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The inconvenient truth about charter school Initiative 1240

Initiative 1240, which is a resolution to set up charter schools in the state of Washington,

circumvents our State Constitution because it would set up an alternative state school system not under the supervision of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Randy Dorn, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction, July 2012

Bill Gates and the Walmart Walton’s are waging a campaign against democracy and public education and for the privatization of our schools through the tool of Initiative 1240. Bill Gates, the Walton’s and others from the “business community” in our state, have financially backed a campaign to get enough signatures for Initiative 1240 to be on the ballot in November and now are financing the push for the votes through faux roots organizations such as Stand for Children and the League of Education Voters.

For a description of what charter schools are and what they aren’t, see What is a charter school? which is posted on this blog.

The Money

The only part of a charter school that is “public” is the funding.

The emphasis that the ed reformers in the state of Washington place on charter schools is the fact that they would be considered “non-profits”. A non-profit does not have to pay taxes. Most non-profit charter schools are run by for-profit charter management companies (CMO’s), sometimes referred to as education management companies (EMO’s). There is a provision for EMO’s/CMO’s in this initiative.

The reason for the use of CMO’s/EMO’s is that a charter school board of directors is appointed and many of these individuals do not have any experience in education or in running a school on a day-to-day basis so the charter school will hire a CMO or an EMO to operate the school, doing what a school staff would normally do including coordination of transportation, the buying of goods and services and the physical maintenance of the school building. I know it seems unnecessary to have this sort of set up for a school but this is typical for charter schools.

Ed reformers also like to say that charter schools would not be taking money away from established public schools. There is a per student amount of money that is evenly distributed so that each student has, for example, $5,000 in financial resources that follows that student to any public school. Because students have varying degrees of needs, the school will pool all of the resources brought by each student and then use it on an as-needed basis. For example, a special needs student might require additional staff, specific equipment, desks or chairs, even additional electrical requirements. The cost of meeting that student’s needs might exceed the allowance provided by the school district. That is where the pool of money comes in. Another student might need little more than a standard desk, chair, textbooks and no additional resources beyond what might be considered the standard requirements for participating in school. Then with the shared resources, the school is able to draw on that pool of money to meet the needs of all students including the special needs student. For examples of how public schools have taken on the financial burden while charter schools have siphoned off funds, see Special needs kids staying in traditional schools.

What we have seen happen around the country is that charter schools will counsel out or just not take in students who might require additional funding to participate in the classroom usually because of the higher cost. Then, because of what is termed “skimming”, the students with additional requirements end up in the public schools. After a while, there is a higher percentage of special needs students in the public school’s population, making it increasingly difficult to provide for all students.

In terms of the big picture, charter schools do draw off resources that would otherwise be shared to offer all students equity in their education. And then, where does that extra money go? Many times it finds its way into the pockets of the CEO’s of these charter schools and to the management companies associated with those schools. By the way, most charter schools like to call what would be a principal a “CEO” instead. Kind of gives you that nice warm and cozy feeling, doesn’t it?

According to the fiscal impact report of Initiative 1240, the projected implementation costs are estimated to be $3,090,700 over five fiscal years.

In addition to the $3M, “School districts that choose to become authorizers of charter schools will incur costs to solicit and review applications, contract with charter school boards, monitor and oversee their authorized charter schools, and annually report to the Board.”

“Authorizers of charter schools may receive an oversight fee. The fee is to be set by the Board and must be calculated as a percentage of state operating funding allocated to the charter school, but may not exceed 4 percent of the charter school’s annual funding.”

By the way, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) for the state of Washington would be responsible for funneling the public funds into the charter schools and yet would not have any oversight on how those funds are used. That in itself is unconstitutional in our state.

That leads us to:

Washington State Constitution, Article 3, Section 22

The State Superintendent of Public Instruction shall supervise all matters pertaining to public schools.

This includes but is not limited to supervising all public schools which have been organized into school districts controlled by elected school boards prior to drafting the State Constitution in 1889.

According to our state constitution, a charter school would kind of be a public school. A charter school can call itself a public school to receive funding but according to the state constitution, all public schools are to receive public oversight through the office of OSPI and a publicly elected local school board. According to this initiative, there would be charter schools that would not fall under the oversight of publicly elected school board representatives but instead by a privately appointed board of directors created by the charter school as well as a Charter School Commission made up of nine politically appointed members, three appointed by the Governor, three by the Speaker of the House and three by the President of the State Senate. One of these appointed board members is to be a parent of a Washington state public school student. Not much skin in that game.

The one qualification for the position as a member of the Washington Charter School Commission is that the board member “must be committed to charter schools”, basically pledging their allegiance to the privatization of our schools.

This is where the Washington State PTA (WSPTA) and this initiative part ways. In a surprising turn of events, the WSPTA voted not to support Initiative 1240 because the initiative did not meet the WSPTA’s “criteria for local oversight.”

