Charter school corruption precedes Capitol hearing; more on San Antonio ‘partnerships’
Charter school fiascos in the news provide backdrop for legislative hearings tomorrow
Tomorrow the House Public Education Committee will hear a slew of bills addressing charter schools, with many of the proposals aimed at ending the special advantages charter schools have, as well as ones aimed at making sure charters are open and transparent in their governance and finances.
Texas AFT has called for a moratorium on granting new charters and reform for the way new campuses are added as “amendments” to existing charters. Current law allows for charter chains to add new campuses without an adequate assessment of the financial and logistical impacts they will have on neighboring public schools. I encourage you to send a letter online supporting our call for a moratorium, and you’ll find some interesting facts there about charters and how much they cost our state and schools. (You can also see more facts here, and our entire collection charter news here.)
But we also want to highlight a number of stories on charters school that have broken in the news lately.
“Charter school superintendent, IT employee charged with embezzlement” (Houston Chronicle, April 5, 2019):
The head of a Houston-area charter school and another school employee have been indicted on federal embezzlement charges, accused of siphoning more than $250,000 from the school for themselves and using some of the money to buy a car and condominium.
Houston Gateway Academy, Inc., has more than 2,400 students across three campuses in the Greater East End near Golfcrest….According to the indictment, [Gateway Academy Superintendent Richard] Garza awarded a $280,841.85 no-bid contract in 2014 to a group called Hot Rod Systems to build an IT infrastructure at the new school, even though construction on the school had not yet begun. Hot Rod Systems was owned by [Ahmad Bokaiyan, a technology support specialist at the school]. Prosecutors say the two Houston Gateway Academy employees agreed that Bokaiyan would wire some of that contract money into one of Garza’s personal bank accounts. Within days of receiving the contract money from Garza, Bokaiyan wired the superintendent $164,381.
The indictment alleges Garza used more than $50,000 of those funds to buy a new Nissan Armada sport utility vehicle, more than $86,500 to help purchase a condominium, and nearly $26,000 to help make payments on a house loan in Cypress.
“How charter schools are scamming the US government” (Raw Story, March 30, 2019):
A new report issued by the Network for Public Education provides a detailed accounting of how charter schools have scammed the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) for up to $1 billion in wasted grant money that went to charters that never opened or opened for only brief periods of time before being shut down for mismanagement, poor performance, lack of enrollment, or fraud.
….President Trump’s 2020 budget blueprint proposes increasing funding for the charter grant program by 13.6 percent, from $440 to $500 million, and education secretary Betsy DeVos praised this increase as a step forward for “education freedom.” But the report finds that increasing federal funds for this program would mostly continue to perpetuate academic fraud.
“Financial ties between HISD charter, founder draw scrutiny before renewal vote” (Houston Chronicle, April 2, 2019):
A trio of intertwined charter school networks operating within Houston ISD have paid or lent at least $17 million during the last five years to a company owned by their highest-ranking employee, an unusual arrangement drawing criticism from some HISD school board members ahead of a vote to renew their contracts.
Financial records show the Energized For Excellence, Energized For STEM and Inspired For Excellence academies have maintained deep ties with a company controlled by Lois Bullock, who founded the three networks and works as the head of schools for each.
Over the past half-decade, Bullock’s company has served as the landlord for Energized For Excellence Academy, taking in $10.8 million in lease payments, and received a $4.2 million loan from the organization, records show. Bullock’s company also earned about $2 million over five years for her “labor and job benefits,” an annual amount roughly equivalent to the compensation of HISD’s superintendent. The three charter networks enroll about 4,000 students at eight campuses, while HISD serves nearly 210,000 students.
Folks, this is just this month. The clips keep racking up. As you can see from the Houston ISD example with the inner dealings of Energized for Excellence, the problems arise even with in-district charters that are run by management organizations with their own boards overseeing these public schools, instead of the democratically elected school board.
Texas charter schools are facing more backlash this year, but could also receive more cash (Texas Tribune, April 9, 2019)
This article just came out today, so we’ll be looking at it in more detail in the next couple of days, but it gives a good look at the Texas charter landscape and includes comments from our president, Louis Malfaro.
San Antonio ISD ‘partnerships’ with charters continues to get scrutiny
I’ve reported news out of San Antonio IDS about the district handing 18 schools over to these management organizations (See March 25 and March 27). Texas Public Radio has a good story out with more on how they were approved.
Last Monday, trustees for the San Antonio Independent School District approved contracts allowing outside organizations to oversee 18 schools. During the pivotal board meeting, district leaders emphasized that most parents and staff supported the decision, but parents didn’t vote on the contracts themselves….Parents were actually asked whether or not they supported the idea of becoming an in-district charter school.
Indeed, while most parents took a bland survey on whether they would be OK with a charter to kick start “innovative” curriculum, they probably had no clue they were turning their neighborhood schools near-complete management over to separate organizations — some of them untested in running campuses.
However, Superintendent Pedro Martinez said parents and teachers were also told about plans to partner with nonprofit organizations.
“The conversations were happening simultaneously. Now, by law, it is true what they vote for is on the in-district charter,” Martinez said. “That is what’s required by law.”
But the word “partner” usually implies equal power, and that’s not an accurate description of the situation. The contracts give the nonprofits control of the school’s budget and the authority to decide who works at the school for eight to 10 years.
During the School Board meeting approving the charters — in which board members and the public were faced with 1,200 pages of documents to examine in three days — one San Antonio ISD official addressed concerns about these charters not being open and transparent in their governance by pointing to an existing arrangement with Democracy Prep, which took over a district elementary school last year. “You can go to their Web site right now,” he said, to find information about the governing board, its agenda and minutes.
Well, I went to the Web site, and yes, it did have meeting dates listed with agendas, but there was no information whatsoever on who was on the board, nor were any minutes available. (When I pointed this out to the school’s executive director, he was prompt in emailing me that information, although it still isn’t published on the site.)