News, Trump Administration

Chalkbeat: Independent charters distance themselves from networks, Trump

President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Despite a clear alliance between some of the U.S.’ largest charter networks and President Trump cohorts such as U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, independent charter companies are looking to separate themselves from the fray, Chalkbeat reports.

This week, the site covered a fascinating New York symposium that reportedly touched on, among other things, a divide in the nation’s growing charter movement between major networks and small, “mom-and-pop” charter operators.

From Chalkbeat:

Stand-alone charter schools say they’re often overlooked in favor of big-name networks like KIPP — while at the same time being unfairly tied to Betsy DeVos’s agenda.

At a symposium last week, a number of school leaders agreed to try to change that by launching a new national organization dedicated to independent, or “mom-and-pop,” charters.

“When people think of charters, they do not think of us,” said Steve Zimmerman, an organizer of the conference and founder of two independent charter schools.

In a hotel conference room in Queens, leaders from nearly 200 schools across 20 states unanimously called for the group’s creation. They also adopted a progressive manifesto that tried to separate the members from the Trump administration and common criticisms of the charter schools.

It marks yet another fissure in the nation’s charter school movement, which has seen political and philosophical divides open up in the wake of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s appointment.

And while the loose group of independent charters does not yet have a name or a clear funding plan, its leaders believe they can provide a louder, more democratic voice for their concerns than existing charter advocacy groups, which they say are too focused on expanding networks.

“The National Alliance [for Public Charter Schools] truly believes they act in the interest of all charter schools. And to some degree they do,” said Zimmerman, referring to the country’s top national charter advocacy group. “The truth is, though, that they can’t really represent the real interests of independent charter schools because their funders really believe in the network model.”

National Alliance spokeswoman Vanessa Descalzi said the group supports independent charters.

“Advocating for independent, community-based schools is in the National Alliance’s DNA,” she said. “Where folks feel we could do more, we look forward to continued discussion and seeking solutions together.”

Zimmerman is the co-director of the Coalition of Community Charter Schools, an organization for independent charters based in New York City that co-sponsored last week’s conference. That symposium, he said, came out of a desire to shift the discussion around measuring schools away from just test scores.

“We felt that there was too much thinking of outcomes as being the bottom line of the enterprise … and that was keeping our schools from being innovative,” he said. “It felt like a zero sum pissing game of comparing test scores all the time.”

When the Trump administration took office, a new set of concerns arose for many leaders of schools like his. In Zimmerman’s telling, there was “too much coziness between major players in the charter world and the incoming administration.”

He declined to offer specifics. But Eva Moskowitz, the head of the Success Academy network in New York, met with Trump soon after he was elected, and the National Alliance initially praised a Trump budget proposal featuring deep cuts to education spending but an increase for charter schools. Both have since distanced themselves further from the administration.

“To have in any way the charter world associated with that felt that it was really going to hurt our message,” Zimmerman said.

Charter networks nationally and in North Carolina have embraced privatization in some cases. As Policy Watch has reported, school choice advocates connected to networks like TeamCFA, which operates 13 schools in North Carolina, led the push for state lawmakers to approve a controversial charter takeover of low-performing schools last year, a program that may open the door to private control of traditional public facilities.

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News, Trump Administration

Reports point to inappropriate billing, defaulting loans associated with for-profit education

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

As federal backing of for-profit education programs grows under President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, watch-dog reporting on such initiatives will be of the utmost importance.

In that spirit, here’s a pair of fascinating reports emerging today on for-profit initiatives aimed at high school and college students.

First, a ProPublica report examines publicly-funded, “dropout recovery” schools in the state of Ohio, where for-profit companies have sought to fill the void for students departing traditional public schools.

According to the report, at least one of these companies may be billing the state’s taxpayers for students who aren’t actually attending class.

From the report:

Last school year, Ohio’s cash-strapped education department paid Capital High $1.4 million in taxpayer dollars to teach students on the verge of dropping out. But on a Thursday in May, the storefront charter school run by for-profit EdisonLearning was mostly empty.

In one room, vacant chairs faced 25 blank computer monitors. Three students sat in a science lab down the hall, and another nine in an unlit classroom, including one youth who sprawled out, head down, sleeping.

