Archive | July, 2018

End of Public Schools in Milwaukee?

23 Jul

This past school year, Wisconsin taxpayers sent $250,000,000 to religious schools. Catholics received the largest slice, but protestants, evangelicals and Jews got their cuts. Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) reveals that private Islamic schools took in $6,350,000. Of the 212 schools collecting voucher money, 197 were religious schools.

The Wisconsin voucher program was expanded before the 2014-2015 school year. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, “Seventy-five percent of eligible students who applied for taxpayer-funded subsidies to attend private and religious schools this fall in the statewide voucher program already attend private schools, ….”

Money taken from the public schools attended by the vast majority of Milwaukee’s students is sent to private religious schools. Public schools must adjust for stranded costs while paying to serve a higher percentage of special education students because private schools won’t take them. Forcing public schools to increase class sizes, reduce offerings such as music and lay off staff.

A mounting social division like those faced after the civil war is developing. Katherine Stewart shared that history in her stunning book, The Good News Club:

By the latter half of the nineteenth century, Lutherans as well as Catholics had developed extensive systems of parochial education. For many Protestants, however, the loss of students from those denominations was not a welcome development. It was feared that the combined force of the Lutheran and Catholic electorate would endanger the existence of public education altogether. The tensions between those who wanted universal public education and those who wanted their schools to look like their churches continued to grow. In 1874, President Ulysses S. Grant declared that if a new civil war were to erupt, it would be fought not across the Mason-Dixon Line but at the door of the common schoolhouse. In an 1876 speech in Des Moines, Iowa, he articulated the conclusion many people had already drawn concerning the continuing struggles over religion in the public schools: “Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions,” he said. “Keep the church and state forever separate. With these safeguards I believe the battles which created the Army of Tennessee will not have been fought in vain.” (pages 73-74) (emphasis added)

Privatizing Public Schools Not Achieving Predictions

John E. Chubb was a cofounder of the for-profit Edison Schools and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. Terry M. Moe was a professor of political science at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Chubb and Moe co-authored Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools which was published by Brookings Institution Press on June 1, 1990 the same year that Milwaukee became the sight of the nation’s first school voucher program.

Chubb and Moe claimed public education was incapable of reforming itself, because the institution was owned by vested interests. They were dismissive of democratically elected school boards asserting that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.”

Diane Ravitch wrote Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. In it she noted: “In 1990, John Chubb and Terry Moe described school choice as ‘a panacea’ that ‘has the capacity all by itself to bring about the kind of transformation that, for years, reformers have been seeking to engineer in myriad other ways.”’ (page 207)

Unfortunately, Milwaukee jumped on the speculative school privatization path. Chubb and Moe have been proven wrong. Voucher programs are not testing well. A recent paper from the Center for American Progress summarized the four latest and largest voucher study research efforts which all strongly indicated vouchers are bad education policy.

In December, 2017, an education writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Alan J. Borsuk wrote, “Massachusetts and Wisconsin charted separate paths in the 1990s, and you can see the results today.” He stated,

“In the early 1990s, Massachusetts and Wisconsin were getting about the same overall results on measures such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the closest thing there is to a nationwide test of student achievement.”

“In that period, Wisconsin acted to hold down increases in spending and property taxes for schools. Massachusetts acted to improve outcomes for students and increase spending, especially in places where overall success was weak.”

TUDA Graphs

Graphs Based on NEAP Trial Urban District Assessment Data for 8th Graders

The graphs above are a sample of the endless NEAP data sets illustrating Borsuk’s point.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council published a 2017 research brief that concluded:

“One of the most significant findings about the Milwaukee voucher program to date is that 41 percent of voucher schools failed since the program’s inception. Start-ups and unaffiliated voucher schools were the most likely to falter.”

“Research in Wisconsin and other states consistently shows little to no voucher school advantage, and in fact often documents significant ill-effects on students including: school closings, high rates of student attrition for lower-performing students, and decreased assessment scores in math and reading.”

In 2016, Mercedes Schneider book School Choice was published by Teachers College Press. In it she reported,

“In sum, what Wisconsin has is a 25-year-old urban school voucher program that has not produced student outcomes that surpass those of its public schools but that is not regulated. As a result, this system … allows for unchecked fraud and discrimination – even as it stands to expand.” (Choice Page 41)

Milwaukee’s Fox News channel six reported in 2016,

“More than 50 schools have shut down since the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program started, leaving students in chaos and taxpayer money unaccounted for.” 

