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The charter school shell game in Washington State: Money laundering at its best (or worst?) by way of OSPI

 

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If you haven’t been keeping up with the fight over charter schools in our state, for now just know that the Washington State Supreme Court recently ruled that charter schools are not common schools and therefore unconstitutional and cannot receive public money.

With so much money spent on preparing for charter schools in our state with funding from Bill Gates through organizations such as the League of Education Voters (LEV) and Stand for Children (SFC) and through political donations, and the money to be made by charter school franchises, Teach for America, Inc. and online learning corporations, the fight is still on in our state but now the deals are being made behind the scenes and under the table in a way that looks, sounds and smells like contempt of court to me.

Honestly, if Bill Gates wants to determine the fate of our schools, he should simply run for State Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). It would be far more democratic than providing OSPI with over $14+M since 2009 and strong-arming a publicly funded state office into doing his bidding.

So let’s get to the deets.

OSPI, with lame duck State Superintendent Randy Dorn at the helm, has been receiving millions from Gates for the last six years.  It is questionable whether a state office can legally or ethically receive private money but that’s worthy of another investigation and post.

In a memo issued on December 3, 2015 by State Superintendent Randy Dorn regarding “Transitioning charter school students to Alternative Learning Experience  (ALE) students”. The memo states:

“Several of the approved charter schools intend to contract with public school districts for the purpose of providing education services to the students formally enrolled in the charter schools. The school districts intend to provide the services either through traditional methods of instruction or as alternative learning experiences (ALE).”

The memo continues:

January through August Apportionment– Districts will be provided an allocation based on their actual annual average full-time equivalent (ALETE) reported enrollment, including students formerly enrolled in charter schools who have WSLP in place by the February enrollment count day. Students enrolled in ALE programs will generate an allocation based on the non-vocational Running Start rate for the 2015-2016 year, which is $6,308.69.” (That’s $6,938,800 for 1,100 charter school students.)

School districts have been contacted by the MWSD requesting consideration of charter schools that opened in their district to be under the ALE umbrella. Those districts are Seattle, Highline and Tacoma.

All of this maneuvering for 500-1,100 students when there are 1.5M students in Washington State?

At this time, Bill Gates, via OSPI and the MWSD, is attempting to have school districts take on the charter schools and PAY FOR THEM through the remainder of the school year while during this legislative session in Olympia, corporate owned legislators will attempt to hold public school funding hostage to get charter schools in our state even though the Supreme Court has said charter schools are unconstitutional in Washington.

Talk about contempt of court!

Now about the Mary Walker School District (MWSD) which is a tiny district outside of Spokane in Springdale, Washington with an enrollment of 508 students.

In a letter dated December 9, 2015, the district Superintendent, Kevin Jacka, announced to their community that the MWSD will be taking on the charter schools.

The Mary Walker School district has been through some financial hard times recently.

In Feb. 2014, the Mary Walker School District considered requesting a loan from Stevens County Treasurer. In minutes for a meeting held on February 19, 2014:

BUSINESS MANAGER REPORT

  1. Miller presented the monthly budget report and answered relevant questions from the Board. Also discussed was the need to prepare for the possibility of acquiring a temporary loan from Stevens County Treasurer (to General Fund) to cover expenses, due to the cash flow timing constraints (see Resolution #13-04).

So the MWSD is ripe for the picking and has agreed to take on as many charter schools as possible into their district.

Of course, it helps when you start to receive Gates’ money to take on the charter schools to the tune of $2,800,000.

This is the set-up. The MWSD will have agreements with school districts to keep the charter schools in place. The charter schools will be operated by the MWSD and will take a cut of the funding provided by the state for each student which is  $6,308.69 per student and the remainder will go to the charter school owners. The MWSD will theoretically operate the schools.

Sweet deal for all except the taxpayers.

By the way, in late 2015, Dick Conley, a former MWSD superintendent, was flown into our state to assist in setting up the  MWSD with charter schools through the ALE program.

And then there is a matter of an audit done of the ALE programs. From The Spokesman Review:

Audits of home school programs raise eyebrows

OLYMPIA – Under a state education program designed as a blend of classrooms and home school, Washington taxpayers have in recent years paid for:

  • Bible-based texts and videos,
  • Private gym memberships,
  • Horseback-riding lessons,
  • Church repairs,…

Those were among the eyebrow-raising expenditures discovered by state auditors looking into Alternative Learning Experience (ALE) programs at 18 school districts, including several across Eastern Washington. At least 158 districts around the state run such programs, which last year cost state taxpayers about $80 million.

