The Senate ESEA Reauthorization Draft, Part V– Charters
This is my fifth post on contents of the Alexander-Murray, Senate reauthorization draft of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) scheduled to be presented to the Senate education committee on April 14, 2015.
Alexander and Murray call their 601-page draft, Every Child Achieves Act of 2015.
At the end of Part IV, I left off at page 373.
Next comes the creatively-named Title V: “Empowering Parents and Expanding Opportunity Through Innovation.”
This is my longest post yet.
Keep in mind that the Alexander-Murray reauthorization welcomes the likes of five-week-trained, Teach for America (TFA) recruits to not only establish teacher churn in the charter school classroom, but also to move up the administration ladder once their two- to three-year classroom career ends. (See Part III of this series.)
The Alexander-Murray draft does not often call them “charter schools”; they authors carefully include the term “public,” calling the “choice” schools “public charter schools.”
SEC. 5101. PURPOSE. It is the purpose of this part to—
(1) provide financial assistance for the planning, program design, and initial implementation of charter schools;
(2) increase the number of high-quality charter schools available to students across the United States;
(3) evaluate the impact of such schools on student achievement, families, and communities, and share best practices among charter schools and other public schools;
(4) encourage States to provide support to charter schools for facilities financing in an amount more nearly commensurate to the amount the States have typically provided for traditional public schools;
‘‘(5) expand opportunities for children with disabilities, students who are English learners, and other traditionally underserved students to attend charter schools and meet the challenging State academic standards under section 1111(b)(1); and
(6) support efforts to strengthen the charter school authorizing process to improve performance management, including transparency, monitoring, including financial audits, and evaluation of such schools. (pgs. 374-75)
The Alexander-Murray draft is certainly friendly to “public” charter schools. However, Title V funding is also supposed to be used to ensure that those “public” charter schools truly do serve the same “public” that the traditional public schools serve: “children with disabilities, students who are English learners, and other traditionally underserved students.” Also, Title V of the Alexander-Murray draft calls for “transparency, monitoring, including financial audits, and evaluation of such schools.”
I would like to see America’s “public” charters held to serving the same populations as traditional public schools and truly, truly evaluated and audited.
The reality is that many charters do not serve the same proportions of the neediest students as do the traditional public schools. Too, many charters are able to escape audit of their public funding by declaring themselves as private entities in the face of looming, public-funding audit.
Many charters today are public money-private money hybrids and play the “public” card when trying to drum up a student body that naturally comes from the traditional public schools, and they play the “private” card to escape answering to the “public” for the use of their “public” funding.
Back to the Alexander-Murray, Title V charter herald:
Next comes the terminology, “high quality” charter, and the call for “the replication of high-quality charter schools, and the expansion of high-quality charter schools” (pg. 376).
Before a charter can be declared “high quality,” a “high quality” system of charter school accountability must first be established. The Title V subgrants are supposed to include “a description of how the State will actively monitor and hold authorized public chartering agencies accountable to ensure high-quality authorizing activity, including by establishing authorizing standards and by approving, reapproving, and revoking the authority of an authorized public chartering agency based on the performance of the charter schools authorized by such agency in the areas of student achievement, student safety, financial management, and compliance with all applicable statutes” (pg. 386).
If such “accountability” were the norm, charter school scandals would not be as rampant as they are.
The Alexander-Murray bill does not have the teeth to curb charter school exploitation of public funding.
Note that the Alexander-Murray reauthorization calls for “monitoring” even as it “assures” charters “a high degree of autonomy”:
(2) ASSURANCES.—Assurances that—
(A) each charter school receiving funds through the State entity’s program will have a high degree of autonomy over budget and operations, including autonomy over personnel decisions (pg. 389)
And back to the “monitoring” of these “highly-autonomous” charters:
(D) the State entity will promote quality authorizing, such as through providing technical assistance to support each authorized public chartering agency in the State to improve such agency’s ability to monitor the charter schools authorized by the agency, including by—
(i) using annual performance data, which may include graduation rates and student academic growth data, as appropriate, to measure a school’s progress toward becoming a high-quality charter school;
(ii) reviewing the schools’ independent, annual audits of financial statements conducted in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles, and ensuring any such audits are publically (sp.) reported; and
(iii) holding charter schools accountable to the academic, financial, and operational quality controls agreed to between the charter school and the authorized public chartering agency involved, such as through renewal, non-renewal, or revocation of the school’s charter; and
(E) the State entity will ensure that each charter school in the State makes publicly available, consistent with the dissemination requirements of the annual State report card, including on the website of the school, information to help parents make informed decisions about the education options available to their children, including information on the educational program, student support services, parent contract requirements (as applicable), including any financial obligations or fees, enrollment criteria (as applicable), and annual performance and enrollment data for each of the categories of students, as defined in section 1111(b)(3)(A) [Title I student subgroups] (pg. 392).
