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Be sure to check out the #1 trending story on the Washington Post this morning — it’s entitled “White parents in North Carolina are using charter schools to secede from the education system.”

After detailing the battle over charters and the promise that even many progressives see in them, the article notes:

“The most recent cautionary tale comes from North Carolina, where professors at Duke have traced a troubling trend of resegregation since the first charters opened in 1997. They contend that North Carolina’s charter schools have become a way for white parents to secede from the public school system, as they once did to escape racial integration orders.

‘They appear pretty clearly to be a way for white students to get out of more racially integrated schools,’ said economics professor Helen Ladd, one of the authors of the draft report released Monday.

Charter schools in North Carolina tend to be either overwhelmingly black or overwhelmingly white—in contrast to traditional public schools, which are more evenly mixed.”

And this is the summary from the new report that Ladd authored along with Professors Charles Clotfelter and John Holbein, “The Growing Segmentation of the Charter School Sector in North Carolina”: Read More

News

Hats off to the Charlotte Observer’s Andrew Dunn, who published a series of stories this weekend about how for-profit education management organizations that operate charter schools in North Carolina are allowed to keep secret, to some extent, how they spend taxpayer dollars — and how that reality can ultimately contribute to the abuse of public money.

From Dunn’s story:

Six private charter school management firms currently oversee millions in state dollars for public education in North Carolina.

The structure of these schools has benefits. The financial backing a company provides offers stability, and management organizations bring refined curriculums and training programs, said Eddie Goodall, executive director of the Charlotte-based North Carolina Public Charter Schools Association. They also often have strong records of academic performance.

But other states with longer charter school track records have had problems. In many cases, the lack of transparency at their management companies has made it more difficult to detect issues. Among the examples:

  • The founder of Bay City Academy in Michigan was convicted of three counts last month related to tax fraud for shuffling money intended for the charter school through his management business and personal accounts to avoid taxes.
  • A charter school in Washington, D.C., had its charter revoked in Februaryafter authorities accused it of improperly shifting public money to the management company. D.C. charter school officials said they had a hard time obtaining financial records from the company. Earlier, D.C. officials had accused another management company of receiving exorbitantly high prices for services at several charter schools.
  • In New York, the Office of the State Comptroller sought to get informationfrom National Heritage Academies after saying state officials couldn’t determine how $10 million in taxpayer money was being used. The company refused to provide full financial reports. New York no longer allows new charter schools to contract with for-profit companies.

“Transparency is a serious issue,” said Gary Miron, a professor at Western Michigan University who has studied charter schools extensively. In Michigan, nearly 80 percent of charter schools are run by for-profit management companies. “Transparency laws would help, but they must invade the proprietary space of (management companies) because of the public need to know.”

Dunn also highlights six management companies’ disclosure practices, management fees and executive pay rates in his story.

Next year, for example, Cabarrus Charter School will for over $800,000+ in taxpayer dollars in management fees to its parent company, Charter Schools USA.

Last week, Governor Pat McCrory and Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage toured one of the company’s three charter schools, Cardinal Charter Academy in Cary. Senator Jerry Tillman is sponsoring a bill this year that would make it easier for national for-profit charter school management organizations to expand their presence in the state going forward.

Click below to read all of Dunn’s stories on for-profit charter school management firms.

News
Governor Pat McCrory and Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage

Governor Pat McCrory and Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage

Governor Pat McCrory toured a Cary charter school Thursday with the head of that school’s for-profit education management organization, Charter Schools USA.

“He’s just here to highlight a good school,” said Eric Guckian, McCrory’s education advisor, when asked what prompted the Governor’s visit Thursday to Cardinal Charter Academy, which opened its doors to grades K-6 last August.

Jonathan Hage, the CEO of Charter Schools USA, a Florida-based education management organization that operates three charter schools in North Carolina and 70 schools overall in seven states, told N.C. Policy Watch he’d like to increase the number of schools his EMO operates in the Tar Heel state.

“We hope to earn the opportunity [for expansion] by doing a great job here,” said Hage in reference to Cardinal Charter, pointing to the school’s use of “high technology” and a strong discipline policy.

Hage, who has reportedly contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to political campaigns around the country, also cut checks to three North Carolina lawmakers’ campaigns in 2014 — $2,500 each to Senator Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph), Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) and Sen. Fletcher Hartsell (R-Cabarrus, Union).

Gov. McCrory & Charter Schools USA CEO Hage

Gov. McCrory & Charter Schools USA CEO Hage

“We support anyone who supports more school choice for kids and does that in a responsible way,” said Hage when queried about his campaign donations.

Last week, Senator Tillman filed legislation that would make it easier for national education management organizations, like Charter Schools USA, to expand and replicate their model across the state.

It’s not the first time Sen. Tillman has filed legislation that would ease the path for for-profit national EMOs. Last year, Tillman sponsored legislation that set up a fast-track process for replication of high quality charter schools and a process for EMOs to take over other failing charter schools.