‘”There’s government money available for people who want to open up a building and call it a school. All you have to do is get the children and [for that] all you have to do is come up with a catchy slogan,’ Rep. Mandela Barnes (D-Milwaukee) said.”

Governor Scott Walker’s 2015 budget effectively removed all caps on students from poor and middle-class families throughout the state of Wisconsin receiving private school vouchers. The pro-privatization publication EdChoice explains the 2018-2019 eligibility rules,

“Wisconsin families with income no more than 220 percent of the federal poverty level ($55,220 for a family of four in 2018–19) and reside outside of either the Milwaukee Public Schools or the Racine Unified School District are eligible. Moreover, a family’s income limit increases by $7,000 if the student’s parents or legal guardians are married. Each district will have an enrollment cap of 1 percent of its public school district enrollment. This cap will increase by one percentage point each year until the enrollment limit reaches 10 percent, then there will no longer be a cap.”

Voucher Growth

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Data Shows the Rapid Growth of Voucher Schools in Racine and Milwaukee

A Robust Charter School Industry Operates in Milwaukee

A 2014 report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said,

“Nearly 11% of public schools in Wisconsin are charter schools, the fourth-highest rate in the nation and double the national average, according to a recently released report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.”

“In Milwaukee, 32% of public schools are charters, according to Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction data.”

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) defines two basic charter school structures. District charter schools which are authorized by public school districts and “independent charter schools” which are authorized by: The chancellor of any institution in the University of Wisconsin System; Each technical college district board; Waukesha County Executive; College of Menominee Nation; Lac Courte Orielles Ojibwa Community College; UW- System Office of Educational Opportunity. In either case DPI states, “The Wisconsin charter school law gives charter schools freedom from most state rules and regulations in exchange for greater accountability for results.”

The district authorized charter schools are a kind of hybrid charter school and innovation school. Innovation schools are promoted by David and Charles Koch through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). According to ALEC model legislation these schools “are provided a greater degree of autonomy and can waive some statutory requirements.” Neither charter schools nor innovation schools are operated by the elected school board. In other words, parents have no elected representative they can hold responsible for the operation of the school.

In October 2017, the United States Department of Education selected Wisconsin for a $95 million charter schools grant. The DPI notice of this grant said,

“Our federal grant will help us expand charter school access throughout Wisconsin, especially for our high school kids who are from low-income families,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers.”

“Over the five-year grant period, the Wisconsin Charter Schools Program will support the opening of 80 new or replicated quality charter schools and the expansion of 27 high-quality charter schools in the state.”

Sadly, Tony Evers is one of the Democrats who want to replace Scott Walker as governor.

On July 8, the Wisconsin State Journal ran a stridently incorrect editorial. They stated,

“Every charter school in Wisconsin is a public school.

“The many Democrats running for governor should memorize this fact, because some of them are getting it wrong.

“Charter schools should not be confused with voucher schools, which are mostly private religious schools that receive public money for lower-income students to attend.”

Charter schools are privately managed companies that sell education services to the state. They are not much different than a construction company contracting to do road work. Just because they receive tax dollars does not make them a public company. In the most recent Busted Pencils pod cast, Network for Public Education (NPE) Executive Director Carol Burris made the point that to be a public school requires two aspects. (1) The school must be publicly funded and (2) the school must be publicly governed. Parents have no vote on the governance of a charter school.

Burris also discussed the research paper jointly produced this June by NPE and The Schott Foundation, Grading the States: A Report Card on Our Nation’s Commitment to Public Schools. Not only did Wisconsin receive a failing grade, it was deemed to have the worst charter school laws in America. The reasons included: One of five states to allow for profit charter schools; if a school fails the property belongs to the charter owners not the taxpayers; nation’s longest renewal period of 5-years; and no conflict of interest requirements.

Destroy Public Education (DPE) Model Functioning in Milwaukee

The DPE model was first defined by researchers at the University of Indiana Purdue University Indianapolis (UIPUI). These scholars were Doctor Jim Scheurich coordinator of the Urban Education Studies doctoral program, Gail Cosby a doctoral candidate at UIPUI and Nate Williams who earned his doctorate there and now teaches at Knox College.