And we continue the “accountability” waffle with possible waiver of federal, state, and/or local rules “generally applicable to public schools”– “if necessary”:
(3) REQUESTS FOR WAIVERS.—
(A) FEDERAL STATUTE AND REGULATION.—A request and justification for waivers of any Federal statutory or regulatory provisions that the State entity believes are necessary for the successful operation of the charter schools that will receive funds under the entity’s program under this section.
(B) STATE AND LOCAL RULES.—A description of any State or local rules, generally applicable to public schools, that will be waived, or otherwise not apply, to such schools… (pg. 392)
The Alexander-Murray draft really wants to expand those “high quality” charters via a “flexible” state charter law and speculation that the charters paid for via Title V will “increase academic achievement”:
(g) SELECTION CRITERIA; PRIORITY.—
(1) SELECTION CRITERIA.—The Secretary shall award grants to State entities under this section on the basis of the quality of the applications submitted under subsection (f), after taking into consideration—
(A) the degree of flexibility afforded by the State’s public charter school law and how the State entity will work to maximize the flexibility provided to charter schools under such law;
(B) the proposed number of new charter schools to be opened, and, if applicable, the number of high-quality charter schools to be replicated or expanded under the program, and the number of new students to be served by such schools;
(C) the likelihood that the schools opened, replicated, or expanded by eligible applicants receiving subgrant funds will increase the academic achievement of the school’s students and progress toward becoming high-quality charter schools; and
(D) the quality of the State entity’s plan to—
(i) monitor the eligible applicants receiving subgrants under the State entity’s program;
(ii) provide technical assistance and support for—
(I) the eligible applicants receiving subgrants under the State entity’s program; and (II) quality authorizing efforts in the State. (pgs. 393-94)
The state is to monitor its charters, including the authorizing of charter operators.
Two stories immediately come to mind: Steve Barr and his reckless treatment of McDonogh High School in New Orleans (read here and here), and Ted Morris of New York and his approval to run a school despite fraudulent credentials (read here and here and here).
And as for school co-locations or other provisions for space, the Alexander-Murray reauthorization encourages it as part of applications it considers “priority” for Title V funding:
(2) PRIORITY.—In awarding grants under this section, the Secretary shall give priority to a State entity to the extent that the entity meets the following criteria:
(A) The State entity is located in a State that—
(i) allows at least one entity that is not the local educational agency to be an authorized public chartering agency for each developer seeking to open a charter school in the State; or
(ii) in the case of a State in which local educational agencies are the only authorized public chartering agencies, the State has an appeals process for the denial of an application for a charter school.
(B) The State entity is located in a State that ensures that charter schools receive equitable financing, as compared to traditional public schools, in a prompt manner.
(C) The State entity is located in a State that provides charter schools one or more of the following:
(i) Funding for facilities. (ii) Assistance with facilities acquisition. (iii) Access to public facilities. (iv) The ability to share in bonds or mill levies. (v) The right of first refusal to purchase public school buildings. (vi) Low- or no-cost leasing privileges.
(D) The State entity is located in a State that uses best practices from charter schools to help improve struggling schools and local educational agencies.
‘‘(E) The State entity supports charter schools that support at-risk students through activities such as dropout prevention or dropout recovery.
(F) The State entity ensures that each charter school has a high degree of autonomy over the charter school’s budget and operations, including autonomy over personnel decisions.
(G) The State entity has taken steps to ensure that all authorizing public chartering agencies implement best practices for charter school authorizing. (pgs. 394-96)
A state entity has until “end of the third year of the grant period and at the end of any renewal period” (pg. 397) to submit to the US secretary a report on how those “high quality” charters are faring.
The US secretary is to use “not less than 50 percent” of the money reserved for Title V to award “not less than 3 grants… to eligible entities that have the highest-quality applications…” (pg. 399). An “eligible entity” is “a public entity, such as a State or local governmental entity”; “a private nonprofit entity,” or “a consortium of entities” comprised of government and nonprofit entities (pg. 399).
