"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Charter Lies

The folks at the LA Times were kind enough to print a story (in the truest sense of the word) by Jed Wallace, president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association. In "Who's watching charter schools," Wallace argues that charters are just as - if not more - transparent and accountable as their traditional public school peers. The piece is shocking due to its lack of accuracy, multiple lies/deceptions, and downright baseless claims:
Take, for example, the IRS Form 990, a required federal filing for tax-exempt organizations. Every year, non-profit entities that operate charter schools must file 990 forms, which contain detailed information on corporate spending, governance policy and leadership compensation, among other things. The information on these forms is accessible to the public via the non-profits' Web sites.
Jed clearly hasn't spent any time actually doing research on charter schools - I'd personally send him a crisp $5 bill if he can name a single charter school that actually posts their 990 forms on their own website. These forms are generally available through guidestar.com, but not until they're processed by the IRS, which generally takes some time. Additionally, I've sent multiple requests to organizations that do not have their 990 tax forms posted online, and I've yet to hear back from any of them (phone calls, too, are brushed aside; I've also gotten the, "I'll get back to you" line, one of Duncan's favorite tools for avoiding questions he doesn't want to answer - they never get back to you). Detailed information, Jed? You've got to be kidding me.
Public charter schools face just as much accountability as any other public entity. Our problems are not buried beneath bureaucracy, as the problems at Green Dot that have recently come to light illustrate. Our issues are brought to the surface and dealt with appropriately, proactively, judiciously and publicly.
...Green Dot initiated an internal review of expenses and as a result, founder Steve Barr repaid about $51,000 to his organization. Simply stated, charter schools work well and are more able to do their jobs and get results without piling on additional layers of bureaucracy.
None of the Green Dot stuff was actually brought to light publicly by the corporation - it was only printed in one paragraph buried in a 990 tax form, a form that precisely zero journalists actually look at (one well-known blogger/journalists even told me s/he's "too lazy to look at anyone's 990s" - that's a direct quote). Yes, the Green Dot stuff came out after a few bloggers picked it up (myself included), but this was months after the scandal. Additionally, Green Dot has never responded to any of my e-mails about the spending - and even a phone call placed to them was brushed off.
Wallace also drops this bogus statement:
charter schools operated by non-profit entities arguably have more disclosure requirements imposed on them than traditional public schools, as they must also comply with the requirements of non-profit corporation law.
Non-profit corporation laws are extremely loose - there's far less information that can really be gleaned from 990 tax forms than Mr. Wallace lets on. Sure, there's some information available on these forms. School districts, on the other hand, are required to comply with open government legislation, which can be used to provide citizens with a wealth of information about their government spending. However, open government legislation is almost completely wiped away when governments contract out services to private corporations (yes, Green Dot is a privately-run corporation - they're not for-profit, but they're still entirely private). Please - correct me if I'm wrong here, but this statement by Wallace is a downright lie, at least in my experience.
Recently, I was able to get information on the salaries of many district employees in my home district (the Portland Public Schools), which I cannot do for Green Dot. True - Green Dot does list the pay of their top five employees - but they're not required to disclose much else than that in terms of pay. I've been able to get my hands on contracts between my district and a privately-run company (the company, on the other hand, wouldn't have to provide this to me).
The statement I find most concerning, however, is this one:
Charter schools have every incentive to maintain that freedom by being effective self-policers in addition to complying with the accountability measures I've described
Tell me, Jed, do you honestly believe the hedge-fund supporters of these charter schools are capable of self-policing? Can you tell me, with a straight face, that Charter Schools USA can self-police themselves when their profits are at stake? Sure sounds like the same reasoning behind the Wall Street deregulators: just give us the free reign to operate as privately-run organizations and the body public will benefit from this set-up. I don't buy it, Jed.
[Jed's predecessor, Caprice Young, made over $250,000 for her work at the CCSA. Check out the cast of characters on CCSA's board of directors. Until recently, a Broad COO, Kevin Hall, and Kevin Johnson served on the groups board as well. All information pulled from the groups 990 tax form, available here]

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