

Apparently SDE does not consider abusive discipline worth investigating. It should. A recent UCLA report found that nationwide, suspensions lead to dropouts, costing more than $46 billion in lost tax revenue and other social costs.

SDE admitted that, academically, Great Oaks performs well below the state average, and worse than Bridgeport, its host district. Yet SDE still recommended Great Oaks for an increase, which the board rubber-stamped.

Beyond its appalling lack of oversight, SDE made blatant misrepresentations in its quest to expand charters. SDE’s CFO, Kathleen Demsey, declared that before these charters opened, “local approval and support” were required. For Great Oaks and another school granted a statutory increase, Stamford Charter School for Excellence, that statement is false. The public and the local boards of education opposed these charters.

Some state board members feigned dismay that there was ample funding for charter increases while the state slashed hundreds of millions of dollars from vo-tech, magnets and public schools. They then approved the enrollment increases, without any investigation into discipline abuses, uncertified teachers or other misdeeds.

The members declared it would be unfair not to expand enrollment because the charters already held the lotteries for these seats. When asked why the charters held lotteries for seats before they were even approved, SDE again abdicated responsibility, claiming SDE has no say over charter lotteries.

With billions of dollars and student well-being at stake, Connecticut’s children and taxpayers deserve better than officials who sit idly by while charter schools call all the shots.

Malloy administration fails to properly regulate Connecticut charter schools.

Charter schools are privately owned, but publicly funded organizations that grab more than $110 million a year from Connecticut taxpayers.

But thanks to Governor Dannel Malloy’s pro-charter school policies, charter schools are allowed to violate Connecticut laws and walk away from their obligations to Connecticut’s students, parents and teachers.

For example, charter schools fail to hire certified teachers and employees.  See Wait What? post entitled Connecticut charter schools violate state law with use of uncertified teachers and administrators

In addition;

Charter schools refuse to educate their fair share of students who require special education services or those who need help learning the English language

And

Charter schools maintain inappropriate and unfair discipline policies that lead to unacceptably high numbers of students being suspended from school.

Instead of stepping up and ensuring these corporations are following the laws, regulations and policies, Governor Dannel Malloy’s administration simply looks the other way.

Earlier this year, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education made her position extremely clear.

As the CT Mirror reported;

 The state education commissioner says she does not have the same obligations in investigating complaints from parents, students and teachers against charter schools that she does for regular public schools.

The state says charter schools are not subject to what is known as a 10-4b process, which lays out mandatory steps the state must follow to respond to complaints. The state said it has more discretion about whether and how to proceed with complaints against charter schools than it does for schools operated by local school boards.

[…]

The issue is a symptom of a larger controversy over whether charter schools should be given the increased latitude they have to run their schools while still receiving millions of dollars in state education aid

The failure to properly regulate charter schools has become so severe the national financial experts are now calling for greater charter school oversight.

A national publication recently covered this very issue in NFMA Calls for Detailed Charter School Disclosures.

The National Federation of Municipal Analysts is urging charter schools to provide detailed financial, academic, and staffing information in primary and secondary disclosure documents.

The news article added;

“The charter school sector has been very active in the last … four to five years [and] it traditionally has not had a lot of public rating coverage,” said Gilbert Southwell, vice president at Wells Capital Management and co-chair of the NFMA disclosure subcommittee that drafted the paper. “[The RBP] is both educational for our membership but also helps to establish our disclosure expectations when we’re looking at these deals.”

Dean Lewallen, vice president and senior analyst at AllianceBernstein L.P. and co-chair of the subcommittee with Southwell, said the RBP is the product of a year-long vetting process with a variety of market participants and thus reflects “an industry consensus.”

The document’s recommendations begin with key information that should be included in a primary offering statement (POS). According to the RBP, a charter school’s POS should disclose all material financial agreements, including the proposed indenture, loan agreement, capital leases, management agreements, and tax regulatory agreements. It should also include information from twelve other broader topics, like descriptions of facilities and their financing, pledged revenues, and projected cash flows. NFMA also wants descriptions of debt service, repair and replacement, operating and deficit, as well as insurance and property tax reserve funds.

The RBP lists disclosures in a successful charter school POS related to academic performance as well as school management and operations.

“A charter school’s academic performance has been identified as an especially important factor in charter school long-term stability and success,” NFMA said in its RBP. “Consequently, the POS should disclose all relevant aspects of the charter school academic performance.”