Tillman and other GOP leaders have reportedly expressed frustration in the past about the pace of charter school expansion in North Carolina since the 100 school cap on the number of charters allowed to operate in the state was lifted back in 2011.

Last year, Charter School Advisory Board member Alan Hawkes rebuked his colleagues for failing to greenlight more charter schools, saying GOP leaders want to see “operators come into the state like they did in Louisiana and other states and quickly affect the public school choice landscape for the better and in quantity.”

Hawkes also indicated in an email to other Charter School Advisory Board members that he received heat from Sen. Jerry Tillman about the low number of approved charter school applications.

Charter Schools USA has come under criticism for running a real estate racket in Florida. A report by the Florida League of Women Voters finds that the for-profit EMO diverts taxpayer money for education to private pockets through shady dealings that result in high real estate leasing fees – paid for by the public.

News

K12, Inc.As expected, the State Board of Education gave its blessing Thursday to two virtual charter schools applying for a new pilot program set up by the state legislature.

The new public schools will allow students to take their entire course loads remotely, and stand to send millions in public education dollars to two companies that will manage the daily operations of the virtual schools.

N.C. Policy Watch has been covering the push by K12, Inc., the company behind the N.C. Virtual Academy, since 2011 to open a virtual charter school in North Carolina. The company has been criticized in other states for its aggressive lobbying of public officials to open schools, as well as low academic results from many of the public schools it manages.

On Thursday, the state board also decided to drop a requirement that would have required schools to provide or pay for learning coaches for students whose parents can’t serve in that role.

Here’s more from my article earlier today:

Get ready to add “attend third-grade” to the growing list of things you can do over the Internet in North Carolina, after ordering pizzas and watching cat videos.

The State Board of Education, which oversees public education in the state, is expected to approve two charter schools today that will teach children from their home computers in schools run by Wall Street-traded companies.

Daily monitoring would be in the hands of “learning coaches,” a role that’s been filled by parents, guardians and athletic coaches in the more than 30 other states that offer publicly-funded virtual schooling options.

Today’s anticipated vote of approval (click here to listen to an audio stream of today’s meeting) will be a significant change of the state board, which fought an attempt in the courts from the N.C. Virtual Academy to open up a virtual school three years ago.

If approved, the N.C. Virtual Academy (to be run by K12, Inc., NYSE:LRN) and N.C. Connections Academy (to be run by Connections Academy, owned by education giant Pearson, NYSE:PSO) will be able to enroll up to 1,500 students each from across the state, and send millions in public education dollars to schools run by private education companies.

You can read the entire piece here.

 

News

Kinston Charter Academy closed its doors back in September 2013 after years of financial mismanagement. Today, the state auditor released a report investigating the school’s financial practices.

The audit reveals allegations of fraud and abuse that took place on the watch of the school’s CEO and Principal, Ozie Hall Jr. Some of the most eyebrow-raising findings include:

School overstated attendance estimate which inflated state funds received by more than $300,000.

School employed Chief Executive Officer/Principal’s (CEO) unqualified relatives, at a cost of $92,500 in the School’s final year.

Despite ultimately owing more than $370,000 in payroll obligations, questionable payments of more than $11,000 were made to the CEO and his wife.

Despite the School’s dire financial situation, the board approved several expenses already paid by cashier’s check and often with limited supporting documentation. These expenses included vacation leave payouts to the CEO and his wife, who was serving as the board chair, and a new laptop computer for the CEO.

Investigators also had trouble verifying Hall’s past experience running a school:

Although the CEO received degrees in education and administration, his background lacked key qualifications for the position as specified in the School’s 2004 charter. He told investigators that he “ran an alternative school” in Wilmington, Delaware from 1986 to 1990. However, the CEO provided no documentation (no information on students, teachers, curriculum, address, hours of instruction) to support that claim. The Delaware Department of Education and Delaware Public Archives could not verify the school’s existence.

And then there’s this finding:

The CEO’s daughter was hired as the School’s academic officer despite a lack of teaching or school administration experience. She received $40,000 in salary during the 2012-13 school year. The CEO said her duties included monitoring lesson plans for elementary school classes and helping with implementation of Common Core standards. The daughter was a recent college graduate with a degree in American Studies. The CEO told us that she had never worked in a school previous to her employment at the School. She replaced the associate principal who had over 20 years of experience in public schools with her most recent job as “an assistant to the Superintendent” according to the CEO.

Reached by phone, Hall, who is now head of Anderson Creek Club Charter School in Harnett County, said the auditor’s report reflects basic incompetence.

“The fact that they couldn’t find it [the Wilmington, DE alternative school] is another reflection of incompetence,” said Hall. “The report contains outright fabrications.”

State Board of Education chair Bill Cobey says the board will be seeking a legislative fix this session to allow them more authority in dealing with financially troubled charter schools.

Click here to read the full report.