Archive for the ‘Imagine Schools’ Tag

Higher Ed takes notice of Georgia's preference for privatizing Education   Leave a comment

Monday’s AJC will feature an Op-ed piece by University of Georgia professor William G. Wraga regarding the obvious (my word) move towards privatizing education in Georgia. Wranga acknowledges the ‘intent’ of charter schools, i.e., curricular innovation and greater autonomy for teachers; however, he also addresses an issue of late for the charter community: More charters are increasingly being controlled by for-profit or faux non-profit (again, my word) management companies. I have shared my opinion on this all-too-common practice here in Georgia in this blog as well as this one.

What’s really interesting are the posts from people who, appear to be charter supporters, but do not really read what Wranga has written. They only ‘see’ an ‘attack’ on charter schools. I do not believe that was Wranga’s intention. If I am not mistaken, his concern is the fact that money, and lots of it, has become the main motivation for furthering the charter school movement in Georgia. I will admit to being a supporter of charter schools, but I am also a vocal supporter of quality education, school choice, and including parents in the education decision-making process. Charter schools are supposed to be governed by parents, teachers, and community members; however, many of us know that does not always happen. If you don’t believe me, just Google Imagine Schools and Dennis Bakke. Let me know what you find. It also appears that some people with a great deal of technical knowledge about charter schools are posting comments to the blog, under fictitious names. How do I know this? According to the Charter School Commission, a majority of the groups that submitted petitions did not have the technical knowledge or experience necessary to govern schools. By process of elimination, if the petitioners are not knowledgeable then that leaves the Commission members themselves, as well as the members of the Georgia Charter Schools Association and the state’s Charter School Division. Not a conspiracy theory, just common sense and basic observation. Man-up! Post your rebuttal or argument using your real name, since you attempt to sound like an expert on charters.

Higher Ed takes notice of Georgia’s preference for privatizing Education   Leave a comment

Monday’s AJC will feature an Op-ed piece by University of Georgia professor William G. Wraga regarding the obvious (my word) move towards privatizing education in Georgia. Wranga acknowledges the ‘intent’ of charter schools, i.e., curricular innovation and greater autonomy for teachers; however, he also addresses an issue of late for the charter community: More charters are increasingly being controlled by for-profit or faux non-profit (again, my word) management companies. I have shared my opinion on this all-too-common practice here in Georgia in this blog as well as this one.

What’s really interesting are the posts from people who, appear to be charter supporters, but do not really read what Wranga has written. They only ‘see’ an ‘attack’ on charter schools. I do not believe that was Wranga’s intention. If I am not mistaken, his concern is the fact that money, and lots of it, has become the main motivation for furthering the charter school movement in Georgia. I will admit to being a supporter of charter schools, but I am also a vocal supporter of quality education, school choice, and including parents in the education decision-making process. Charter schools are supposed to be governed by parents, teachers, and community members; however, many of us know that does not always happen. If you don’t believe me, just Google Imagine Schools and Dennis Bakke. Let me know what you find. It also appears that some people with a great deal of technical knowledge about charter schools are posting comments to the blog, under fictitious names. How do I know this? According to the Charter School Commission, a majority of the groups that submitted petitions did not have the technical knowledge or experience necessary to govern schools. By process of elimination, if the petitioners are not knowledgeable then that leaves the Commission members themselves, as well as the members of the Georgia Charter Schools Association and the state’s Charter School Division. Not a conspiracy theory, just common sense and basic observation. Man-up! Post your rebuttal or argument using your real name, since you attempt to sound like an expert on charters.

Are grassroots charter groups at a disadvantage?   2 comments

For those who have been following my blogs or Tweets, you are aware that I do not claim to be an expert on anything. Instead, I choose to rely on my common sense and observations to draw conclusions and offer my two cents on anything Education-related. My passions are, in no particular order: (1) Actually closing the achievement gap, instead of just talking about it; (2) more free school choice options for students who happen to be minority or from low-income families; (3) smaller schools; (4) ending racial barriers to Gifted Education programs; and (5) addressing the over-representation of African American students, particularly males, in Special Education. Perhaps I am most passionate about creating more school choice options because, when done correctly, it can alleviate the other issues.

In one of my blog posts, I asked ‘Can Education really be fixed?’ because there are so many companies jumping into the business of Education for the sake of making a profit. Whether they are publishers of Education-related textbooks, masking their companies as non-profit CMOs (See: Imagine blog post), or charging charter schools nearly $1 million dollars in management fees per year, a lot of people are getting very rich off of the ‘economically disadvantaged.’ When these new ‘miracle’ plans do not work, critics begin to point the finger at the victims, also known as students. In reality, we need to start addressing some of the other disparities in Education before we can really claim that we are trying to close the achievement gap.

