Tag Archives: CCSA

Richie Rich’s Schools Targeted by Destroy Public Education Movement

21 Sep

Schools in wealthy white communities are no longer immune to the destroy public education (DPE) movement. A review of San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) in San Diego County makes the point.

SDUHSD serves an area within the 1845 Mexican land grant to Juan Osuna known as Rancho San Dieguito. Osuna’s 1822 adobe home still stands on a knoll in the Rancho Santa Fe section. The school district includes the beach communities of Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas and Carlsbad. Away from the beach it covers the communities of Rancho Santa Fe and Camel Valley.

A 2017 study sponsored by SDUHSD indicates how financially comfortable the families in this school district are.

Table 1: Economic Data

District Family Data

Sixty-five percent of the students come from families making more than $75,000 and almost a quarter of those families are making greater than $200,000 a year. Whites and Asians constitute 87% of the district population.

California’s 2017-2018 enrollment data by subgroups shows the dramatic difference between SDUHSD and the rest of San Diego County.

Table 2: Subgroup Percentages

Enrollment Data Table

During the no child left behind (NCLB) era, the school I worked at had 75% English learners and 80% socioeconomically disadvantaged. The big metric that literally determined whether a school survived was the academic performance index (API). Its 1,000 point scale score was based on California’s standardized testing. Early on my school focused on scoring higher than a 600 API and latter we challenged a 700 API. Failure to meet those goals, meant by NCLB rules, the school would be closed, a minimum of 50% of the staff would be let go and new management would assume the school (possibly a charter group). If a school scored more than an 800 API, it was golden. SDUHSD averaged over 900 API as a district. Schools for poor kids and minorities were set up for possible failure, but schools for wealthy people’s children were safe.

“The Times They Are A-Changin”

Alfie Kohn published a 2004 article, “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow; Using Accountability to ‘Reform’ Public Schools to Death.” He noted schools were purposely setup for failure and wrote,

“We now have corroboration that these fears were entirely justified. Susan Neuman, an assistant secretary of education during the roll-out of NCLB, admitted that others in Bush’s Department of Education ‘saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda – a way to expose the failure of public education and ‘“blow it up a bit’’’ (Claudia Wallis, ‘No Child Left Behind: Doomed to Fail?’, Time, June 8, 2008).”

No schools in middle or upper-middle class neighborhoods ever failed API and faced NCLB’s existential penalty. However, these neighborhoods are no longer exempt from attack by DPE forces.

Naturally, the five elementary school districts that feed into SDUHSD have similar subgroup and demographic data as SDUHSD. In 2006, the ten elementary schools in Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) scored 75% proficient or advanced in mathematics and 74% proficient or advanced in English language arts on California’s testing. By comparison, San Diego County schools scored 57% proficient or advanced in mathematics and 49% proficient or advanced in English language arts. That is when a proposal came forward to create a charter school for gifted students in Encinitas.

Maureen Mo Muir, a member of the SDUHSD board, previously served on the EUSD board. In her online resume, she claims to be “Founder and member of charter with emphasis on the gifted and differentiated curriculum (under the guidance of USC Education Professor Sandra Kaplan).” Her school was called the Theory into Practice Charter School (TIP). It is surprising that she still brings attention to her part in the TIP fiasco.

State records show that TIP opened September 5, 2006 and closed August 5, 2008. A scathing article in the Voice of San Diego, painted a picture of malfeasance and fraudulent practices. The lengthy article details a trail of charter schools failures, odd failed corporations and many fraud claims following the founding leaders of TIP. Reporter Emily Alpert wrote,

“Principal Deborah Hazelton, an Oceanside elementary teacher, created Theory Into Practice Academy, a charter school that taught all children with the same rigor and complexity as gifted children.”

“Shortly after the [new] bylaws [which gave Hazelton’s company control] materialized, [Mike] Hazelton was hired as chief operating officer for $95,000 for the rest of the academic year. Two months later the school reported a $28,000 first-year deficit, instead of the $6,000 to $12,000 surplus Mike Hazelton had predicted. Its outstanding loans still worried the Encinitas superintendent. Yet the school also bolstered Deborah Hazelton’s pay from $87,000 to $110,000.”

“And in January the Hazeltons asked the board to start paying their corporation 1.5 percent of its annual revenues and a onetime $35,000 fee for curriculum and administrative support.”

“The corporation was overseen by a group that included the Hazeltons and teacher Lisa Bishop, who were already earning salaries from the school, and University of Southern California educator Sandra Kaplan, who sat on both boards.” (Emphasis added)

The TIP charter was revoked August 5, 2008. It was the last charter school within the SDUHSD boundaries until 2016.

I Believe in School Choice

America’s public education system with locally elected school boards is widely viewed as the bedrock upon which the world’s oldest democracy resides. A key advantage for American children was they were not barred from middle-school or high-school by a standardized test; a common practice in most countries. There were no high stakes tests in the United States.