They concluded that a DPE model was being instituted throughout the nation. Three important points in the model are: (1) a funding conduit for national-local wealthy individuals and organizations to support local DPE initiatives; (2) the development of local organization networks that collaborate on the privatization agenda; and (3) a local-national collaboration between wealthy mostly conservative groups.

The national money flowing into Milwaukee to privatize public education comes from the usual sources including the Walton Family Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Joyce Foundation and several others national non-profits.

The big local money is from the very conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. In 2016, the Bradley Foundation gave generously to ALEC, Freedomworks Foundation, The Federalists Society and Betsy DeVos’s Mackinac Center. Locally they gave $375,000 to the Badger Institute, $500,000 to the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) and $100,000 each to Schools that Can Milwaukee and Partners Advancing Values in Education (PAVE). These appear to be yearly gifts.

Concerning school privatization in Milwaukee, the contributions to WILL and the Badger Institute are particularly noteworthy. The following statements on the WILL web site are from members of the Board of directors:

‘“WILL’s legal team was the missing link in education reform in Wisconsin and their research capabilities enhance our ability to develop effective policy.’  Jim Bender President, School Choice Wisconsin”

‘“WILL is at the forefront of the effort to expand parental choice in education. Whether publishing reports on how to craft high-quality choice policies or rigorous fiscal analyses that influence the debates in Madison, or even suing the state education bureaucracy for its failure to follow the law, WILL can be counted upon to fight for Wisconsin families.’ Jason Bedrick Director of Policy at EdChoice”

‘“After a lifetime of involvement in America’s conservative movement, I am proud to say that WILL is one of the most successful organizations I’ve been a part of and happy to see it grow and impact public policy.’ Mike Grebe Former Chairman, Bradley Foundation.”

The Badger Institute says of itself,

“The Badger Institute, formerly the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit institute established in 1987 working to engage and energize Wisconsinites …. The institute’s research and public education activities are directed to identify and promote public policies in Wisconsin that are fair, accountable and cost-effective.”

The Bradley foundation supplies the money, WILL provides the legal work and The Badger Institute lobbies the state. The school privatization ground game in Milwaukee is now run exclusively by PAVE. It has annexed Schools That Can Milwaukee. Borsuk writing in the Journal Sentinel observed,

I referred to Schools That Can Milwaukee in the past tense because it and another long-time Milwaukee education non-profit, known as PAVE, are merging. Plans for the merged organization are expected to be unveiled in coming months. There have been hints that some major players in town want a new approach to encouraging school improvement. Will the new organization be a vehicle for that? Keep an eye on this.”

Some Parting Thoughts

In the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris case, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that vouchers to religious school did not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. This decision re-wrote more than a century worth of precedence and further eroded the separation of church and state. No matter how this case was decided, it is patently un-American to force citizens to send money to religious organizations that they do not support.

Privatizing public education is a horrible idea. Public-schools are the bedrock upon which America’s democracy is built. Now strange conservatives and their fellow traveler in the Democratic party, the neoliberals, are claiming that democratically elected school boards are an anachronism. Know this; if someone is opposing democratic governance, they are proposing totalitarian rule by the wealthy.

San Joaquin Valley in the DPE Crosshairs

15 Jul

Efforts to privatize public schools in the San Joaquin (pronounced: whah-keen) Valley are accelerating. Five disparate yet mutually reinforcing groups are leading this destroy public education (DPE) movement. For school year 2017-2018, taxpayers sent $11.5 billion to educate K-12 students in the valley and a full $1 billion of that money was siphoned off to charter schools. This meant that education funding for 92% of students attending public schools has been significantly reduced on a per student basis.

In July 2017, California’s State Superintendent of Education, Tom Torlakson, announced the revised 2017-2018 budget for K-12 education totaled $92.5 billion. Dividing this number by the total of students enrolled statewide provides an average spending per enrolled student ($14,870). The spending numbers reported above were found by multiplying $14,870 by students enrolled.

The five groups motivating privatization of public schools are:

  • People who want taxpayer supported religious schools.
  • Groups who want segregated schools.
  • Entrepreneurs profiting from school management and school real estate deals.
  • The technology industry using wealth and lobbying power to place products into public schools and supporting technology driven charter schools.
  • Ideologs who fervently believe that market-based solutions are always superior.