Charter schools cost taxpayers huge amounts of money.  Malloy’s gift to Connecticut’s charter schools are closing in on half a billion dollars in public fund.  It is time that elected officials make sure these corporate entities meet the same basic standards that public schools must adhere too.

Connecticut charter schools violate state law with use of uncertified teachers and administrators

As a result of Governor Dannel Malloy’s pro-charter school, anti-public school agenda, Connecticut taxpayers hand over more than $110 million a year to the state’s charter school industry.  This largess comes despite the fact that Connecticut’s charter schools refuse to accept and educate their fair share of students with special education needs and those who require extra help learning the English language.

Equally appalling is that these privately owned, but publicly funded, schools refuse to follow Connecticut law when it comes to the use of certified teachers and school administrators.

Connecticut State Law is extremely clear.

For public schools, 100% of the teachers, administrators and service staff MUST hold an appropriate certification and authorization for the position in which they are serving.  State certification not only ensures that teachers and school personnel have appropriate training but it also means these individuals have gone through background checks before being allowed to teach children.

State law even mandates that public schools cannot even pay non-certified teachers and administrators.

However, thanks to aggressive lobbying by the charter school industry, charter schools “play” by a very different set of rules.

In charter schools, only 50% of the teachers, administrators and professionals must hold a traditional state certificate such as an initial, provisional or professional educator certificate.

This means that up to 50% may serve under a “temporary authorization” process or have what is deemed a “quick and easy” certification from a charter school preparation program.  In no case are charter schools allowed to use teachers and staff who don’t hold permanent or temporary certification.

Yet despite this enormous flexibility, Connecticut’s charter schools are notorious for still having a significant percentage of their staff “out of compliance” with Connecticut’s statutes and regulations.

This result is that parents of charter school students cannot be sure whether their student’s teachers and administrators are meeting the most basic requirements to be in a classroom and that taxpayers are paying for staff who should not even be hired by the charter schools.

The data on the magnitude of the problem in charter schools can been found at the Connecticut State Department of Education.

According to official reports filed with the State Department of Education, and current as of March 2016, 14 out of 24 (58%) Connecticut charter schools are were violating the law when it comes to ensuring students have properly authorized staff in the building.

It will not come as a surprise to those who follow “education entrepreneur” Steve Perry, that the greatest violator of the law is the Capital Prep Charter school chain.  As of March 2016, 80% of Bridgeport Capital Prep Harbor School’s staff did not have any certification what-so-ever and were therefore in violation of state law.

A number of other charter schools had staffing operations in which at least 30% of the staff were teaching or administrating illegally.  This list included Achievement First Amistad, Achievement First Bridgeport, Achievement First Hartford Academy, Achievement First Elm City, the Stamford Academy and the Stamford Charter School for Excellence.

Other charter schools in which at least 10% of the staff were in violation of Connecticut law included Booker T. Washington Charter School, Brass City Charter School, Highville Charter School, New Beginnings Family Academy charter school and Path Academy Charter School.

Rather than giving Connecticut charter schools even more state money, state officials should be withholding funds until charter schools fulfill their legal duty to their students, parents and the taxpayers of Connecticut.

Charter lobby chases cut of public funds (By Wendy Lecker)

Beware parents, teachers, school administrators, local education officials and Connecticut taxpayers! 

Not satisfied with diverting more than $110 million a year to privately owned, but publicly funded, charter school companies in Connecticut, the charter school industry is about to make a massive grab for even more public funds via a gimmick called “Money Follows the Child.”

Counting on the support from the ally, Governor Dannel Malloy, the charter school industry is intent on leaving Connecticut public schools will fewer resources and Connecticut residents with higher tax bills.

In her latest commentary piece entitled, Charter lobby chases cut of public funds, and first published in the Stamford Advocate, public education advocate, Wendy Lecker, lays out the issue.

As soon as Connecticut’s school funding decision in the CCJEF case was rendered, charter lobbyists in Connecticut began salivating at the prospect of using their political influence to craft a new school funding system that would benefit charter schools. Families for Excellent schools planned a rally for “fair funding” for charter schools and ConnCAN kicked its propaganda machine into high gear with polls and statements about the horrors of inequitable funding in Connecticut. The case is now on appeal, but the charter lobby is pressing its agenda now.

The embrace of the CCJEF decision by the charter lobby was extremely disingenuous, given that since the case was filed in 2005, neither ConnCAN nor any of the charter advocates even acknowledged the existence of CCJEF.