One measuring stick demonstrating how successful the American system was might be Nobel Prize winners since 1949: America has 313 laureates; India 7; and China 8. The US has never won at standardized testing but leads the world in creative thinkers.

In 2016 a new school was proposed in the Solana Beach. The School of Universal Learning (SOUL) petitioned SDUHSD for a charter. Marisa Bruyneel-Fogelman and Dr. Wendy Kaveney are cited as founders. The mission statement from the petition says they will “provide exceptional education that awakens individuals to know who they are, discover their passions and purpose, and thrive holistically, to achieve both mental and life mastery.”

In the presentation to the SDUHSD board, the following images among many similar ones were shown.

SOUL Presentation

New Age Philosophy Being Taught in Taxpayer Funded School.

SOUL Presentation 2

This looks wonderful but should taxpayers be expected to fund it?

SDUHSD’s board rejected the petition by a vote of 5-0. They gave the SOUL team an eight-page list of issues that needed addressing before the board could confer a charter. As an example, one of the items required,

“Clarification or revision to the SOUL Charter School’s recommended course sequencing for its students. Specifically, the Petition describes a four-year course sequence which appears to indicate that students should take up to eight courses per year to accomplish the recommended sequence. However, the bell schedule and narrative included in the Petition indicate that students will take only six classes, in addition to Integra.”

SOUL appealed the decision to the San Diego County Board of Education. That board voted 3-2 against giving a full 3-year charter but voted 5-0 to bestow a 2-year charter.

I believe in a parent’s right to choose their children’s school. If they want to send them to the New Universal Teaching School (NUTS) or Encinitas Country Day or Santa Fe Christian School, that is their prerogative. But don’t expect taxpayers to pay for that choice. They already pay for free public education.

School Board Election in Less than Two Months

Both libertarian-Republicans and neoliberal-Democrats are attacking public schools. The article A Layman’s Guide to the Destroy Public Education Movement lists five separate groups that are working to end democratically controlled public schools. When voting this November, it will be important to identify if a candidate is associated with one or more of these groups.

  1. People who oppose public education on religious grounds often seeking taxpayers supported religious schools.
  2. People who want segregated schools where their children will not have to attend school with “those people.”
  3. People supporting both privatized schools and entrepreneurs profiting from school management and/or school real estate deals.
  4. Members of the technology industry which is using wealth and lobbying power to place many inappropriate products and practices into public schools. They often also promote technology driven charter schools.
  5. Ideologues who fervently believe that market-based solutions are always superior.

For the first time, SDUHSD is electing school board members by area. During this election cycle, seven candidates are running for seats in 3 of the five Areas; 1, 3 and 5. The even numbered seats will be on the ballot in 2020.

SDUHSD Area Map

SDUHSD Area Map

Area 1, which is in west Encinitas, has two candidates, Maureen Mo Muir who is an incumbent and Amy Flicker a well know politically active resident serving on various committees and boards.

Mo Muir fits with both groups 3 and 5 of the DPE movement. She is very unpopular with teachers for her votes on bond spending and contract negotiations. She claims to be instrumental in founding the failed TIP charter school. Muir was endorsed by the San Diego County Republican Party for the board seat she now holds.

Amy Flicker is the President of the Paul Ecke Central Elementary PTA. She has been a commissioner on the Encinitas Environmental Commission. That is the group that started the plastic bag crusade that ended grocery store plastic bags in California. She is also a member of two bond oversight committees; one in the Encinitas School District and the other in SDUHSD. Flicker is endorsed by the San Diego Democratic Party.

Amy Flicker is the choice most likely to protect public education.

Area 3, is made up of Cardiff, Solana Beach and Rancho Santa Fe. It has two candidates, Melisse Mossy and Rhea Stewart.

Rhea Stewart served on the Cardiff Elementary School District Board from 2006-2010. Stewart has the endorsement of the San Diego Democratic Party. She belongs to group 4 of the DPE movement. She is strongly related to the technology industry and its pedagogical snake oil. Her LinkedIn page lists more than ten ed-tech professional associations including Apex Learning: Mathematics and Science Instructional Designer 2014 – 2017; West Ed: Mathematics Content Specialists Ed 2013 – 2014; Aventa Learning: Mathematics and Science Program Supervisor 2011 – 2013; and K12, Inc.: Mathematics Content Specialist 2007 – 2010.

Melisse Mossy is married to Jason Mossy, head of the Mossy Auto group. She has taught school and is very involved in philanthropic activities.

Mossy belongs to group 1 of the DPE movement. She does not seem committed to public education and one wonders what her real agenda is. In a promotional video for the Santa Fe Christian School, Mossy says that if she could design a school it would be like this school where for the teachers it is more like a ministry. She states, “I used to be a teacher in the public school environment and I have seen the worst case scenario. This is the farthest thing from it.”