The Big Valley

The San Joaquin Valley is America’s top agricultural producing region, sometimes called “the nation’s salad bowl” for the great array of fruits and vegetables grown in its fertile soil. Starting near the port of Stockton, the valley is 250 miles long and is bordered on the west by coastal mountain ranges. Its eastern boundary is part of the southern two-thirds of the Sierra bioregion, which features Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. It ends at the San Gabriel Mountains in the south.

Seven counties (Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Merced, Tulare, Kings, Fresno and Kern) govern the valley. Its three major cities are Fresno (population 525,000), Stockton (population 310,000) and Bakersfield (population 380,000). The entire valley has a population of more than 4 million with 845,369 K-12 students enrolled for the 2017-2018 school year.

Ironically, in possibly the world’s most prolific food producing area, there is food insecurity. In 2009 the problem became particularly severe. Sabine Blaizin reported, “The state of California declared a state of emergency in Fresno County, and from July to October, was trucking in tons of food to the hungry and unemployed.” Since 2009, the economic conditions in the valley have slowly but steadily improved.

San Joaquin Valley Map

Valley Can Published this Map with the San Joaquin Valley in Green

Some Data Observations

In her 2017 report on California’s out of control charter school system, Carol Burris made a point about the unsavory nature of the independent study charter school. She pointed out that these schools have poor attendance and terrible graduation rates. Unfortunately, they are easy to set up and very profitable. Of all the independent study charters, the virtual charters have the worst performance data and are widely seen as fraudulent. About one-third of the valley’s charters are independent study and half of those are virtual.

Charter Numbers Table

As the table above shows, Kings county is already at 17.1% charter penetration which is about the same percentage as San Diego. It is likely that Kings county district schools are struggling financially because they cannot adjust fast enough to the loss of students to the charter system. Several studies, including Professor Gordon Lafer’s “Breaking Point,” have documented this threat to public school systems caused by these minimally-regulated privatized schools.

The charter school industry notoriously avoids the more expensive students to educate such as special education students. The following chart shows that same trend is prevalent in the valley. In every category of more difficult and expensive students to serve, the charter school industry has managed to avoid their fair share.

Subgroup Percentages

GO Public Schools Targets Fresno

In Oakland, California, GO is the political organizer working on the ground to privatize public schools. It funnels money to charter school incubation and other needs. The national organizing group for privatizing public schools, Education Cities, lists GO as its partner. GO is a non-profit operating under federal tax code 501-C3. Great Oakland Public Schools is GO’s dark money organization that takes advantage federal tax code 501-C4 to funnel unattributed money into mainly school board elections.

A December 2017 article in the Fresno Bee reported,

“Dozens of parents and community members attended a meeting at the Big Red Church on Wednesday to discuss how to improve Fresno Unified and the success of its students – but it wasn’t hosted by the district.

“Go Public Schools, a nonprofit that has worked with struggling schools in Oakland, created a branch of the organization in Fresno earlier this year, with the goal of ‘expanding access to quality education in Fresno’s most historically under-served neighborhoods.’

“Since Go Public Schools Fresno opened in June, it has hosted “house parties” across the city, where parents exchange ideas in their homes, and offered a 10-week course to Spanish-speaking parents, teaching them how to become more engaged in community issues and urging them to attend school board meetings.”

Go Public Schools Executive Director in Fresno is Diego Arambula. The article pointed out that Diego’s brother, Assemblyman Dr. Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno,  was present. This is another example of pretend progressives adopting the school privatization policies promoted by Betsy DeVos, Eli Broad, the Walmart heirs and David Koch’s American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

GO’s current campaign in Fresno is the Choosing Our Future Initiative. They claim,

“Our path forward is built on a set of 3 policy recommendations:

  • “21st century Success: We need to redefine success as it relates to the 21st century and commit to every child graduating prepared to succeed.
  • “Individualized Student Plans: We want to empower both students and educators with individualized data to ensure every child is making adequate annual progress toward graduating prepared to succeed. …
  • “Innovation Zone: Create an Innovation Zone to design and support transformational school models.”

Goal one is related to the DeVosian meme that schools have not changed in 100 years. The second goal is about selling technology. Their individualized learning plan undoubtedly includes “personalized learning” on digital devices. It is an unproven approach, likely to fail. The final goal is a call for the ALEC supported ideology to reduce democratic input into local school policy. It claims schools should be autonomous and freed from elected school boards and legislatures. This theory is being implemented in Denver, Philadelphia and elsewhere, a plan that posits disruption as a positive value for educating children.

