Dear Senator Alexander and
I have been reading the parts of the ESEA/NCLB rewrite regarding charter schools. It brings to mind the lawlessness of the government under Prohibition, and how elected officials would openly consort with gangsters. The only difference is, the federal law is now being written to allow untoward behavior, and it now uses children as grist for the profit mill.
During the selling phase of “school choice”, it is not disclosed or made clear to parents, that charter schools are only accredited for a few years, nor are they told that the school could be shut down at any time. Public schools were forever, until NCLB forced shutting schools down rather then figuring out what was needed to help them improve. Charter schools can close at a moments notice, and often do. They close because of federal investigations, they close because the owners drained all the money out until there was nothing left, they close because they are dealing with humans, not machines, and the work product may not meet code. States that were ahead on the charter movement seem to be experiencing the most problems, with Ohio having 17 charter schools shut down in one year. Twenty nine percent of all Ohio charters have shut down. Schools are supposed to provide consistency and continuity. Schools receive their state allocations based on a snapshot of enrollment, usually in October. If the school closes in November, or reduces enrollment by counseling students out? It does not roll back in to the public coffers, it stays with the charter company.
Here is a very interesting story that came out of Ohio this week. The NCLB rewrite calls for support of charter schools for students to prevent or recover drop outs. A story this week out of Ohio has charter schools with less then 50% attendance, and one school with 0 attendance. Zero. The state is paying for 95 students and they are not going. Do you know what a charter school owner calls that? Profit. http://www.abc6onyourside.com/news/features/top-stories/stories/Spot-Checks-Find-Pupils-Missing-From-Ohio-Charter-Schools-70615.shtml#.VMO8u9LF9Tp Is trying to keep students in school a noble endeavor? Of course, but it does not make sense to allow private entities to profit from work that they are not doing.
There are story after story of charter school operators committing various acts of frauds, including real estate transactions that involve charter schools companies paying high rents for space owned by the charter school company owners. http://www.dispatch.com/content/blogs/the-daily-briefing/2015/01/121141-million-judgment-against-charter-school-operator.html
Here is a report from Integrity in Education highlighting rampant fraud in 15 states. The wording in the ESEA rewrite “The State entity ensures that each charter school has a high degree of autonomy over the charter school’s budget and operations, including autonomy over personnel decisions” seems to open the door to all sorts of graft and fraud. http://integrityineducation.org/charter-fraud/
A quick search on the US Department of Education’s Office of Investigation has 27 cases related to charter fraud. http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oig/ireports.html
And, these are actions that are occurring in spite of the very permissive “high degree of autonomy” over financial and personal matters. So, things like, putting an entire family on the charter school payroll might not be caught within the scope of this language. Also, since there is minimal accountability, there is a more likely occurrence of closure due to fiscal mismanagement.
There are many questions about the Gulen charter system, which has over 100 charter schools across the country. http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/08/120-american-charter-schools-and-one-secretive-turkish-cleric/375923/
The fraud that is rampant in charter school management companies does seem to keep the FBI busy. http://www.progressive.org/news/2014/08/187821/fbi-tracks-charter-schools
There are stories of charters being approved when it should have been pretty clear that they should not have been. Very recent examples are a charter school approval for a politically connected family where there was no funding or space, and another in New York where the head of the school was so clearly unqualified that a few people with access to Google picked it apart in a matter of hours.
There is the recent battleground formed in York, PA over turning the entire school system over to ChartersUSA, with their yacht “Fishing 4 Schools”
The problem being if it is an all charter system, the students who are not profitable and who are more challenging to show achievement (ie test scores) have no public school in which to be dumped.
Peekskill,NY recently fought off a charter school in their district feeling it would unnecessarily drain public school resources, and it would.
Charters, in their current form, are far more problematic then public schools, as there is no accountability and no continuity. The argument for choice does not acknowledge that school choice lies with the school, not the parents and students. If there is an application process, there is going to be selection and exclusion. There is going to be segregation. Public education is supposed to serve all, not exclude. Special education students, and ELL/ESL students are hit especially hard. 51% of public school students now live in poverty. Shouldn’t all of those students be able to go to a school that is well funded,with manageable class sizes, support services for those who need and challenging curriculum for all students defined by what is challenging for the student, not a bureaucrat in an office somewhere?