Even though Rhea Stewart’s professional life is wrapped around an industry that is undermining good pedagogy, I would still vote for her over a wealthy individual with a religious agenda.

Area 5, consists of Del Mar and Carmel Valley. There are three candidates for this seat, Lea Wolf, Kristin Gibson and Cheryl James-Ward.

Lea Wolf has lived in the Carmel Valley area for 20 years and has a daughter attending a district school. On her LinkedIn page she bills herself as a fiscal conservative. In a LinkedIn recommendation for David Andresen, she wrote, “David has been a tremendous resource for me as a entrepreneur since we met at San Diego Chamber of Commerce.” She has founded several technology companies including Deeds for Kids and IQNet Interactive.  Lea seems to fit in both group 4 and 5 of the DPE movement although not stridently so.

Kristin Gibson is currently President of the Del Mar Union School District. Kristin taught elementary school in the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District. Currently, she works as an educational consultant, which includes lecturing for San Diego State University’s School of Teacher Education, providing professional development for in-service teachers, and contributing to projects at the Center for Research in Mathematics and Science Education. She is a member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics.  Kristin does not appear to belong in any of the DPE groups.

Cheryl James-Ward is a professor of education leadership at San Diego State University, an administrator at the e3 Civic High charter school and wife of former superintendent of San Diego County Schools, Randy Ward. In June, she was a candidate for the San Diego County Board of Education. Even though the California Charter Schools Association spent more than $130,000 in independent expenditures for her campaign, she lost. Cheryl James-Ward is a devoted member of group 3 of the DPE movement.

In an interview with the San Diego Union, James-Ward said, “This is unfortunate as charters are public schools just like district schools. … There is also the misnomer that charters are taking money from district schools.”

Charter schools are no more public schools than Hazard Construction is a public corporation because they do some government contracts. To be a public school requires two things; (1) paid for by taxpayers and (2) public has a say in the governance. With charters the public does not have a say. Several major studies in the last five years have shown that charters do drain significant money from public schools including the latest one by Professor Gordon Lafer, “Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts.”

For Area 5, Kristin Gibson is the best choice.

Some Observations

Public schools in all neighborhoods are now targeted by the DPE movement. In San Dieguito, five of the seven school board candidates have a relationship with one or more of the DPE groups. Only Kristin Gibson (Area 5) and Amy Flick (Area 1) seem likely to stand up for the SDUHSD’s public schools against all privatizing and profiteering efforts.

America’s public education system is a priceless legacy that is under attack. We must be vigilant about who we elect to lead it. Members of both of America’s tribes, Democrats and Republicans are responsible for this outrage. Be informed. Don’t just vote your club; vote to save public education in America.

Open Letter to the California Charter Schools Association

26 May

To: Steven Baratte, Managing Director, Communications, Southern California, California Charter Schools Association (CCSA)

Reference: Your May 21, 2018, email message to San Diego Free Press (SDFP)

Your message began, “I am the managing director of communications in Southern California for the California Charter Schools Association and wanted to introduce myself because I have seen an increase of charter-related stories on your website.” Then you claim without evidence, “Many of the stories contain inaccuracies about California charter schools and perpetuate falsehoods.”

Mr. Baratte, don’t you think a serious claim like this deserves a little evidence; a few examples? Every charter school article in SDFP has been rigorously documented and provides hot links to the documentation. One might disagree with the conclusions, but the evidence presented is accurate and well-sourced.

Furthermore, the writers of these articles are not paid. They, unlike paid employees of the CCSA, have no dog in this hunt. Evidence informs them that public education is under assault by the same anti-public-school and pro-privatization forces who created your organization. There is a shared belief among these writers that public schools are an irreplaceable foundation for our amazing democratic form of government. Furthermore, losing them would invite a dystopian future.

You write,

“While I think we can have differences of opinions on the value of charter schools, I also think we all want honest and accurate journalism. Most notably, in California, charter schools are free, public, and open to all.”

Unfortunately, charter schools have become profit centers for real estate developers and charter management organizations. Instead of fulfilling their original mission to be education innovators, they have too often become fraud infested enterprises lusting after tax dollars. It did not have to be this way.

San Diego Schools

San Diego Schools Map Created Using Fordham Foundation School Mapping Tool.

Here is some honest accuracy. Charter schools are not public schools and though theoretically open to all, they have a well-documented history of avoiding more costly students. A 2013 report from the National Center for Education Statistics supports that claim. This month an even more definitive report published by In The Public Interest was written by University of Oregon’s Professor Gordon Lafer. He offered this example,

“In 2015-16, for instance, charter schools accounted for 28 percent of all Oakland-area students (that is, all students who lived within the district boundaries and attended either charter schools or traditional public schools), and thus, under California’s special education funding model, received 28 percent of all special education funding for Oakland-area students. But they enrolled far less than their share of Oakland-area special needs students—just 19 percent of the total. The imbalance is yet more extreme in the most serious categories of special need. 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.”