Let’s take a quick look at the charter school movement, as these schools have become increasingly popular with parents who cannot afford private school tuition. For the states with charter school legislation (39 and D.C.), it is expected that each would have unique chartering process and policies. Since I have only studied the legislation of Indiana and Georgia, I will only comment on those two. Until this year, Georgia only had one charter approval process: Submitting applications to the Board of Education in the district where the school would be located. The local board then had two options: approval or denial. If the application is denied, the group could submit it to the State Board of Education to be approved as a State Chartered Special School. Unfortunately, this special status would mean less per pupil funding; schools would have to operate on a significantly smaller budget. Last year, Georgia’s Charter Commission was approved in an effort to further the charter school movement and as a response to the high number of denials by local school boards

While I applaud the state representatives, politicians, and others who support the move to increase charters, we still have a problem: Grassroots groups, mainly minority-created, are still at a disadvantage in the charter school movement. Some groups are required to raise exorbitant amounts of capital to guarantee approval; others are told that their projected salaries are too low to attract and retain qualified staff, even though salaries mirror those in the district. There are no stipulations for such requirements in Georgia’s charter school law; instead, the leadership determines who will receive approval based on whether one’s attitude is in line with their expectations. Parental support, student needs, and potential success are not factors. Also troubling are insinuations made that applicants must participate in charter school leadership training provided by the Georgia Charter Schools Association. Again, the law does not stipulate that this is required; however, it has been implied. The cost for GCSA leadership training is $10,000 for members and $15,000 for non-members. Most grassroots organizations are staffed by individuals who have full-time paying jobs, which usually support their families. Expecting someone to pay this amount of money for a school that may or may not be approved, is…well, a bit careless. Agree? Unless, of course, attending the training guarantees approval of your application. I certainly hope no one is stupid enough to charge people for an approved application. That’s almost as absurd as appointing one of your Teach for America colleagues to sit on the state’s Charter Committee, but I digress.

So again, how can we close the achievement gap when all stakeholders do not have a legitimate voice in offering solutions? There is a lot to be said about the charter school movement become an exclusive club only meant for people with access to millions of dollars of capital. Chances are, they don’t look like the ‘poor, disadvantaged’ people they plan to help.

IRS needs closer scrutiny of 'non-profit' CMOs   2 comments

During a conversation with a charter school organizer/colleague, I learned that the Internal Revenue Service has implemented guidelines for ‘non-profit’ charter school companies. To read the full guidelines, click here. Of particular interest is this statement: The primary concern regarding charter schools is whether they are operated for exclusively charitable purposes and do not operate for the benefit of private management companies and service providers (4.76.8.8.1  (07-01-2003). The IRS also has criteria that must be met before any organization receives tax-exempt status. For example, organizations created for educational or religious purposes often qualify for 501C3 status. Given the amount of work done by the IRS and number of applications it receives each year, it is certainly understandable how monitoring of Charter Management Companies (CMOs) may go by the wayside.

Anyone in the Education business is aware of the well-known CMOs, as well as the large financial contributions they receive from philanthropic organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, etc. But how many people actually consider where the money really goes? Sure, their first-year teachers probably earn more on average than those at traditional schools, but they also work more hours. Essentially, it practically evens itself out except for the fact that teachers at traditional schools work as many extra hours but do not receive extra compensation. That’s another blog post altogether.

Perhaps most alarming is the fact that some CMOs hand-pick their board members. This practice is in direct conflict with IRS rule: When examining a charter school that has contracted with for-profit entities for management services, the examiner should determine whether the charter school board remains in control and continues to exercise its fiduciary responsibility to the school. The board may not delegate its responsibility and ultimate accountability for the school’s operations to a for-profit management company without raising the issue of whether the organization is operating for the private benefit of that company. In the state of Georgia, any group submitting a charter petition must be recognized as a non-profit by the IRS. This is interesting, given the statements made in an email by Dennis Bakke, CEO of Imagine Schools. Bakke stated that they (Imagine) own the schools and board members should either do what they are told or resign. Is that the spirit of a true non-profit? If it is, it definitely explains why I had no interest in business until recently. from a financial standpoint, Imagine does own the schools because they ‘convince’ these parents and board members that they need a brand new, multi-million dollar building to close the achievement gap. The schools are eventually strapped with high-interest loans that come due if the board should decide to part ways with the CMO. This scenario seems much worse than any mafia business transactions I have ever seen or heard of. Food for thought.

Stay tuned. I hope to provide a list of CMOs/EMOs that are being investigated by the IRS some time next week.

