Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Great Predatory Charter School Ripoff

Lafayette group Exposes Charter Enrollment Violation

This story in the Lafayette advertiser helps to demonstrate for us what a predatory charter school does. But the Advertiser story only describes the tip of the iceberg of charter school profiteering.

Thank you to the public school advocates of the group, Power of Public Education, for insisting that the Acadiana Renaissance Charter Academy in Lafayette follow state laws and their contractual agreements relative to implementing a balanced student enrollment. The only problem is that BESE is apparently reluctant to enforce its own regulations.

The operators of these relatively new charters in Louisiana, know that they can rig the game and make their managers rich by simply suppressing the number of at-risk students served. Let me show you why this strategy is unfair to students, taxpayers and to our real public schools.

This new charter school in Lafayette operated by Charter Schools USA has contrived to enroll only 30.3% of its students from the economically disadvantaged population in the Lafayette area. This is a much lower percentage of at-risk students than is the average for the state or the area. The charter operators know that there is a remarkable difference in the academic performance of free lunch-qualifying students compared to more advantaged students.

The following chart demonstrates the relationship between student body wealth and school performance in our Louisiana public school districts serving the lowest percentages of low income students. Note: Every one of these school systems is rated as an "A" school system! (Click on image to enlarge)

The above data makes it clear why there is a regulation in Louisiana designed to prevent "creaming" of more advantaged students in the establishment of a charter school.

Kathleen Espinoza, spokesperson of the group, Power of Public Education, points out that this school managed by Charter Schools USA is in direct violation of the requirements of Bulletin 126, the BESE charter school regulations. The economically disadvantaged portion of the student body is required to be 56%, not 30.3%. 

There is absolutely no doubt that the relative wealth of a student body has the strongest correlation of all factors affecting student performance and therefore on the overall school performance score. 

The Zachary Community school system is a very good school system, but it also has the lowest level of poverty of any school system in the state with only 41.7% of its students qualifying for free or reduced lunch. The above chart shows that a school with only a 5% advantage in middle class students over poverty students gets a 10 point advantage in the school performance score.

What could the Zachary system do with a student population that had only 30.3%  at-risk students? By the way, the Zachary system is about average in its rate of poverty in comparison to the national average. Louisiana as a whole ranks third from the bottom of the states in relative wealth of its public school students. Just think what any public school system in Louisiana could do with a poverty rate that fell below the national average.

Predatory charters use the greater flexibility granted to them under charter laws to "manage" their student enrollment to filter out at-risk students. These strategies include 

  • location of their school in a more affluent neighborhood, 
  • not providing transportation to students, 
  • counseling out low performers or other undesirables,  
  • "no excuses" discipline policies that dump low performers back to the real public schools.
The real public schools are not allowed to use these tactics to sanitize and upgrade their student body. So they will always be victims of predatory charters. They will likely lose the highest performing students, to the predatory charters and eventually this will adversely affect their district performance scores. 

Then the charter advocates will point to such results and say: "You see charters provide better education to our students." The truth is every school in Louisiana that has such an advantaged student body is now already rated as an "A" school without exception! 

Now take a look at the rest of the iceberg of charter school abuse!

Charter schools USA which is owned by Jonathan Hage has managed to create a huge windfall profit by opting his schools out of the teacher retirement system (which automatically saves the company about 25% of payroll). Then by not providing bus transportation he makes an even bigger profit and keeps the lower performing students out! The owner who lives in Florida was recently seen cruising around in a large yacht titled "Fishin' 4 Schools".  This profit is coming from our tax dollars. To add insult to injury, Louisiana allows the charter manager to maintain ownership of the school building which is being paid for with our tax dollars. If he loses the management of the school at some time in the future, he still can sell the building at a huge profit! If you click on all the highlighted texts above, you will be shocked by the way Hage has contrived to get rich using school children and school financing schemes. This guy is laughing all the way to the bank with our tax dollars!

The above scheme really works well if charters are allowed to choose the most advantaged students and the real public schools are required to serve their rejects. On average if student body composition is taken into account, charter schools in Louisiana perform lower than the real public schools, and the same is true of  most of Hage's schools.  But If this creaming tactic of charters is allowed to continue, eventually our schools will become economically stratified just like those in the nation of Chile where a similar "Choice" policy has seriously degraded the entire school system. Ms Espinoza and her husband, who is originally from Chile, on a visit back to his home area witnessed huge demonstrations of the people there who have been socially stratified by the exact same kind of charter school "choice". Their school system is now collapsing!

Many education observers and researchers have come to the conclusion that "school choice" is really a right exercised mainly by the charter operators, not the parents. Beware of politicians who promote and pass laws implementing school choice. These folks are really catering to privatization interests that are pouring campaign contributions into their elections. 

Thanks again to the Power of Public Education for exposing this violation of public trust.


Caddo teacher said...

Wow! Thanks for this, Michael. I knew much of this but certainly not that they own their buildings that we have paid for. Louisiana politics at its best. Let's all be hopeful for this new BESE election and of course the gubernatorial election.

Janin Foster said...

As for me situation should not stay like it is now. I wouldn't rely much on politics. Changes made by yourself is always better and more productive.
Here is my favorite sample of such actions.

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