The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH)

Federal funding for charter schools?

Put students before profits

- Carol Burris is the executive director of the Network for Public Education. She wrote this for InsideSour­

Today, more than 1,100 charter schools are run by for-profit corporatio­ns. Whether those corporatio­ns are large national chains or small local companies running one or two schools, they invest in slick marketing campaigns to get children and tax dollars through the door.

The public is often shocked to find out that for-profit-run charters use federal dollars to skim funds at taxpayers’ expense. According to the most stringent interpreta­tion of federal law, for-profit charters cannot be federally subsidized.

Title 20 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act requires K-12 schools to be nonprofit organizati­ons to receive federal funding. However, clever for-profit operators create workaround­s using nonprofit facades to evade the law.

Last year, the Network for Public Education dug deep into the for-profit operations of charter schools. The schemes we discovered ranged from elaborate to unsophisti­cated, depending on the operator’s creativity. Worst of all, we saw how forprofits shortchang­e kids to line their pockets.

We uncovered scandalous examples of self-dealing, like Reginald Barr, who with his wife and daughter own the management, personnel and real estate companies contractin­g with their Arizona-based AmeriSchoo­ls. They also sit on the nonprofit board that governs the charters, ensuring whatever rent or fees they want are approved and passed right into their accounts.

In North Carolina, Donnie McQueen is the executive manager of the for-profit that runs Torchlight Academy, where he’s the executive director and his wife is principal. He’s also president of the real estate company that owns the building leased to the school. Nearly every penny that comes in is turned over by the nonprofit to the for-profit he owns.

Marcus May’s for-profit Newpoint Education Partners managed 15 charter schools. May persuaded parents and community members, mostly naive to school governance, to create charter schools dependent on Newpoint. His vendor businesses overcharge­d the schools for furniture, computers and other items. He took kickbacks and broker fees for leases and inflated enrollment figures for more revenue. May is now an inmate in Florida, appealing his 20-year sentence for racketeeri­ng and organized fraud.

These grifters often use “sweeps” contracts to extract every penny from their taxpayer-funded charter schools.

Examples of sweeps include the contracts between the Ohio Distance Electronic Learning Academy and Accel Online Ohio, LLC; Northeast Raleigh Charter Academy and Torchlight Academy Schools; and Ohio Virtual Academy and K12 Virtual Schools.

Sweep contracts are used by one of the largest for-profit chains, National Heritage Academies (NHA), which uses its control to make money through real estate — either as a broker or landlord.

Of greatest concern, however, are the cost-cutting, service diminishin­g strategies used by for-profits to maximize their bottom line, like these:

• Circumvent­ing state rules for qualified educators by designatin­g their uncertifie­d and inexperien­ced teachers as “permanent substitute­s.”

• Limiting the number of special needs students permitted to attend, violating laws about open enrollment.

• Overcrowdi­ng classroom settings especially online. One online charter operator had a student-teacher ratio of 275-to1.11.

• Institutin­g policies and practices intended to discrimina­te against or exclude students who are expensive to teach.

Of course, charter schools should be free to use for-profit companies to provide books, transporta­tion and the like. But when for-profits are managing the school, inside deals, secrecy and real estate empires quickly take precedence over the well-being of children. Fortunatel­y, Congress is on the verge of closing a major loophole exploited by these for-profit charter operators. It is hoped the Senate will pass Section 314 of the 2022 House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriat­ions Bill and help ensure our tax dollars stay in the classroom with students where they belong.

Clearly, some parents are happy with the services that these schools provide. I am not arguing that they should be shut down. But if our federal dollars are being used to support them, then the spirit of the law, not just the letter should be followed.

Charter schools and public schools should be free to use for-profit companies to provide books, transporta­tion and the like. But when for-profits are running the show, inside deals, secrecy and real estate empires quickly take precedence over the well-being of children. It is time that Congress close the loophole and put kids before profits once and for all.

 ?? ?? Carol Burris
Carol Burris

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States