  • Mary Walker School District: The district spent thousands of tax dollars in renovations at the Springdale CommunityChurchas well as $3,700 in computer video editing equipment for two children.

The church renovations included a fence and stairway that were needed because the district leases space for alternative-school classes there, Superintendent Kevin Jacka said.”

There’s some loosy-goosy spending going on under the radar and just the way charter schools like it.

Is it illegal to play this shell game? Is it ethical? One can start with the questionable ethics of OSPI receiving private foundation money via Bill Gates for the last six years.

Regarding OSPI and the charter schools involved. There are no publicly available meeting minutes or memos and yet this is a state funded issue and therefore should be open to public scrutiny.

In terms of the Mary Walker School District, there have been no Board Resolutions to research incorporating charter schools into the ALE program and no fiscal notes or analysis available to the public. In fact, the MWSD hasn’t provided budget information, on their web page, since the 2014-2015 school year.

There are no school board meeting notes listed regarding the Highline School District’s decision to incorporate charter schools within their district and there are no Board Action Reports regarding this with all the school districts that were contacted by OSPI/MWSD. There has been no public comment or a description of the governance structure and responsibilities of  the school districts and charter school operators, there are no documents to be found on the Washington State Charter School Commission’s website regarding this issue or information provided by the Washington State Board of Education.

I would call this a lack of public disclosure and oversight which is exactly why the Supreme Court Justices ruled that charter schools are unconstitutional.

It looks like contempt of court to me.

And where is the Washington Education Association (WEA)? They’ve been silent for too long. Don’t they want to protect their members from charter schools that hire only Teach for America, Inc. recruits? So far almost all of the Chicago public schools are closed and replaced with charter schools, in Los Angeles Eli Broad wants to close 50% of the public schools and convert them into charter schools, Philadelphia is going that way as well and New Orleans is almost completely converted to charter schools leaving experienced and certified teachers out in the cold.  And don’t think that this can’t happen in Washington State. Once privatizers get their foot in the door, it’s all over.

This is the perfect environment for charter schools to establish themselves and spread, under the radar and using taxpayer dollars.

Take a moment to contact Randy Dorn, the State Attorney, your legislators, your school board members, your district’s superintendent and even send an open letter to the Supreme Court providing them with your opinion on the open defiance of the Supreme Court ruling on charter schools.

Dora Taylor

Contact information for our elected state representatives:

State Superintendent Randy Dorn
360-725-6000
Superintendent@k12.wa.us

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson
(360) 753-6200

Washington State Legislators
You can leave a short message using the in-state toll-free Hotline number 800.562.6000
or send an email via the legislator e-mail services at http://app.leg.wa.gov/memberemail/.

For more on this story, see

Emails reveal OSPI in contempt of Supreme Court ruling on charter schools in Washington State

 

7 comments on “The charter school shell game in Washington State: Money laundering at its best (or worst?) by way of OSPI

  1. ciedie aech
    March 16, 2016

    Test-score-based, money for highest test scores school reform. Or: Does anybody know a good shell game? ciedieaech.wordpress.com/2015/10/11/does-anybody-know-a-good-shell-game

  2. ciedie aech
    February 28, 2016

    THANKS for the article. When I first started writing about my experiences as a reform-bashed “old” teacher, I wasn’t sure how to see through the smoke screens and chaos which had invaded our reform-crazy district. Finally I just began to see it as a shell game…now you see it over here, now you see it over there. Reformers and their reforms keep shifting, keep moving, keep taking what they can, and then when they’ve sucked up whatever money is available? They simply move on.

  3. Kathleen
    January 6, 2016

    http://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database#q/sortdir=asc&k=Mary%20walker%20school%20district

    Dora,

    Please note that during the month of December, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with an additional $2M.

  4. Jill Reifschneider
    January 3, 2016

    Thank you for an update on the sliminess

  5. Jill Reifschneider
    January 3, 2016

    Thank you for the update on the sliminess

  6. Kathleen S.
    January 3, 2016

    Dora,

    Thank you for covering this important story. We certainly can’t depend upon our local news sources to uncover this information. The lack of transparency is shocking .

    The legislature has acknowledged serious issues with Alternative Learning Education (ALE) dollars and lack of oversight, and ALE is being used in a manner for which it was never intended. I question whether Randy Dorn is working within his rule making capacity.

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