CCJEF was never about funding privately managed charter schools serving 1 percent of Connecticut students. The CCJEF plaintiffs seek adequate and equitable funding for the vast majority of children who attend Connecticut’s public schools — particularly in Connecticut’s poorest school districts.

However, ConnCAN, Families for Excellent Schools and Northeast Charter Network now see their opportunity to use the language of equity to serve their interests.

If you think it is illogical to call diverting public money intended for poor school districts serving the many to privately managed schools that serve the few “equity,” you are not alone.

In a growing body of case law, courts across the country are rejecting attempts to use their state constitutions to obtain equal funding for charter schools.

The most recent loss was suffered this month in New York by Northeast Charter Network — a well-funded lobby active in Connecticut — where an appellate court dismissed its attempt to get equal facilities funding for charter schools in Buffalo and Rochester.

New York’s decision is consistent with decisions in Arizona and New Jersey, where charter advocates sued for equal funding, and in Massachusetts, where charter advocates attempted to force the state to lift the charter cap. Washington State’s Supreme Court also ruled that charter schools are not entitled to equal funding, though on different grounds.

Charter advocates used similar arguments in these cases. They claimed that poor school districts have low student outcomes, so if a child chooses to go to a charter school they claim has better outcomes, that charter school has the right to equal funding.

In deciding these cases, courts have exposed the claims of charter schools as being at odds with the nature and purpose of the constitutional right to an adequate education.

First and foremost, these courts point out, charter schools do not have a constitutional right to anything. State constitutions protect children, not schools.

Choice is not a constitutional right, either. As the Massachusetts court explained, while the state must educate all children, there is no “constitutional right to choose a particular flavor of education.” Charters are the prime example of how school “choice” undermines constitutional notions of equality, as they often increase segregation, fail to serve English Language Learners, students with disabilities and other vulnerable children, and impose disproportionately harsh discipline on children of color.

The courts also note that while a state must adequately fund public education, there is no right to two parallel public school systems. They ruled that if a child can attend a district public school that is fully funded, then her right to an education is sufficiently safeguarded.

The courts emphasize that if the public school is not fully funded, the solution is certainly not to divert public funds to a charter school. As the New York court observed, funneling public dollars into a charter school is inconsistent with the State’s constitutional obligation, because “to divert public education funds away from the traditional public schools and toward charter schools would benefit a select few at the expense of” the majority of students in public schools.

These courts also note that charter schools are not like public schools. They are exempt from requirements that traditional public schools must follow. Most notably, they do not have to serve all children in a district nor provide all programs that public schools must provide. They were always envisioned as transitory, and can have their charter revoked if authorizing agencies conduct proper oversight.

Connecticut must reform its school funding system. But it cannot be misled by the charter lobby’s warped “save a few, forget the rest” mentality. Our leaders must ensure a well-funded public school system that serves all children, no matter what their needs. True equity means an adequate education for all.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s commentary piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Charter-lobby-chases-cut-of-public-10594980.php

Sackler ponies up $8,000 more in Charter School Industry’s effort to influence legislative races in Connecticut

As the 2016 Election came to a close, charter school aficionado and big-time campaign donor – Jonathan Sackler – whose company makes OxyContin, dropped $8,000 into the Charter Cares Political Action Committee, the entity that raised more than $86,000 to support a handful of pro-charter school legislative candidates during this year’s election cycle.  Sackler’s latest contribution comes on top of a $10,000 donation he already made to the charter school PAC.

During the General Election, Charter Cares PAC devoted their resources in support of two legislative campaigns, one effort for incumbent State Senator Steve Cassano (D-Manchester) and the other for incumbent State Representative Andre Bumgardner (R-New London/Groton).

Cassano squeaked out a narrow victory while Bumgardner lost to his Democratic opponent.

Of the total amount of money Charters Care raised, the majority came from Education Reform Now, a shadowy New York based “Dark Money” group that refuses to identify its donors.

In addition to Jonathan Sackler, who is Governor Dannel Malloy’s biggest contributor, other major donors to Charters Care were individuals directly associated with Achievement First, Inc and ConnCAN.

Achievement First, Inc. is the large charter school management company that owns and operates charter schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island.  ConnCAN is Connecticut’s leading charter school advocacy group that has led the record breaking lobbying effort in favor of Governor Dannel Malloy’s pro-charter school, anti-public school initiative.

According to reports filed with the State Elections Enforcement Commission, Achievement First and ConnCAN connected donors to Charters Care included Brian Olson who donated $10,000 and Andrew Boas who contributed $4,500.