Oakland Special Education funding

Calling charter-schools public-schools is false. It is political spin. That is too nice. It is a lie.

When the city of San Diego contracts with a construction company to repair roads, that company is still a private company. When the state of California approves a contract, known as a charter, with a private company to educate students, the company gets paid with tax dollars. It is still a private company and is not required to comply with open meeting laws, elected school boards, much of the state education code and budget transparency like a public school. They are private businesses.

You continue,

“To lump them in with, or call them, private schools is a disservice to those who could benefit from a public charter school and is wrong. And to suggest they are being privatized is also inaccurate. In California, all but a handful of charter schools are non-profits.  We are working on legislation to make all charters in California non-profit.”

Whether they are for-profit or non-profit they are private companies and the distinction between for-profit and non-profit is quite obscure. For example, Mary Bixby, San Diego’s pioneer in the strip mall charter school business, puts children at computers running education software. Very little personal teacher-student interaction takes place but teenagers who don’t like to get up in the morning can go to the strip mall and earn credits toward graduation. In 2015, the non-profit Mary founded paid her a “salary” of $340,810 and her daughter Tiffany Yandell received $135,947.

There probably are some students who benefit from charter schools, but that benefit means students in public school lose. The state attendance money follows the student to the charter school, but the costs don’t all go along. Professor Lafer’s study shows that the lasting impact per student is almost $5,000 dollars or more. In April, Hellen Ladd and John Singleton of Duke University presented a paper documenting similar outcomes in North Carolina. A study at Syracuse University by Robert Bifulco and Randall Reback also reported similar results in New York.

The following chart from Professor Lafer’s report presents the documented impacts experienced by three California school districts including San Diego Unified.

Cost of losing charter students

This chart says that every time a student in San Diego leaves the district there are less per-student resources available for those who remain. It costs more to finance two systems, plus many inefficiencies are introduced.

Isn’t CCSA a Political Organization Representing Wealth Elites and Charter School Operators Supporting School Privatization?

Mr. Barratte, you explained in your message, “They [charter schools] are authorized by school districts, county offices of education, or the state and are accountable to them, their parents and students.”

To address this statement, let me first introduce Carol Burris who retired from an award-winning career as a New York school administrator. She is the Executive Director of the Network for Public Education (NPE), a coalition of teachers, parents and students working to preserve public education in America. Burris conducted a yearlong study of the California Charter School Industry and last year, published a lengthy report called Charters and Consequences. She noted,

“CCSA does not disclose its funders on its website nor on its 990 form, but given its Board of Directors, who makes the list of big donors is not difficult to guess.

 “The 2017 Board of Directors include New York’s DFER founder, Joe Williams, a director of the Walton Education Coalition; Gregory McGinty, the Executive Director of Policy for the Broad Foundation; Neerav Kingsland, the CEO of the Hastings Fund; and Christopher Nelson, the Managing Director of the Doris & Donald Fisher Fund. Prior Board members include Reed Hastings of Netflix and Carrie Walton Penner, heir to the Walmart fortune.

 “The real power, however, sits in CCSA’s related organization, CCSA Advocates, a not-for-profit 501(c)(4) whose mission is to increase the political clout of charter schools on local school boards, on county boards, and in Sacramento. It is at all three levels that charters can be authorized in the state.”

In 2016, CCSA Advocates changed the nature of the San Diego county board of education elections by pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into it. Previously it was a low-profile election in which local education professionals with small campaign budgets ran for seats on the board. CCSA succeeded in replacing two board members that they viewed as unfriendly to charter schools.

Now, CCSA Advocates is putting $162,000 behind Eric Lund’s bid to unseat incumbent Alicia Munoz and sending another $162,000 to support Cheryl James-Ward over incumbent Rick Shea. James-Ward is a charter school advocate and wife of ex-San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Randy Ward who trained at the infamous Broad academy. Like many Broad trained administrators, Ward is facing legal issues over money he awarded himself while in the Superintendent’s position.

The San Diego Union ran an issues piece in which Lund and Munoz answered a set of identical questions. The charter schools question read,

“The County Office of Education has been caught up in disputes over charter school authorizations, with some arguing that it has been hostile to applications at the behest of teachers unions which oppose charters. How do you think the county office has handled this issue?”

The CCSA supported candidate, Eric Lund, replied,

“Special-interest teachers unions are engaged in a full assault on great education in our county. They favor teachers before our kids by not assessing fairly each school that comes before the county Board of Education.

 “Past votes related to public charter schools have been directly along the lines of board members supported by unions. This demonstrates that special-interest teachers unions are controlling the board to block charter schools throughout San Diego. This is not in the interest of, or good for, our families and children.”

 Did Lund really say that teachers are against great education? Wow!

Munoz answered,

“A significant responsibility of County Boards of Education is to hold hearings on charter school appeals that have previously been denied by local school districts. The County Board of Education is not hostile to charter schools. In the last four years, the county board has approved one countywide charter application and three appeals. In addition, the board upheld one revocation and denied three appeals.

