Report: Federal Government Wasted Millions Of Dollars On Charter Schools That Never Opened

The Network for Public Education has released a new report detailing how millions and millions of dollars have been wasted by the federal government on charter schools.

Longtime Washington Post education reporter Val Strauss has written about the study.  Here are excerpts from her article:

“More than 35 percent of charter schools funded by the federal Charter School Program (CSP) between 2006 and 2014 either never opened or were shut down, costing taxpayers more than half a billion dollars, according to a new report from an advocacy group that reviewed records of nearly 5,000 schools. The state with the most charter schools that never opened was Michigan, home to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The report, titled “Still Asleep at the Wheel,” said that 537 “ghost schools” never opened but received a total of more than $45.5 million in federal start-up funding. That was more than 11 percent of all the schools that received funding from CSP, which began giving grants in 1995.

In Michigan, where the billionaire DeVos has been instrumental over several decades in creating a charter school sector, 72 charters that received CSP money never opened, at a total cost of some $7.7 million from 2006 to 2014. California was second, with 61 schools that failed to open but collectively received $8.36 million.

The report — published by the Network for Public Education, an advocacy group that supports public education and was co-founded by education historian and advocate Diane Ravitch — says the Education Department has failed for years to properly monitor how its charter grant funding is spent. The new findings follow “Asleep at the Wheel,” the network’s March report, which said up to $1 billion was wasted over the life of CSP on charter schools that never opened or opened and then closed. After that report’s release, congressional Democrats voted to cut millions of dollars from the CSP.

The new report found:

The disbursement of more than $1 billion during the program’s first decade — from 1995 to 2005 — was never monitored, and there is no complete public record of which schools received the funds because the Education Department never required states to report where the money went. During that period, California received $191 million, Florida $158.4 million and Michigan $64.6 million.

The overall rate of failed charter projects from 2006 to 2014 was 37 percent, with some states posting a much higher failure rate. In Iowa, for example, 11 charter schools received grants and 10 failed after receiving a total of $3.66 million. The failure rate exceeded 50 percent in a number of states, including Georgia, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland and Virginia. In California, 37 percent failed to open or stay open, after winning nearly $103 million in CSP funding.

Although Congress forbids for-profit operators from directly receiving CSP grants, some of them still were able to benefit. The report says 357 schools in the database were run by for-profit chains, for a total cost of $125 million in federal CSP start-up costs. Most of that money was spent in Michigan and in Florida.

The report — whose lead author is Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education and a former award-winning New York principal — reviewed all of the nearly 5,000 schools listed in a 2015 database released by the federal government, the latest such data published by the Education Department. That database covers 2006 to 2014, when CSP awarded a total of $1.79 billion. Of that amount, $505 million — or 28 percent — went to schools that never opened or that closed.”

Go here to find the entire report.

A Senator Speaks. And Shows How Clueless He is.

A few days ago I posted the names and email addresses of the 30 senators who voted last May for an amendment that will replace our elected state school board with an appointed one.  A number of readers wrote senators and asked them why they voted as they did.

Someone in north Alabama got a response from their senator that blew my mind.

Here is what he said:

“If a local community wants an elected school board they can vote no.  If the statewide vote passes and a local community still wants one, they can get a local constitutional amendment and vote for it.”

This guy has absolutely no clue what amendment one is all about.  It has NOTHING to do with local school boards and whether they are elected or appointed.  One is only left to assume he voted for legislation he had neither read or studied.

Amendment one is ONLY about the state school board.  If passed, it will take away the public’s right to vote on state school board members and place control of who is on the board in the hands of the state senate who will confirm anyone appointed to the board.

Our most recent survey on amendment one showed that 65 percent of respondents DO NOT trust the senate to have this responsibility.  This senator’s response is ample evidence of why the public feels this way.

Last week I visited an inner-city school in Birmingham and a rural school in Marengo County.  I had lengthy talks with both principals discussing the challenges they face daily.  One is trying to get funding to build a shower so that children coming from homes without running water can bathe.  They talked about trying to supply backpacks with food for hungry students, about the emotional baggage their students bring to class, about trying to find partners who can help them provide basic needs for kids.

I think it is safe to say that the good senator referred to here has probably never had such conversations, that he is oblivious to what today’s school reality is and that he just blindly does what someone tells him to do when it is time to vote.

And we should turn over control of our schools to folks like this?



Saving The World One Life At A Time

Officially it was called “Alabama Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities Awards Ceremony.”.  A very nice affair held at the Gordon Person Building auditorium Dec. 3.

But unofficially, it was all about bringing recognition to people and organizations from around the state who work with those with disabilities so that they may be gainfully employed and active members of society. These are folks who take to heart the admonition found in the book of Matthew about doing things for the “least of these.”

There were 12 honorees.  Advocate, Large Business Employee, Collaboration, Large Business Employer, Education, Media, Partnership, Small Business Employer, Public Service, Student, Youth Leadership and Small Business Employee.