For more about Charters Care, Education Reform Now Network and their Connecticut campaign effort check out;

New York Dark Money, Pro-Charter Group pours another $15,000 into Connecticut legislative races

Charter School Industry drops $63,000 plus into Connecticut legislative races

Massachusetts Ballot Question #2 – Charter School Industry pours record breaking $26 million into stunning loss

As Diane Ravitch reported,

Voters in Massachusetts overwhelmingly defeated Question 2, by a margin of about 62%-38%. Question 2 would have permitted the addition of 12 charter schools every year into the indefinite future.

A vibrant coalition of parents, educators, and students withstood a barrage of dark money and won. They organized, mobilized, knocked on doors, rallied, and they won. More than 200 school committees passed resolutions against Question 2. None supported it.

The bottom line that unified opponents of the measure was that charters would drain funding from the public schools.

As of November 1, 2016, the charter school industry had raised in excess of $26 million to fund their effort to undermine public education in Massachusetts.  Much of the money came from the infamous New York based billionaires and hedge fund managers who have been funding the charter school industry and their allies in the corporate education reform privatization “movement.

The following chart identifies the major sources of money that drove the record spending by the charter school industry.

 

TOTAL RAISED IN SUPPORT OF CHARTER SCHOOL QUESTION #2 (as of 11/1/16) $26,066,640  
Charter School Industry Entity Amount Raised Major Sources of Funds
Yes on Two $710,100
Alice Walton $710,000
Campaign for Fair Access to Quality Public Schools $2,418,518.04
Jim Walton $1.125 million

 

Alice Walton (Transfer from Yes on Two $710k)
MA Charter Public Schools Voter Education Fund $150k

 

Massachusetts Charter Public School Assoc., Inc.  $100k

 

Great Schools Massachusetts $100k
Paul Sagan $100K
Charles Longfield $100k
Lawrence Coolidge $25K
Charles  Ledley $26k (Plus $40k to Great Schools Massachusetts
Great Schools Massachusetts  

$21,640,982

 

Families For Excellent Schools Inc. and Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy, Inc. (NY)  $17.2 million

 

Strong Economy For Growth $1.1m

 

Expanding Educational Opportunities  575k

 

Great Schools For Massachusetts $501k

 

Michael Bloomberg (NY) $490K
Education Reform Now Advocacy (NY) $314k

 

John Arnold (TX) $250k
Edward Shapiro $225k

 

Bradley Bloom $150k
Ray Stata $100
Campaign For Fair Access To Quality Public Schools $100K

 

Cohasset Vc, Ltd (Dallas TX) $100k

 

Shari Redstone $100k
Robert Small $75k
Abigail Johnson $60k
Stephen Mugford $60k
Daniel Loeb (NY) $50k
George Conrades $50k
Longwood Ventures Partners $50k
Ross M Jones $50k
Advancing Obama’s Legacy on Charter Schools Ballot Committee $722,040
Education Reform Now Advocacy         $155K

 

Campaign For Fair Access To Quality Public Schools $567k
Expanding Educational Opportunities $575,000
Suffolk Cares, Inc.                   $100K

 

State Street Bank and Trust Co.       $100K

 

Partners Healthcare            $100K

 

The Kraft Group$100k

 

Emc Corporation         $75K

 

Massmutual Financial Group  $50K

 

Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated   $50K

 

 

As for why the Charter School Ballot Question #2 went down to a stunning defeat, Edushyster, the Massachusetts based education blogger, provides a full analysis in the recent blog post entitled, What Went Down in Massachusetts.

Edushyster writes;

I could give you a long list of reasons why Question 2 went down in flames. It was a complicated policy question that should never have made it onto the ballot. Yes on 2, despite outspending the ‘no’ camp 2-1 couldn’t find a message that worked, and was never able to counter the single argument that most resonated with voters against charter schools: they take money away from public schools and the kids who attend them. #NoOn2 also tapped into genuinely viral energy. The coalition extended well beyond the teachers unions that funded it, growing to include members of all kinds of unions, as well as social justice and civil rights groups, who fanned out across the state every weekend. By Election Day, the sprawling network of mostly volunteer canvassers had made contact with more than 1.5 million voters.