“The Education Code clearly spells out the criteria County Boards of Education must consider when deciding whether to approve or deny a charter school appeal. To arrive at an informed decision, the board relies on staff recommendations that are derived from hundreds of hours of work reviewing applications and evaluates each appeal based on educational and financial obligations. As public elected officials, board members have the fiduciary duty to protect the county office from financial liabilities, which is an important consideration in the appeal process.”

Does CCSA want rubber stamps for charter schools serving on school boards? It looks that way. Someone looking to protect children and the tax paying public is not appreciated. CCSA will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get rid of them.

Burris reporting about CCSA money said, “Although it is a membership organization, only $1.6 million dollars came from charter school dues.” The rest of the greater than $22 million came from deep pockets (2014 data). When it comes to the California Charter School Association Advocates, the contributions can be verified and are jaw dropping. Since January 2017, nine people have donated more than $10 million dollars to CCSA Advocates and that is just the ones I found in a few hours poking around the state of California major donors data base.

Table of Billionaire Contributions

Nine Wealthy Elites Not from San Diego Who Powerfully Influence Local Elections

While poking around, I noticed that Reed Hastings contributed $2,000 to San Diego Assembly Women Shirley Weber. The note accompanying the donation says, “MADE THROUGH INTERMEDIARY CCSA ADVOCATES FOR GREAT PUBLIC SCHOOLS, FPPC ID# 1392154, 2350 KERNER BLVD., SUITE 250 SAN RAFAEL, CA 94901.” Maybe this donation helps us understand why she is so opposed to teachers having job protections such as due process and seniority rights.

One of the charter authorization appeals that county school board turned down was from College Preparatory Middle School (CPMS). The school in a church basement that was authorized by Steve Van Zant and the Mountain Empire School District. In 2016, Van Zant pleaded guilty to felony charges related to kickbacks. Concurrently the local school district went to court to stop satellite districts like Mountain Empire from authorizing schools out of their own district and won.

CCSA spent more than $70 thousand dollars defending CPMS. In a related case you defended the Van Zant style out-of-district charter authorizations saying, “This ruling will also impact students and parents who attend the resource centers by requiring them to travel longer distances or change programs, in some cases.”

At the same time this charter school scandal was occurring, CPMS was proposing a new school site with a suspicious sounding real estate plan. The San Diego Union explained,

“Under the financial arrangement, a Utah charter school developer and a Delaware subsidiary of a real estate trust headquartered in Missouri would finance the project with millions of California education dollars. College Prep would lease the new campus from the financiers for more than $620,000 a year, or 9.5 percent of the project cost. The charter could buy the campus after five years for 125 percent of the projected $6.8 million cost of the project.”

When seeking a new authorization authority to replace Mountain Empire School district, CPMS was rejected by the La Mesa-Spring Valley school district. It appealed to the county, but staff at the county concluded the proposal was not sound. The County Board of Education turned down the appeal. In March the San Diego Union reported that the California state board of education had authorized the CPMS charter by a vote of 9 to 2.

The Union Tribune report continued,

“School co-founder Mitch Miller said the next step for College Prep is building a larger school on land at 10269 Madrid Way in Spring Valley.

“Miller said construction would take about nine months, with the hope the school would open in January 2019 or shortly thereafter. The school will stay housed in La Mesa until the Spring Valley campus is ready.”

The charter school authorization process with multiple levels of authorization does not offer real protection, supervision or accountability for charter schools. I think we need a moratorium on charter schools while we put them all under the supervision of an elected school board. Only locally elected school boards should be allowed to authorize charter schools and they should operate under the rules of public entities supported by tax dollars.

Mr. Baratte, I see that you are on the board of a newly minted charter school in Linda Vista. You did not make the list of the top ten compensated employees at CCSA; all receiving more than $150,000 per year. However, you are doing well enough to donate $1,000 yearly to the Voice of San Diego. When a person’s large income is at stake, convincing them that what they are doing is wrong is not easy, but destroying public education in America is wrong. And that is what the charter industry is doing.

Privatizing California’s Public Schools

19 Jun

The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and the Republican machine destroying public education in California or at least trying to privatize it; are promoting their jaded cause.

Three key players in the assault on California’s public schools are Walmart heiress, Carrie Walton Penner, Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings and nativist republican politician, Steve Poizner. In 2001, they started EdVoice a lobbying organization that claims California schools are broken and must be reformed. In 2003 Poizner founded the CCSA. Walton Penner and Hastings remain as board members of both EdVoice and CCSA.

About These Key Players

In a 2008 Sacramento Bee Article announcing Poizner’s run for governor, it said, “Poizner, 51, sold a high-tech business in 2000 for $1 billion and has spent more than $24 million of his own money to launch his political career. A socially moderate, pro-choice Republican, Poizner has gone to great lengths to woo the conservative base of the Republican Party, touting himself as a fiscal conservative.” In 2001, Poizner took a senior fellows position in the Bush white house. He was elected California’s insurance commissioner serving from 2007 to 2011.