Only three of the more than 170 students on Capital’s rolls attended class the required five hours that day, records obtained by ProPublica show. Almost two-thirds of the school’s students never showed up; others left early. Nearly a third of the roster failed to attend class all week.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has championed charters and for-profit education, contending in Congressional testimony that school choice can lower absenteeism and dropout rates. But at schools like Capital, a ProPublica-USA Today investigation found, the drop-outs rarely drop in—and if they do, they don’t stay long. Such schools aggressively recruit as many students as possible, and sometimes count them even after they stop showing up, a practice that can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for empty desks.

Auditors have accused for-profit dropout recovery schools in Ohio, Illinois and Florida of improperly collecting public money for vanished students.

ProPublica reviewed 38 days of Capital High’s records from late March to late May and found six students skipped 22 or more days straight with no excused absences. Two were gone the entire 38-day period. Under state rules, Capital should have unenrolled them after 21 consecutive unexcused absences.

Though the school is largely funded on a per-student basis, the no-shows didn’t hurt its revenue stream. Capital billed and received payment from the state for teaching the equivalent of 171 students full-time in May.

In 2012, Ohio auditors examined a sample of former students and found Capital High had failed to withdraw 90 percent of them in “a timely manner.” Three years later, a state report placed Capital among seven schools with the largest variances between reported enrollment and actual attendance.

An EdisonLearning spreadsheet charting withdrawals and enrollments in 2015-2016 shows that, on average, the student totals Capital submitted monthly for funding exceeded its internal tally by at least 24 percent.

Told of ProPublica-USA Today’s findings, both Ohio’s state auditor and its Department of Education said they would investigate Capital.

Because enrollment is constantly changing, “a single snapshot of enrollment and withdrawals will more than likely not match” state totals, EdisonLearning said. The company conceded extended absences are a “persistent challenge,” but said it shares all student attendance records in “real time” with state education officials. If issues arise, the company said, it addresses and corrects them.

The school’s program director, Monica Scott, said she urges students, who often have difficult home lives, to come to class. “I’m telling them you have to get your instructional hours,” she said.

Corey Timmons, 19, who graduated from Capital this spring, said he had complained to Scott about students coming and going as they pleased. “It’s not really a school environment,” he said.

According to the report, such programs have emerged in Ohio and Illinois as publicly-backed alternative schools that operate much like charters.

But, while they serve a student population that’s difficult to retain, the ProPublica report notes for-profit programs have a financial incentive to keep their enrollment numbers high.

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NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

In N.C., 42% of Trump’s proposed tax cuts would go to the few making more than $1 million

On July 27, the White House released a statement on Tax Reform that stated tax-writing committees in Congress would work this fall to “develop and draft legislation that would result in the first comprehensive tax reform in a generation.” The White House statement was blunt in stating “the American people have elected a President and Congress that are fully committed to ensuring that ordinary Americans keep more of their hard-earned money.”

However, a newly released report confirms that the White House is not really interested in tax reform that helps “ordinary Americans”. Instead, under President Trump’s proposed tax cut plan, “ordinary Americans” will hardly benefit at all, as nearly half of Trump’s proposed tax cuts would go to people making more than $1 million annually, according to the report by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP).

As it pertains to North Carolina, the new report is clear in pointing out:

“A tiny fraction of the North Carolina population (0.5 percent) earns more than $1 million annually. But this elite group would receive 42.4 percent of the tax cuts that go to North Carolina residents under the tax proposals from the Trump administration. A much larger group, 50.8 percent of the state, earns less than $45,000, but would receive just 5.9 percent of the tax cuts.

The first group, the millionaires, would receive an average tax cut of $150,550 in 2018, equal to 6.4 percent of their income. The second group, those making less than $45,000, would receive an average tax cut of just $190, equal to 0.8 percent of their income.”

That report concludes with the confounding fact that the Trump tax principles would also reduce revenue in the U.S. by at least $4.8 trillion over 10 years. If this drastic approach took effect at the federal level it would put NC and our local governments at risk, as our state would not be able to sustain vital programs that help people thrive due to the costly tax cuts at both the federal and state level. In a recent brief the NC Budget & Tax Center stated: “The costly tax cuts in the new [NC] budget represent missed opportunities by lawmakers to ensure that the needs of a growing state are adequately met and to boost public investments that promote opportunity and broadly shared prosperity.”