One, two, three part strategy
Question 2 was just one part of an elaborate three-pronged strategy dreamed up by charter advocates in Massachusetts, most notably our own Secretary of Education, James Peyser, to get rid of the charter cap. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s education reform eminence Chester Finn helpfully explaining in his new book how Massachusetts charter advocates had decided that things would go down:

There we see a coherent three-part strategy, beginning with a legislative move to amend the Bay State’s charter law. In case lawmakers balk, a ballot initiative is in the works, as is a legal move involving a prominent Boston firm that has filed a class-action suit to lift the charter cap, arguing that it unconstitutionally denies children access to an adequate education. As part of all three efforts, Families for Excellent Schools is organizing parents and other charter supporters to participate in an advocacy campaign.

Tellingly, Finn’s explication of Team Charter’s strategerizing is in a section entitled *From Grass Tops to Grass Roots.* A model of the *new parent power,* Families for Excellent Schools has successfully organized parents in NYC, most of whom already send their kids to charter schools, to demand more and more charter schools. Here they are marching across the Brooklyn Bridge, 30K strong. Now here they are, arriving in Albany by the busload. Theirs is a powerful spectacle, until one looks too closely and notices that the guys on the walkie talkies are all white and that the parents were told that they had to attend, or that the mayor wants to close their schools, and that their own charter schools had to be closed for the day in order to create the powerful spectacle.

In the spring of 2014, Peyser, who sat on the national board of Families for Excellent Schools, was imploring Boston’s charter schools to *take control of their own destiny by becoming a more potent political force.* By that summer, FES had a Boston offshoot, *seeded* thanks to the largesse of the New Schools Venture Fund, where Peyser worked, and the same Republican philanthropists who would get the #YesOn2MA ball rolling. And yet FES was an expensive flop from the start. What went so wrong? Much of the blame can be laid at the feet of the group’s astonishing odiosity. Like refusing to say what they were about. Their first big event, a lavishly choreographed rally at Boston’s Faneuil Hall, made no mention of charter schools. Then there was *Unify Boston,* a months-long petition drive in which organizers gathered signatures from parents who wanted great neighborhood schools. When group leaders informed staff members that the actual goal of the campaign was to lift the charter cap, a revolt broke out. *It’s like they think people of color are stupid,* said one former FES organizer.

In the end, charter advocates couldn’t marshal a parent army for the same reason that has undone one ambitious #edreform vision after another: their logic model was flawed. *People aren’t against charter schools,* Yawu Miller, the managing editor of the Bay State Banner, Boston’s African American newspaper, told me when I interviewed him earlier this fall. *But they don’t want to see the kind of expansion that’s being proposed now. They think there’s a threat to the district school system if that happens.* As Miller pointed out, his son is on the waitlist for several charter schools. So is Save Our Schools parent organizer Malikka Williams. In fact, it turns out that almost everyone in Boston is on some kind of waitlist. Calculate the number of students who are waiting for in-demand Boston district schools the same way that charters do and you end up with a number in excess of 20,000.

You can read more of Edushyster’s analyses at: http://edushyster.com/what-went-down-in-massachusetts/

Additional Background on this nationally significant effort can be found via the following articles

How Long-Time Charter Funders Are Upping the Ante in Their Bid to Blow the Bay State’s Charter School Cap

Playing Three Card Monte With Dark Money

As MA Question 2 Funding Nears $32 Million, DFER Files a New Ballot Committee

 

New York Dark Money, Pro-Charter Group pours another $15,000 into Connecticut legislative races

Called the Real Reform Now Network, a New York based charter school front group, that won’t reveal the names of its donors, is expanding its effort to convince Connecticut voters to vote for pro-charter school candidates in this year’s general election.

Connected to the Northeast Charter School Network, the Real Reform Now Network pumped another $15,000 into Charters Care late last week.  Charters Care is a political action committee that is also tied to the Northeast Charter School Network.

In their latest filing, the PAC reports that their expenditures continue to be made in support of State Senator Steve Cassano (D-Manchester).

As noted in an earlier Wait, What? post, the Center for Responsive Politics defines Dark Money organizations in the following way;

Politically active nonprofits – principally 501(c) (4) s and 501(c) (6) s – have become a major force in federal elections over the last three cycles. The term “dark money” is often applied to this category of political spender because these groups do not have to disclose the sources of their funding – though a minority do disclose some or all of their donors, by choice or in response to specific circumstances.

These organizations can receive unlimited corporate, individual, or union contributions that they do not have to make public, and though their political activity is supposed to be limited, the IRS – which has jurisdiction over these groups – by and large has done little to enforce those limits.