Reed Hastings is famous for being the founding CEO of Netflix. Joanne Jacobs wrote a puff piece about Hastings for EducationNext, a conservative pro-school-privatization  publication. She opened the article:

 “Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has given millions of dollars to start charter schools. He’s put millions more into developing education software to personalize learning. But he doesn’t just give money. He makes things change. And he is not a fan of school boards.

 “The high-tech billionaire—he hit the “b” this year, according to Forbes—led and financed a 1998 campaign that forced the California legislature to liberalize its restrictive charter law. He served on the California Board of Education for four years. Hastings provided start-up funding for the Aspire Public Schools charter network and helped start and fund EdVoice, a lobbying group, and the NewSchools Venture Fund, which supports education entrepreneurs.”

 Many super-wealthy education reformers are not fans of democracy. There is a natural and dark human tendency to desire control over others. With their massive wealth, billionaire’s are capable of subverting democracy and enforcing their frequently uninformed opinions.

For decades, John Walton and the Walton Family Foundation promoted vouchers as the ideal fix for what Walton saw as needing fixed. In a Washington Post article Jeff Bryant wrote:

 “Fully inculcated with Friedman’s philosophies, and motivated by the myth of school failure spread by the Reagan administration, the Waltons were ready for their education revolution to begin.

 “John Walton launched the foundation’s battle for school choice by throwing both money and influence into a succession of voucher referendums throughout the 1990s and beyond — only to see the cause defeated at the ballot box time after time, as numerous studies have chronicled. The public, it would seem, was nowhere near as keen on the idea of vouchers as the Waltons and their ilk.”

 After a series of defeats, the foundation transitioned the privatization agenda to advancing charter schools. Bryant continued:

 “According to a pro-union website, another member of the Walton family, Carrie Walton Penner, sits on the board of the foundation connected to the prominent KIPP charter school chain—on which the Walton Family Foundation has lavished many millions in donations—and is also a member of the California Charter Schools Association. Carrie’s husband, Greg Penner, is a director of the Charter Growth Fund, a ‘non-profit venture capital fund’ investing in charter schools. And Annie Walton Proietti, the daughter of Sam Walton’s youngest son Jim, works for a KIPP school in Denver.”

 Carrie Walton Penner serves on the boards of several organizations, including the KIPP Foundation, the Charter School Growth Fund, the California Charter Schools Association, EdVoice, Innovate Public Schools and the Stanford University Graduate School of Education.

Reed Hastings is on the board of the California Charter Schools Association; the KIPP Foundation; DreamBox Learning, an education technology company; and the Pahara Institute, which provides fellowships to education leaders. On the business side, he served on Microsoft’s board until 2012 and is now on Facebook’s board.

This is a tight knit group of wealthy elites flexing their financial power to control education policy which means privatizing public schools.

The Hired Guns

Jeb Wallace is the CEO of CCSA. He is unusual in the pro-privatize set in that he did work in an elementary school in Los Angeles. He helped create a school within the school that led to a charter conversion. Wallace left LA to join Allen Bersin in San Diego to supervise charter schools in the San Diego Unified School District.

Bersin is cited by the Democrats for Education Reform as “a hero of education reform.” The citation says, “Appointed in 1998 as Superintendent of Public Education of the San Diego Unified School District, Bersin led the eighth largest urban school district in the country. In 2005, Governor Schwarzenegger appointed him as California’s Education Secretary. Bersin is a lawyer with no training in education. In her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch called Bersin’s tenure in San Diego a test run for corporate style education reform.

Wallace went from San Diego Unified to be COO of High Tech High, the new startup charter school sponsored by the Jacobs family, founders and major stock holders of Qualcomm Inc. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided a $9.4 million startup grant and has contributed another almost $4 million in support funding since 2000.

In 2009, Wallace moved on to be President and CEO of CCSA. The Association form 990 covering tax year 2013 listed his remuneration as $336,000.

Bill Lucia, who is the CEO of EdVoice, was a senior official at the Department of Education in the George W. Bush administration. Lucia has served as Executive Director of the State Board of Education and in a number of key staff positions within the California State Legislature, including Chief Consultant of the Assembly Education Committee, senior staff on the Budget and Appropriations Committees, and Chief of Staff and education consultant to the Chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus.

Lucia has worked in various senior education policy roles, including as COO and Director of Policy at EdVoice from March 2008 through March 2010. Prior to joining EdVoice, Lucia served as Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy, leading the advocacy and legal defense team at the California Charter Schools Association(CCSA). Before joining CCSA, Lucia worked as Senior Assessment Policy Liaison for Educational Testing Service.

The most recent EdVoice form 990 lists compensation to Lucia as more the $250,000.