If you are wondering how all of this is possible, here are the known Trump tax cut proposals that would primarily help the super-rich and would reduce U.S. revenues by $4.8 trillion over 10 years:

– Repeal of the 3.8 percent tax on investment income for the rich.
– Repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax.
– Repeal of personal exemptions and doubling of the standard deduction.
– Replacement of current income tax brackets with three brackets: 10 percent, 25 percent, and 35 percent.
– Elimination of all itemized deductions except those for charitable giving and home mortgage interest.
– Special tax rate (15 percent) for businesses that do not pay the corporate income tax.
– New deduction and tax credit for child care.
– Repeal of special tax breaks for businesses and reduction in the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent.
– Repeal of the estate tax.

Luis A. Toledo is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

Why does the President tweet about stock market levels but not our poverty rate?

Since July 1, President Trump has tweeted to celebrate the results of the U.S. stock market nine times and has tweeted about strong jobs numbers thirteen times. His frequent tweeting about these two metrics appears to indicate that they are his key indicators for assessing how we are doing as a country. It is worth noting, however, that during this timeframe not once has he tweeted about the “poverty rate” in the U.S. Why not?

Yes, the U.S. stock market, as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average, seems to be doing well as the Dow posted record closing highs all of last week. This, however, should not be too surprising. Since 2013, the U.S. stock market has hit a new high closing record 157 times (123 times under President Obama, 34 times under President Trump). Here’s another way of looking at it: The U.S. stock market has hit an all-time high in 30 of the last 54 months. In other words, the U.S. stock market has been doing well for quite some time now, meaning the record-breaking numbers that the President is tweeting about aren’t quite as rare as they might seem.

What should be surprising and alarming is the fact that the President does not seem to view the U.S. poverty rate as a key indicator of how America is doing.

In a recent article Politico points out that economists have frequently found little relationship between returns on stock investments and real economic growth. Instead, it appears that a strong stock market helps the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, through the increasing income inequality gap. The article points out, “about 80 percent of the value of the stock market is held by the richest 10 percent of the nation; the vast majority of gains in share value accrue to the rich, not to most Americans.”

Understanding and tracking the poverty rate in the United States and in North Carolina is important because it is an indicator of whether the economy is delivering opportunity for all. It goes without saying that the greatest country in the world, and the one with strongest economy, should not have a high number of people that are poor.

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Environment, Trump Administration

DEQ hosts more public listening sessions on Atlantic Coast Pipeline; new FERC members bode ill for opponents

Hundreds of people turned out in Rocky Mount to comment on the water quality and riparian buffer impacts of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Another listening session is scheduled for next week in Rocky Mount, as well as in Jackson and Lumberton.(Photo: Lisa Sorg)

If you missed the recent public hearings on the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, you have three more chances to speak your mind before state environmental officials.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality is holding additional public listening sessions about the project, which will cross parts of eight eastern North Carolina counties, including low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

  • Tuesday, Aug. 15: Nash Community College, 522 N. Old Carriage Road., Rocky Mount
  • Wednesday, Aug. 16: Northampton County Cultural and Wellness Center, 9536 NC. Hwy. 305, Jackson.
  • Thursday, Aug. 17: Southeastern Agricultural Center, 1027 US Hwy. 74, Lumberton.

Speaker registration and sign-in for all three listening sessions will start at 5:30 p.m. The listening sessions will begin at 6 p.m.

After two public hearings in July, DEQ is still accepting written comments on water quality and riparian buffer rules for the ACP through Aug. 19 at 5 p.m. Via snail mail, send them to 401 Permitting, 1617 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC. 27699-1617. Written comments may also be submitted by email to PublicComments@ncdenr.gov. Please be sure to include “ACP” in the email’s subject line.

The comments will be forwarded to FERC, which has final approval of the pipeline. Until earlier this month, FERC did not have a quorum under the Trump administration, meaning the commission could not issue decisions on any projects. But as of Aug. 3, the US Senate confirmed Trump nominees Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to FERC, filling two of three vacancies. These appointments don’t bode well for pipeline opponents. Chatterjee previously served as energy policy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In that position, Chatterjee helped push for Senate approval of the Keystone and was among congressional officials who opposed US participation in the Paris Agreement.

Powelson worked as a commissioner on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. He  supports both fracking and natural gas pipelines. Before  a group of industry representatives, he compared opposition to what he views as a term for war. “The jihad has begun,” StateImpact Pennsylvania quoted Powelson as saying. “At the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission groups actually show up at commissioners homes to make sure we don’t get this gas to market. How irresponsible is that?”

New to the pipeline discussion?

NCPW has reported on the potential damage to the environment and to underserved communities.

FERC released a draft environmental impact statement and a final version, both of which were incomplete — even at 1,000-plus pages — and omitted or downplayed many key issues.