IRS needs closer scrutiny of ‘non-profit’ CMOs   2 comments

During a conversation with a charter school organizer/colleague, I learned that the Internal Revenue Service has implemented guidelines for ‘non-profit’ charter school companies. To read the full guidelines, click here. Of particular interest is this statement: The primary concern regarding charter schools is whether they are operated for exclusively charitable purposes and do not operate for the benefit of private management companies and service providers (4.76.8.8.1  (07-01-2003). The IRS also has criteria that must be met before any organization receives tax-exempt status. For example, organizations created for educational or religious purposes often qualify for 501C3 status. Given the amount of work done by the IRS and number of applications it receives each year, it is certainly understandable how monitoring of Charter Management Companies (CMOs) may go by the wayside.

Anyone in the Education business is aware of the well-known CMOs, as well as the large financial contributions they receive from philanthropic organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, etc. But how many people actually consider where the money really goes? Sure, their first-year teachers probably earn more on average than those at traditional schools, but they also work more hours. Essentially, it practically evens itself out except for the fact that teachers at traditional schools work as many extra hours but do not receive extra compensation. That’s another blog post altogether.

Perhaps most alarming is the fact that some CMOs hand-pick their board members. This practice is in direct conflict with IRS rule: When examining a charter school that has contracted with for-profit entities for management services, the examiner should determine whether the charter school board remains in control and continues to exercise its fiduciary responsibility to the school. The board may not delegate its responsibility and ultimate accountability for the school’s operations to a for-profit management company without raising the issue of whether the organization is operating for the private benefit of that company. In the state of Georgia, any group submitting a charter petition must be recognized as a non-profit by the IRS. This is interesting, given the statements made in an email by Dennis Bakke, CEO of Imagine Schools. Bakke stated that they (Imagine) own the schools and board members should either do what they are told or resign. Is that the spirit of a true non-profit? If it is, it definitely explains why I had no interest in business until recently. from a financial standpoint, Imagine does own the schools because they ‘convince’ these parents and board members that they need a brand new, multi-million dollar building to close the achievement gap. The schools are eventually strapped with high-interest loans that come due if the board should decide to part ways with the CMO. This scenario seems much worse than any mafia business transactions I have ever seen or heard of. Food for thought.

Stay tuned. I hope to provide a list of CMOs/EMOs that are being investigated by the IRS some time next week.

Have Charter Management Organizations run amok?   3 comments

More than a decade after the first charter school was created to foster an environment of teacher autonomy and school choice, ‘charter school’ has become a household phrase. Even television sitcoms such as ‘The New Adventures of Old Christine’ have given shout-outs to charter schools. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools have more flexibility with regard to educational model, school calendar, uniforms, and requiring parental involvement through mandatory volunteer hours. The Obama Administration’s push to improve public education by supporting charter schools through replication and conversion of failing public schools has catapulted the free school choice option to the forefront of the Race to the Top competition.

Some entrepreneurs have discovered that providing free school choice is a lucrative business. Charter Management Organizations (CMO) such as Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) and Imagine have demonstrated that students from low-income backgrounds, typically minority, can succeed if given the proper learning environment. While I do not discount the accomplishments of such organizations, I do question the method used to select where the charter schools will be located. For example, some companies only open schools in districts where 70% or more of the students qualify for Free and Reduced Meal Programs. Does that mean students in districts where only 50-60% of the students qualify for those meals are less worthy of a research-based school choice option?

Upon reviewing the list of charter petitions awaiting approval by Georgia’s Charter Commission, many red flags went up. Charter Schools Administration Services (CSAS) has two petitions under review: one for Academy of Fulton County and another for Academy of Lithonia. CSAS presented budgets for both schools with management fees of $609,000 per year, per school. An additional $300K and $400K were added for the leasing of the facilities, respectively. Each school would also pay $56,000 in interest on funds loaned through CSAS. These figures are especially troubling when one considers the fact that only 500 students are or will be enrolled; the average per pupil revenues in the metro-Atlanta area are roughly $8,000. Regardless of additional, unforeseen expenses, the charter schools would have to pay CSAS first. It has been reported that CSAS and other CMO’s are currently under investigation by the IRS, as they operate as non-profit organizations; however, their profit margins say otherwise.

If school districts are genuinely concerned about ‘losing’ students to charter schools (Read: Losing the money), common sense should prevail: Create charters and convert some of the existing schools to charters, thereby providing parents, regardless of income or zip code, equal access to school choice options. Instead, some districts make it impossible for grassroots groups to create charter schools by denying all applications and challenging the state’s ability to authorize additional schools.