Compassionate Love for Children Motivates the CCSA Board

This calls to mind the observation Ciedie Aech made in her wonderful book Why Is You Always Got To Be Trippin’:

 “So. When big money gets thrown around under the socially responsible guise of helping less powerful and politically disenfranchised citizens – benevolently offering that helpful leg up, so to speak; well, it’s a funny but historical trend that quite often this particular kind of money? Somehow, sort of, gets redirected.”

 Diane Tavenner the CCSA board Chairman is the Founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools, a non-profit charter management organization focused on Silicon Valley. Her reported charter school earnings for 2013 – $192,000.

Ana Ponce the CCSA board Secretary is Chief Executive Officer of Camino Nuevo Charter Academy (CNCA). CNCA is a neighborhood network of 5 elementary and secondary schools serving over 2000 students within the greater MacArthur Park neighborhood near Downtown Los Angeles. Her reported charter school earnings for 2013 – $205,000.

Christopher Nelson the CCSA Treasure is the Managing Director of the Doris & Donald Fisher Fund (Gap Inc. profits used to privatize public schools). His reported foundation earnings for 2013 – $475,000.

Cameron Curry a CCSA board member is the founder of the Classical Academy schools in north San Diego County. His organization has five sites serving 3,000 students. His reported charter school earnings for 2013 – $223,000.

Margaret Fortune a CCSA board member is the President and CEO of Fortune School of Education. There are five Fortune Schools in San Bernardino and Sacramento serving 1250 students. Her reported charter school earnings for 2013 – $226,000.

Gregory McGinity a CCSA board member is the Executive Director of Policy for The Broad Foundation. His reported foundation earnings for 2013 – $303,000.

The 2014 form 990 report to the IRS reveals that 12 employees of CCSA were paid more than $150,000 each in 2013.

Swaying Elections

 In the lead up to the San Diego County school board election on California’s June 7 primary ballot, the Voice of San Diego reported, “Partly to ensure charter schools get a fair review when they petition to open a school, CCSA is backing four challengers in the election: Powell, Jerry Rindone, Paulette Donnellon and former state Sen. Mark Wyland.” There are similar reports from around California of big money political activity supporting candidates thought to be more charter school friendly.

In 2013, the CCSA reported taking in $22,000,000. The Association declares itself to be a 501(c)(3) non-profit, which means CCSA must adhere to the associated regulations.

One of the regulations prohibits 501(c)(3)’s from engaging in electoral politics. IRS code states:

 “Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.  Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.” (emphasis added)

 It is hard to see how a fair reading of this code makes it possible for organizations like CCSA not to lose their 501(c)(3) status. Why are people like Carrie Walton Penner, Reed Hastings and Jeb Wallace allowed to flout this law with impunity?

When researching for this report, I noticed that the California Foundation which has over $3 billion in assets and donates to charter schools shares the same address as the CCSA. (Correction; they only share the same zip code.)

I also noticed that many of the key people involved in privatizing California’s public schools were significantly involved in California and national republican party politics. Having groups like the Democrats for Education Reform and the Obama administration joining these Republicans in the effort to privatize public schools is difficult to comprehend.

Public schools are important to both American democracy and a vibrant just culture. They are worth fighting to save from arrogance, ignorance and greed.

Charter Schools Strip Public System

27 May

United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) contracted with MGT of America Consulting, LLC for a report on costs to Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) caused by charter schools. MGT reported, “these data indicate that LAUSD has a nearly $600 million impact from independent charter schools. By far, the most significant financial impact to LAUSD is in the area of declining enrollment lost to charter schools” which they estimated as a “total net revenue loss in 2014-15 $508,280,866.” Within a few days the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) began attacking the report in an open letter to the LAUSD Board of Education.

CCSA said of the report: “This report is riddled with inaccuracies;” “It draws sweeping and often irresponsible conclusions based on limited information and obsolete data;” “It paints a distorted picture of charter schools’ role in L.A. Unified’s financial portfolio;” “Charters are essential to the district’s success.”

A fair reading of the report reveals that MGT’s representative was conservative, clear, careful and reasoned. MGT is a private research firm that has expertise in analyzing school and other governmental systems. They accepted a contract with the UTLA to research a set of specific questions and they do not appear to have a dog in this fight. Conversely, the $15 million budget that California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) has to promote charter schools gives them an undeniable agenda.

CCSA Disputes and Reality

There are 24 findings stated in the MGT report. Each of the findings is explained in some detail and the source of the data is given. The CCSA disputes four of these findings in their open letter. The refutations bring to mind arguments about how many angles can dance on the head of a pin.

CCSA disputed the special education findings. MGT found, “the district has both a higher proportion of special education students than the charter schools (13.4% vs. 8.1%, as of December 2013) and of that proportion, has double the percentage of higher cost ‘Moderate to Severe’ special education students than its charters (30% vs 15%), as reported in the data compiled for the Independent Financial Review Panel report published November 10, 2015.”