David Hyche was recognized for his advocacy.  A 30-year veteran of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. he is the father of a blind daughter who wanted to hunt Easter eggs.  Discovering that plastic eggs equipped with sound were quite expensive, Hyche used his knowledge of working with bombs to come up with a much less expensive version.  He then engaged other ATF folks around the country to join the effort and provide plastic eggs for children in their own communities.

Carpenters for Christ are members of the Tallasee First Baptist Church who build handicap ramps to meet needs in their town.  Matt Freeman is a welding instructor for the Tuscaloosa Career and Technology Academy who engages students on various community projects.  William Roberts of Sylacauga is active with the local community garden.  The Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex offers a variety of accommodations for those with disabilities.

The Partnership of the Year recognized the collaboration of the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama, Stringfellow Health Fund, Exchange Bank of Gadsden and the Beautiful Rainbow Café, a program of Gadsden school system.  The café is operated totally by students with disabilities who learn a host of life skills.

The City of Opelika was recognized for their on-gong efforts to comply with ADA requirements.  It was great to see my longtime friend, Mayor Gary Fuller, accept this honor.  Small Business Employee was Renee Maradik, owner of Something sweet Bake Shop in Daphne, while Met South, owned by Don and Cathy Jesse of Hanceville, was Small Business Employer of the Year.

Students Logan Tice, a senior at Oxford High School and Michael White, a student at the Alabama School for the Deaf were honored for their academic and leadership achievements.

And one old gray-haired blogger was honored with the media award.  I was both very surprised and very humbled.

It is individuals and organizations such as these who hold the fabric of our communities and our state together.  They are not seeking fame or fortune.  They just see a need and use their talents to meet it.

We can all take pride in what they do.




Which Senators Voted To Take Away Your Right To Vote

As discussed here many times, on March 3 voters will vote YES or NO on going from an elected state school board to one appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate.  A YES vote will mean you lose your right to vote, a NO vote means you will keep it.  Legislation calling for this constitutional amendment was passed in our last regular session last spring.

Republican Del Marsh is senate majority leader.  Since his party holds a supermajority in this body, he has considerable influence.  This is reflected by the fact that the vote in the senate was 30-0.   All but two of the 27 Republican members voted to take away your right to vote  (Jimmy Holley and Tom Whatley did not vote.).  And five of the eight Democrats in the senate voted with Marsh.  (Priscilla Dunn, Malika Sanders-Fortier and Rodger Smitherman did not vote.)

Listed below are these 30 senators, along with the best email address I have for each.

If you do not want to give up your right to vote, write these senators and ask them why they voted for this amendment.

Greg  Albritton—R                               Gerald Allen–R                      

Will Barfoot—R                                    Billy Beasley–D     

David Burkette—D                              Tom Butler–R      

Clyde Chambliss—R                           Donnie Chesteen–R

Linda Coleman-Madison—D               Vivian Figures–D

Chris Elliott—R                                    Garlan Gudger–R 

Sam Givhan—R                                   Andrew Jones–R            

Steve Livingston—R                           Del Marsh–R                   

Jim McClendon—R                             Tim Melson–R           

Arthur Orr—R                                     Randy Price–R              

Greg Reed—R                                    Dan Roberts–R

David Sessions—R                            Clay Scofield–R                

Bobby Singleton—D                          Shay Shelnutt–R          

Larry Stutts—R                                  Jabo Waggoner–R               

Cam Ward—R                                    Jack Williams–R                




Something State Lawmakers Will Never Discuss

While it seems some Alabama legislative “leaders” are quick to blame everything from dead possums in the middle of the road to ingrown toenails as the fault of educators, when a site called WallteHub annually ranks states as to which ones are the worst in which to teach, no one in the statehouse ever mentions such info.

WalletHub ranked states depending on how they scored in two categories:

Opportunity and competition,” which includes how competitive salaries were, teacher pensions, and income growth.
Academic and work environment,” which includes the quality of the school system, how many students per teacher, and the rate of turnover.

It comes as little surprise to me that Alabama made the list of “15 worst”.  To be exact, we are ranked at No. 38.  Arizona, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Louisiana, West Virginia, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Maine, Tennessee, Colorado and Missouri are considered worst than Alabama.

The best 15 states for teachers are: 1) North Dakota, 2) New Jersey, 3) Pennsylvania, 4) Wyoming, 5) Connecticut, 6) Illinois, 7) Minnesota, 8) Massachusetts, 9) Utah, 10) New York, 11) Delaware, 12) Oregon, 13) Kansas, 14) Kentucky and 15) Washington.

I am not a big fan of rankings for the reason that many things that impact such can not be easily quantified with only numbers.  However, as long as we persist in doing so, it is interesting to check them out.

For instance; last spring Alabama delayed implementation of new math standards because the governor wanted to compare how we teach math in Alabama to how it is taught in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Wyoming, Virgina and New Jersey.  Why these states?  Because they had the best 4th grade math scores in the country on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.

It is worth noting that of these five states, four of them are ranked by WalletHub as in the 15 best places to teach.  (Virginia was the exception.)

Could it be that there is a correlation between classroom results and Opportunity and competition and Academic and work environment?

Or is expecting lawmakers to link such as simply a bridge too far?