Local elites like Larry Powell the former Fresno County Superintendent of Schools are supporting GO’s school privatization plan. Powell’s bio at the Central Valley Community Foundation says he has a daily radio feature called “Good News with Larry Powell” on iHeart Radio and is a Political Analyst on the NBC and CBS affiliates in Fresno. He has also served on 12 non-profit boards.

A recent editorial by Powell in the Fresno Bee echoes Betsy DeVos’s spurious “schools have not changed in 100 years.” Powell wrote,

“Amazing work has been done by our educators, but our core school model has remained largely unchanged. It’s been said that if Rip Van Winkle were to awaken today, the only thing he would recognize is public education.”

This well-known community leader who spent 43 years as a high school wrestling coach, history teacher and an administrator made this claim. Anyone who has spent time in a public-school classroom, knows this is not true. Powell gave his full-throated endorsement to all three of the GO policy recommendations; even praising the anti-democratic ALEC inspired innovation schools. He claimed,

“We must ensure that our educators are given the freedom to design a school model and system that best meets the needs of their current students. An innovation zone will provide school sites who are in the zone with additional academic and financial flexibility in exchange for increased accountability.”

It is unclear where that increased accountability comes from because the local school board loses their oversight ability. DPE forces generally define accountability based exclusively on standardized testing results which do not provide reliable information about teaching or school quality. Standardized tests are a proven waste of money, providing ways for businesses to purloin education dollars.

The June 21 2018 issue of the Fresno Bee published, “Kepler will keep operating after all. Does that mean Fresno is friendly to charter schools?” Reporter Aleksandra Appleton noted that even the California Charter School Association recommended the Kepler charter school’s authorization be revoked. Her lead sentence read, “The Kepler Neighborhood School will keep operating after the Fresno County Schools Board voted 4-1 Thursday to approve the charter school’s appeal, effectively reversing an earlier decision by Fresno Unified that would have led to the school’s closure.”

Stockton Got Their Broadie

Billionaire, Eli Broad, has been relentless in his efforts to privatize public education. To spearhead this goal, the Edythe and Eli Broad foundation created an unaccredited administrators school that teaches Broad’s management philosophy and ideology.

Broad-trained administrators are famous for hiring consultants, bad relations with teachers, large technology purchases and saddling school districts with debt. In May, Oklahoma educator and historian, John Thompson, wrote a series of articles documenting these perceptions about Broad academy graduates (1, 2, and 3).

Reporting in 2016, the New York Times Motoko Rich said of Broad, “His foundation has pumped $144 million into charter schools across the country, is embroiled in a battle to expand the number of charters in his home city and has issued a handbook on how to close troubled public schools.”

John Deasy is perhaps the most infamous of all Broadies. In 2014 when Deasy was forced out as Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, the New York Times reported,

“Mr. Deasy, a strong proponent of new technology in schools and of holding teachers accountable for improving student test scores, had faced mounting criticism from board members and teachers who saw him as an enemy. He testified against teachers’ unions this year in a lawsuit in which a California judge ruled that tenure protection laws deprived students of their basic right to an education and violated their civil rights.

“Detractors also criticized Mr. Deasy, who led the second-largest school district in the country, for the difficult rollout of an ambitious $1.3 billion plan to give iPads to every student in the district, which has an enrollment of 640,000 across 900 schools.”

Amazingly, this May the Stockton Unified School District Board voted 7-0 to hire John Deasy to be the superintendent of schools. Evidently, they wanted a star and were willing to pay the price. The Recordnet gave some partial details of Deasy’s agreement,

“His contract is set for three years and salary will be $275,000.

“Several gasps and laughs were heard as Board President Angela Phillips read aloud the employment agreement, which includes a $700 a month allowance for vehicle, cellphone and internet costs, plus mileage, five weeks’ vacation and various expenses. Deasy’s contract also states SUSD will reimburse him for moving and housing costs to Stockton not to exceed $15,000.”

It’s the Scammiest

In the 1980’s, Kraft Corporation ran a delightful commercial for their macaroni and cheese product. An ebullient little black boy who apparently had lost a baby tooth, looked at the camera and exalted, “It’s the cheesiest.” Every time that commercial came on, it made me smile.