More layers of bureaucracy

The next layer of bureaucracy would be the “Charter School Authorizers” who are appointed by the State Board of Education. These “authorizers” would have a six year contract to review and approve applications made to create a charter school.

Interesting hitch to this aspect of Initiative 1240 is that an authorizer may delegate their responsibilities to a third party, either an employee or a contractor. So at that point, an authorizer could be a contractor who benefits from a particular charter franchise being approved. It also removes the process of authorizing charter schools one step further out of the public eye.

These authorizers would have the following responsibilities and authority:

“(d) Ongoing charter school oversight and evaluation; and (e) Charter renewal decision making.”

At this point, we might or might not know who the authorizer is or their motives, and would have no influence in terms of evaluating their experience or past performance and yet this “entity” would basically have full control of a charter school in terms of oversight and renewal of the charter contract. That’s a lot to ask for in terms of blind faith on the part of the tax paying public.

Collective bargaining

Any bargaining unit or units established by the charter school must be separate from other bargaining units in the school districts, educational service districts or institutions of higher education. Each charter school is a separate employer from the school district.

That means that the teachers and non-teaching staff in a charter school would have no protections that are granted to union employees in public schools in terms of healthcare, working hours, additional responsibilities, the length of the school day and pay. All of that would be at the discretion of the charter school board of directors, another nice, warm and cozy term used to describe the governing body of a charter school.

Other interesting details about this initiative

“An authorizer may not restrict the number of students a charter school may enroll.” There is no limit in terms of school size or class size.

Also, according to the initiative, “Charter schools are not subject to and are exempt from all other state statutes  and rules applicable to school districts and school district boards of directors”. This means that not only can decisions be made by the charter school board of directors that are outside the practices of a public school but the parents would have no immediate legal recourse if they believed that their child had been wrongfully expelled or treated unfairly. The parent cannot take the issue to the local publicly elected school board for relief or the superintendent. Many times parents who sign their students up for a charter school are required to sign a contract or letter of understanding that states the parent is aware of the legal ramifications of their child attending such a school and basically that there is no legal recourse for them.

Other inconvenient truths

Here’s the list:

  • Initiative 1240 states that the law would “Allow a maximum of up to forty public charter schools to be established over a five-year period as independently managed public schools operated only by qualified nonprofit organizations approved by the state;”

With pressure from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama to raise the cap on the number of charter schools in states, there is no guarantee that the cap of 40 charter schools would not be raised. This could happen through state legislation as is has occurred in several states.

  • Initiative 1240 would “Require that teachers in public charter schools be held to the same certification requirements as teachers in other public schools;” which doesn’t mean anything any longer now that Teach for America, Inc. (TFA, Inc.) is allowed to staff our schools with kids just out of college with 5 weeks of “training”.
  • “Require that public charter schools be free and open to all students just like traditional public schools are, and that students be selected by lottery to ensure fairness if more students apply than a school can accommodate;”

Ah yes, the famous lottery. First of all, a lottery creates a false sense that the school is highly desirable when it is simply pure marketing hype. See Diane Ravitch’s post How Charters Compete.

There is nothing fair about a lottery. Our progressive alternatives schools in Seattle are very popular and all students are able to participate. There is sometimes a waiting list for these schools but ultimately all students are able to register. No lottery is necessary.

  • According to Initiative 1240, a charter school can “Enter into contracts with any school district, educational service district, or other public or private entity for the provision of real property, equipment, goods, supplies, and services, including educational instructional services and including for the management and operation of the charter school…”

This could lead to corruption and cronyism. A public school district reviews contracts and all schools have to abide by the choice of vendors and contractors that the district approves. There are yearly public audits done on insuring that contracts are above board. Yes, I know there was Pottergate in Seattle, but heads did roll including our Broad-trained superintendent’s…right out of town.

  • The initiative states that one of the powers of the charter school board of directors is that they can “Rent, lease, purchase, or own real property.”

This is interesting because school property is usually owned by the school district. In Seattle some school space is leased but most is owned. Some school property is held if it is not being used or sold. So does that mean that a charter school can buy property using public funds and then own it privately? Based on the wording of this initiative, that does seem to be the case.

  • “Charter schools are not subject to and are exempt from all other state statutes and rules applicable to school districts and school district boards of directors…Charter schools are exempt from all school district policies except policies made applicable in the school’s charter contract.”

This is where the rubber meets the road in terms of one of the main differences between a public school and a charter school.  There are no protections  for a student, the student’s family or school staff as usually found within a public school system.

Between being exempt from state statutes and regulations and with no public oversight, you have a private school using tax dollars to run a school and even turn a profit. Oh and right, because the charter school is a “non-profit”, the school does not have to pay taxes. Sweet deal if you ask me.