CCSA says, “The report uses a number of outdated and erroneous statistics that paint a misleading picture of both the proportion of students with disabilities in charters schools and the fiscal impact on the District.” They claim a “recent analysis” shows the LAUSD over identifies special education students. They also point to data from the Office of the Independent Monitor that shows that LA charter school only served 3% less special education students in 2013-2014 not the 5% difference shown in the report. Why there is a discrepancy between the data provided by the Independent Monitor and LAUSD is not clear. The following chart based on data provided by LAUSD and the state of California indicates for some reason the percentage of charter school students in LAUSD is increasing.

SPED Percent LA

It may be that the CCSA is more worried about possible changes to California law than they are about this report. They stated, “The UTLA/MGT ‘Finding 5’ regarding Proposition 39 oversight fees is false. If a school district, such as the Los Angeles Unified School District, charges a pro rata share, the facilities are not substantially rent free and the school district cannot charge the 3% oversight fee.” On this subject the MGT report explains, “LAUSD has fifty-six (56) charter schools currently co-located in LAUSD facilities and has elected to use the “pro rata share” approach for facilities charges. By doing so, the district may have determined it may not also charge the 3% oversight fee. However, the majority of the costs included in the pro rata calculation are direct costs that charters should already be paying that are associated with occupancy of the facilities (e.g. utilities, custodial, trash, grounds, etc.).” It does not look like a false claim at all but just a suggestion for the district to save a few dollars from going into the pockets of CCSA clients.

Poor Law Harming Local Schools

The MGT study illustrates how charter school law in California is fashioned to favor privately operated charter schools over public schools. If a local community passed a bond measure in the 1980’s to build a new public school, it is the law in California that the members of that local community – who still might be paying for that public school – will have no choice but to allow a private operator move into the facility. In addition, the charter school law requires the local school district to incur many direct and indirect costs to support charter schools.

In California, since its statehood, a super-majority (67%) was required to pass a school bond measure. In 2000, after losing an effort that March to mitigate the super-majority rules and the infamous proposition 13 limitations, supporters brought forward proposition 39 that would reduce school-bond super-majorities to 55% and did not seriously threaten proposition 13 protections enacted in 1978. It passed 53% to 47% in November.

In the official ballot summary for proposition 39 in the November 7, 2000 election the support message was signed by Lavonne Mcbroom, President California State PTA; Jacqueline N. Antee, AARP State President; and Allan Zaremerg, President California Chamber of Commerce. The statement against the proposition was signed by Jon Coupal, Chairman Save Our Homes Committee, Vote No on Proposition 39, a Project of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association; Dean Andal, Chairman Board of Equalization, State of California; and Felicia Elkinson, Past President Council of Sacramento Senior Organizations.

This proposition was a battle royal with every media source and elected official bloviating endlessly about the righteousness of their side. However, like in the official ballot measure statements, there was no discussion of the charter school co-location funding requirement in article six of the proposition.

When proposition 39 is coupled with the undemocratic charter authorizing system in California, citizens lose all democratic control of their local schools. With the three levels of government having the power to authorize charter schools it is almost impossible to turn down an charter request no matter how bad the schools previous history is or how inundated a community might be with certain types of schools. As former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch writes:

 “District officials in California have confided in me that it is virtually impossible to stop a charter proposal, no matter how bad it is or how little it is needed. If the district turns down the proposal, the charter advocates appeal to the Los Angeles County School Board, where they are often approved. In the off-chance that both the district and the county turn down their proposal, the advocates appeal to the state, where they are almost certain to win approval.”

CCSA Influencing Elections

Here in San Diego, it appears the CCSA is trying to pack the San Diego County Board of Education with charter school proponents. Four of the five seats on the Board are up for election on June 7. The Voice of San Diego reported, “Nine candidates will vie for the openings, including four incumbents: Gregg Robinson, Mark Anderson, Guadalupe Gonzalez and Rick Shea. All except Shea are community college educators.” And they continue, “CCSA is backing four challengers in the election: [Mark] Powell, Jerry Rindone, Paulette Donnellon and former state Sen. Mark Wyland.”

Evidently the fact that “The County Board denied six of the seven charters it has reviewed since 2011 is a cause for corporate spending. In all of those cases, County Board members went along with the recommendations of staff members who reviewed the document.” The County Board only reviews cases that have already been turned down by local school districts.

Stop Authorizing Charter at Least until Law Fixed

Public education run by democratic processes is a major good. The past two decades of school reform have produced nothing but negative results and profits. The more enthusiastically the corporate and billionaire driven reforms have been embraced the worse the results (see Denver, New Orleans and Washington DC). It is time to stop all new charter school authorizations in California. It is time to reject the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. It is time to embrace professional educators working democratically within local communities to restore public education in America. It is time to protect our great inherited legacy – public education – which is definitely not a privatized market driven education.