But looking at the New Jerusalem School District of Tracy, California, I always think, “it’s the scammiest.” It doesn’t make me smile.

The districts wed site shares the history of the name:

“The Ebe Family came across the plains in covered wagons and settled near here about 1865.  In 1874, Mr. Henry Ebe, newly settled, donated two acres of land to San Joaquin County for a school in this area. In exchange for this, he required that the school be given the name “New Jerusalem’.” 

New Jerusalem does not look like a public-school district. It has a three-member elected board, a superintendent, an Assistant Superintendent for Business Services, a Budget Analyst, a person in charge of Accounts Payable, a Human Resources person, a Payroll department, a person in charge of the Nutrition Program and a person in charge of its Transportation Program. In 2016-2017 the district only had 29 kindergarten students in its one school. This large organization is supported by the 13 charter schools New Jerusalem authorizes.

New Jerusalem Enrollment

2016-2017 Data provided by the California Department of Education

Of their 13 charter schools, 8 are virtual. New Jerusalem authorized a charter school that is 250 miles away in Simi Valley, California and another one sixty miles away in Stockton, California.

The New Jerusalem web site provides instructions and forms for starting a charter school and getting it authorized by them.

A Final Perspective

The San Joaquin Valley is in the charter industry’s crosshairs. Their agenda is privatizing public schools and ending local control by democratic process. Most people are not surprised that libertarians, like David Koch, want to end public education but are often blindsided by Democrats supporting the same agenda.

Educate yourself and your neighbors. Don’t let people tell you that your local school is terrible and the Gates, Broad and Walton supported charter schools are superior. Both propositions are false.

Charter Schools of San Diego County

6 Jul

The California charter school law is doing serious harm to public schools. Few counties in the state have been more impacted by charter schools than San Diego County. This past school year 75,473 of the 508,169 publicly financed students enrolled in charter schools. In other words, 14.9% of San Diego’s students attended privatized schools and in the San Diego Unified School District, that percentage was greater than 17%.

San Diego’s charter school students attended one of the county’s 129 active charter schools some of which will close their doors next year. In the past five years, more than one out six charter schools – a total of 27 schools – went out of business. This presents an additional financial burden to public schools because they must be ready to take in all students from failed charter schools at any time. Charter schools typically do not add students during a school year.

When students from the public system exit to the privatized charter school system, the cost to the district schools is substantially more than just the loss of state daily attendance money. A recent study that Professor Gordon Lafer did for In The Public Interest is the third major report in five years to demonstrate this point. Professor Lafer noted:

“As the charter industry has grown, public officials across the country have become increasingly concerned with the sector’s impact on public school districts. A 2013 report from Moody’s Investors Service, for instance, warned that charter expansion threatened school districts’ viability in a growing number of cities, as ‘charter schools … pull students and revenues away from districts faster than the districts can reduce their costs.’ In response, a series of studies have been carried out by both academic scholars and consulting firms aimed at the same question that this report seeks to address. … in every case, studies found that charter growth has caused school districts to suffer much more in lost revenue than they are able to make up in reduced expenses—resulting in large net shortfalls for district students.” (emphasis added)

Lafer’s study also looked specifically at the effects of charter school enrollment on San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). He described the nature of data reported that led to the table of values shown below:

“In short, at every point where the data was less than complete, we chose to err on the side of conservative assumptions—that is, assumptions that lead to understating the cost of charter schools to public school districts. Thus the numbers presented in this study should be considered a conservative, minimum estimate.”

Cost of losing charter students

Chart from Gordan Lafer’s Breaking Point Study (page 9)

In addition to the stranded costs related to charter school students leaving district schools, there is a permanent cost to public schools due to unequal distribution of the most expensive students to educate, special education students. Not only do charter schools accept fewer special education students, they also shun the costlier ones. Lafer reported on the results he found in Oakland, California, where charters educate 30% of the district’s students:

“Of the total number of emotionally disturbed students attending either charter or traditional public schools in Oakland, charter schools served only 15 percent. They served only eight percent of all autistic students, and just two percent of students with multiple disabilities.”

State data shows that the trend is similar in San Diego and charter schools here also attract fewer language learners.