  • “Conversion schools”. This language has been slipped into Initiative 1240 but it has a powerful and highly destructive meaning. In states where charter schools are legal, a charter school enterprise can go into an existing school and convert it into a charter school.  This is part of the failed Race to the Top (RTTT) policy and is termed a “school turnaround”. If a school is deemed “failing”, the school can either be closed permanently, of half the staff discharged, or the principal fired or it can be turned into a charter school. This is a legal way for charter schools to proliferate in school districts as has happened in Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit and New York City.
  • “In the case of an application to establish a conversion charter school, the applicant must also demonstrate support for the proposed conversion by a petition signed by a majority of teachers assigned to the school or a petition signed by a majority of parents of students in the school.”

This is the parent trigger that Ben Austin in concert with the Greendot charter franchise used to attempt the takeover of a public school in Los Angeles. After gathering enough signatures through questionable means, many parents said that they had been tricked into signing the petition, Ben Austin and his crew tried to convert a public school into a Greendot charter school.  See Ben Austin and His Parent Trigger, Now in Seattle and Ben Austin’s Antics, Continued.

We do not want this in Seattle or in our state.

  • At a minimum, the performance framework must include indicators, measures, and metrics for: (a) Student academic proficiency; (b) Student academic growth; (c) Achievement gaps in both proficiency and growth between major student subgroups;”

This is why charter schools” skim” the best and counsel out the rest. There is an agreed upon standard that is established that the charter school is to meet to remain open and that standard is measured by test scores. If the test scores do not meet the standard, the charter may not renewed. This is not the way a public school should operate, potentially closing at a moment’s notice, something that happens on a regular basis with charter schools. This is also why most charter schools become testing camps that put standardized lesson plans in the hands of the teachers with prepared materials and tests that follow the lesson plan in a factory like fashion. Just how “innovative” is that idea?

Unfortunately the way Initiative 1240 is written, these charter schools would be able to run for five years before being reviewed and even at that time, might just receive a slap on the wrist but be allowed to continue with their charter.

Here’s that language in the bill:

NEW SECTION. Sec. 219. CHARTER CONTRACTS–RENEWAL. (1) A charter contract may be renewed by the authorizer, at the request of the charter school, for successive five-year terms, although the authorizer may vary the term based on the performance, demonstrated capacities, and particular circumstances of a charter school and may grant renewal with specific conditions for necessary improvements to a charter school.

  • NEW SECTION. Sec. 224. YEARS OF SERVICE. Years of service in a charter school by certificated instructional staff shall be included in the years of service calculation for purposes of the statewide salary allocation schedule under RCW 28A.150.410. This section does not require a charter school to pay a particular salary to its staff while the staff is employed by the charter school.

Typically charter schools do not hire unionized teachers. They are basically free to hire whoever they want for their teaching staff. This is where Teach for America, Inc. comes in. TFA, Inc. provides inexpensive labor to these charter schools. But, according to Initiative 1240, the charter schools would still receive the amount of salary paid by a public school commensurate with years of service and yet pay their own teachers at whatever salary they choose to.

What is ironic about this is that the corporate reformers and their shills repeatedly say that experience doesn’t matter when it comes to the quality of teaching and yet they will take the money that would be based on seniority and then use it as they please.

  • And just to make it clear that teachers will not be part of a teacher’s union with its’ protections and benefits, it is reiterated  later on in the initiative:

NEW SECTION. Sec. 307. A new section is added to chapter 41.56 RCW to read as follows:

In addition to the entities listed in RCW 41.56.020, this chapter applies to any charter school established under chapter 28A.— RCW (the new chapter created in section 401 of this act). Any bargaining unit or units established at the charter school must be limited to employees working in the charter school and must be separate from other bargaining units in school districts, educational service districts, or institutions of higher education. Any charter school established under chapter 28A.— RCW (the new chapter created in section 401 of this act) is a separate employer from any school district, including the school district in which it is located.

From what I have examined, the only part of a charter school that is a public school, according to this initiative, is the use of tax payer funds.

Dora

Post Script: September 23, 2012

I received this comment from a mother-in-law of a teacher working in a charter school. This clearly outlines all that is wrong with privatizing our schools:

My daughter-in-law is a charter school teach in Tucson Arizona – as it was the only job she could get as public schools are closing and they are laying off public teachers due to lack of funding. She get paid only $9 an hour – she is expected to work 10 or so hours( with no overtime) – clean her classroom (as the Owner of the Charter school does no want to hire a janitor – “too expensive”) AND Charter School teachers are not covered by a Union. The woman who owns the school owns 6 others – and is quite weathly – THIS IS A BUSINESS MONEY MAKING endeavor — AND they take precious financial resources from the “regular” Public Schools. Vote NO on this Initiative!!

For articles and studies as they pertain to this post, see:

Southern Poverty Law Center: Special Education in New Orleans Public Schools,

Charters ‘nix 23%’ of kids

What happens when charter schools close?

Charter School Industry Running Amok in Florida with Taxpayer Dollars

Regarding EMO’s and CMO’s, the League of Education Voters white paper:

Subcontracting Public Education

And this video

Parent Says Child Rejected From Harlem Success Academy

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