ELL and SPED graphic

Based on State Education Department San Diego County 2017-1018 Enrollment Data

Entering the 21st century, California’s public education system was an efficient system utilizing its vast economies of scale to educate students for relatively less cost than most other states. The charter school experiment has introduced many inefficiencies. This development is being paid for by reducing services to the more than 85% of the counties students attending public schools. Their classes are larger, their facilities are not as well maintained and there are fewer course offerings available to them.

The Altus Franchise

Throughout 2017, Carol Burris, Executive Director of Network for Public Education (NPE), studied and wrote about California’s charter schools. In her culminating report, “Charters and Consequences,” she addressed the phenomena of the independent learning charter schools. Burris wrote,

“There are 225 independent learning charter schools comprising nearly 20% of all charters in California. In San Diego County alone there are 35, …. The 2014 graduation rate for all of the students enrolled in San Diego’s independent center charters, including the more successful home-school programs, was only 44%. (emphasis added – the SDUSD graduation rate was greater than 91%)

“Given the results, why are so many Independent Learning charter corporations springing up across the state? Unlike brick and mortar charters, independent learning centers are relatively easy to set up and run. They appeal to disadvantaged students who want to work and finish high school, dropouts who want to return to school, students who have emotional or physical health issues, homeschoolers, and teenagers who would prefer to not have to get up in the morning and go to school.”

Carol did this research using the 2016-2017 school year data showing 35 independent learning center charters in San Diego. The 2017-2018 data shows that San Diego County has added five more independent learning charters for a total of 40 and that number does not reflect all the independent learning locations.

Mary Bixby is San Diego’s pioneer of the strip mall charter school business. In 1994, her Charter School of San Diego was the first charter school in San Diego County. She puts children at computers running education software and her approximately 3200 students are making her wealthy. In 2015, the non-profit Mary founded paid her a total compensation of $340,810 and her daughter Tiffany Yandell received $135,947. Burris observed,

“Bixby, a board member of the charters and a full-time employee of one of the schools, also receives compensation for being “on-loan” to two other Altus schools. Such obvious conflicts of interest would be illegal in a public school.”

Chaarter in the mall

Images are from Google Maps

Bixby’s empire is run out of her headquarters at 10170 Huenneken Street in San Diego. In 2010, someone or some entity gifted Bixby this new building. The Altus Institute’s 2012 tax form valued it at $4,500,000.

In 2016, the Altus organization consisted of a central administrative corporation (Altus Institute) overseeing four non-profit corporations: (1) Audeo Charter School, Inc., (2) Student Success Programs, Inc. (3) Altus-Mirus, Inc.; and (4) Altus-Laurel, Inc., which in turn operate five separate charter schools: Audeo Charter School, Audeo II, Charter School of San Diego, Laurel Preparatory Academy, and Mirus Secondary Academy. Together these five charter schools serve students at 34 or more resource center facilities.

When Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) responded to Bixby’s charter school proposal, they listed their many reasons for the denial. They were troubled by the complexity and secretive nature of the Altus operation; the number of unlawfully running centers; the fact that locations for the resource centers are very difficult to find and several other objections. The Sweetwater legal filing stated,

“It remains unclear why Petitioners need so many different charters and so many different authorizers to operate carbon copy programs at numerous resource centers. The GUHSD [Grossmont Union High School District] Board denied the Petition to establish GSS [Grossmont Secondary School] on November 15, 2016, for many of the same reasons we recommend denial of SSS [Sweetwater Secondary School].

“What is clear is that all of the public funding for these charter schools would be managed centrally by the same administrators, who appear to be able to move funds around at will, making it difficult, if not impossible, for SUHSD to monitor the Charter School’s fiscal status at the level mandated by Board policy and regulation, given that only a portion of the school’s books would be open for SUHSD review.”

The San Diego County Board of Education concurred with both the Sweetwater and the Grossmont denial, however the California State Board of Education authorized both charters.

Last year the San Diego Union reported that of the fifteen schools with the highest percentage of chronically absent students four of them were from the Altus group: Audeo Charter II — 34.3 percent; Charter School of San Diego — 31.9 percent; Audeo Charter — 31.4 percent and Laurel Preparatory Academy — 27.7 percent.

The High Tech High (HTH) Franchise

A puff piece in the Voice of San Diego says,

“It all began in 1998 when local business leaders were discussing ways to prepare young people for the high-tech workforce. They eventually opened the Gary & Jerri-Ann Jacobs High Tech High charter school in 2000, and later added on middle and elementary schools.”

Larry Rosenstock is the CEO and founding principal of High Tech High. In the Voice article he explains,

“Well Gary Jacobs (former director of education programs at Qualcomm) was part of a 40-person effort to look at education in San Diego. They were a bunch of business people who wanted to create future leaders in San Diego for various sectors of the economy. They thought they would create their own independent public school and they didn’t know how to do that. I was here to do other work. I had just moved here from Cambridge (Mass.) and they asked if I could come over and describe to them how you can have a public school that’s autonomous rather than part of the district. I explained that to them and they decided they wanted to create a charter school.”

Gary Jacobs is the son of Irwin Jacobs, the billionaire founder of Qualcomm. These wealthy San Diegans knew nothing about education, but they were still willing to experiment with other people’s children. It seems they were convinced that if they hired the right consultant, they could create something wonderful.

They created charter schools reminiscent of the experimental school developed by Corinne A. Seeds at UCLA.

Tufts University Education Professor, Kathleen Weiler, wrote the book Democracy and Schooling in California: The Legacy of Helen Heffernan and Corinne Seeds. Weiler shared,

“Helen Heffernan and Corinne Seeds were nationally recognized as leaders of the progressive education movement and were key figures in what was probably the most concerted attempt to put the ideals of progressive education into practice in a state-wide system of public education in the United States.”

Heffernan was the California Commissioner of Rural and Elementary Education between 1926 and 1965, and Seeds, the Director of the University Elementary school at UCLA between 1925 and 1957.

My friend Professor Larry Lawrence worked at the Seeds school under Jonathan Goodlad. When the charismatic Goodlad left the Seeds school in 1987, the school floundered. When Heffernan retired, the progressive education movement in California slowed and reversed. After meeting with HTH founding principal and CEO, Larry Rosenstock and touring one of the schools, Professor Lawrence concluded based on his personal experience that when Rosenstock leaves, the HTH system will falter. Lawrence also questioned the quality of the school’s math education.

The HTH system is one of three charter management groups to be designate a “state benefit charter”, meaning that they can open schools anywhere in the state of California. The other two groups are the Magnolia Schools which are part of the Turkish Imam, Fethullah Gulen’s national charter school empire and the state’s largest charter school system, Aspire Public Schools.

In 2013 Aspire and the state board of education conceded victory to the California School Boards Association, the California Teachers Association and other education groups that had filed suit against the Aspire designation as a state benefit charter. They claimed that the law allowing state and county benefit charter was violated. They pointed to the legal requirement that state benefit charters “will provide instructional services of statewide benefit that cannot be provided by a charter school operating in only one school district.”

The California School Boards Association has not sued the State Board over the HTH or Magnolia designations as state benefit charters.

There are 13 High Tech schools in San Diego County. The data reveals a statistical concern. In San Diego County public schools, 20.8% of students are language learners, in county charter schools 17.3% of students are language learning, but in the High Tech system less than 10% of students are language learners.

“Not with Those People’s Kids”

Very few people believe that charter schools provide better education. However, many people believe they can select a charter school that protects their child from bad influences. The truth is that being in an integrated school provides a superior education. The idea that putting your child in a school with students that are of the same race or class will protect them is an illusion.

The Old Town Academy is like a private school financed with public school dollars. A Voice of San Diego report states,

“Chris Celentino, OTA’s current board chair and one of the school’s founding members, said when the school opened with a class of 180 students, half came from families that would otherwise send their kids to private schools.” 

“Whether it’s a product of innovative instruction, or has more to do with the fact that unlike at many traditional district schools, few OTA students live in poverty, test scores have remained consistently above the district average.”

It is not just Old Town Academy, there are several San Diego charter schools that appear to have been motivated by the “not with those people’s kids” ideology. Nationwide the choice movement is known to be causing schools to re-segregate.

A Perspective

Many broad-minded educators I know are not against charter schools per se and think they can be done right. I am not one of them. Even a wonderful privatized school is diminishing the education provided to the overwhelming majority of students educated by tax dollars. If the extra costs of running a dual system is not provided by taxpayer, it is unjust to finance those private schools by reducing the quality of public schools.

I join with the NAACP’s call for a moratorium on charter schools until:

  • “Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools.
  • “Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system.
  • “Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate.
  • “Charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.”