The Alexander-Murray reauthorization expects private money to be involved in charter school financing. The eligible entities seeking Title V funding must include the following in their applications:
(C) a description of the eligible entity’s expertise in capital market financing;
(D) a description of how the proposed activities will leverage the maximum amount of private-sector financing capital relative to the amount of government funding used and otherwise enhance credit available to charter schools, including how the entity will offer a combination of rates and terms more favorable than the rates and terms that a charter school could receive without assistance from the entity under this section. (pg. 401)
Private money to match public funding– thereby creating the public-private funding hybrid that allows charters to escape public audits of public funding.
Further down the list comes the requirement of “expertise” in education, not to actually do right by students (not included in the draft language), but to speculate on some “likelihood of success”:
(E) a description of how the eligible entity possesses sufficient expertise in education to evaluate the likelihood of success of a charter school program for which facilities financing is sought.
The chief concern in this extensive section, Section 5104, “Facilities Financing Assistance” (pgs. 399-412) is in financing charter schools– in earnings, reissuance of earnings, identifying potential lending sources, guaranteeing and insuring leases, predevelopment costs, construction of new facilities, acquisition of property… and “not more than 2.5 percent” of Title V money can be used for “administrative costs” (pg. 404). And no charter school debt can become the responsibility of the federal government (pgs. 406-07).
Interestingly, the state entity has until the end of the initial, three-year grant period to report on the degree to which the funded charters met their academic goals; however, the money is supposed to be “annually audited by an independent public accountant” and the resulting report delivered to the US secretary (pg. 405).
Thus, it is possible for the charter to be meeting no academic goals yet still collecting Title V funding. Fear not, America: If a Title V-funded charter does nothing for two years and the US secretary determined that the finances are not being spend as agreed, the secretary could collect either “all of the funds in a reserve account established by an eligible entity” or “a portion… if if the Secretary determines that the eligible entity has permanently ceased to use all or a portion of the funds in such account to accomplish any [previously stated financial] purpose…” (pg. 407-08).
The Alexander-Murray reauthorization is keen on funding charter school facilities. Page 408 begins a “Per Pupil Facilities Aid Program.” Charters can get money from this program for five years, on a sliding scale in which the federal government pays 90 percent of the per-pupil facility cost in the first year; then 80, 60, 40, and 20 percent in years two through five, respectively (pgs. 409-10).
The state cannot get a “partner organization” to pay for more than 50 percent of the state’s share during the five years of the grant (pg. 410).
The state can reserve “not more than 5 percent” of the per-pupil facilities aid “to carry out evaluations, to provide technical assistance, and to disseminate information” (pg. 411).
The section includes the assurance the the per-pupil facilities aid program is voluntary for states (pg. 411).
On to page 413 and the “Grants for the Replication and Expansion of High-quality Charter Schools.” Another competition. Noteworthy info required on the “replication” application:
(E) For each charter school currently operated or managed by the eligible entity—
(i) student assessment results for all students and for each category of students described in section 1111(b)(2)(B)(xi) [these are the Title I categories]; and
(ii) attendance and student retention rates for the most recently completed school year and, if applicable, the most recent available 4-year adjusted cohort and extended-year adjusted cohort secondary school graduation rates (as such rates were calculated on the day before enactment of the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015).
(F) Information on any significant compliance issues encountered, within the last 3 years, by any school operated or managed by the eligible entity, including in the areas of student safety and financial management.
(G) A request and justification for any waivers of Federal statutory or regulatory requirements that the eligible entity believes are necessary for the successful operation of the charter schools to be replicated or expanded with funding under this subsection. (pgs. 415-16)
The above “replication” application terms read as though replication decisions are dependent upon the test scores of Title I students as well as retention rates and graduation rates (if applicable) of all students. Also, any cloudy or questionable student safety issues or fiscal issues are supposed to be noted on the entity’s (for example, a state department if education) application.
Then comes the request for “waiver” of federal requirements– which could provide means of approving for replication charters that do not shine when it comes to test scores, or retention rates, or student safety, or fiscal responsibility….
Nevertheless, the US secretary is supposed to give “priority” for replication grants “to eligible entities that operate or manage charter schools that, in the aggregate, serve students at least 60 percent of whom are eligible for a free or reduced price lunch under the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act” (pg. 418).
Grants are also available for “expansion”:
(7) EXPANSION OF A HIGH-QUALITY CHARTER SCHOOL.—The term ‘expansion of a high-quality charter school’ means increasing the enrollment at a high-quality charter school by not less than 50 percent or adding 2 or more grades to a high-quality charter school. (pg. 421).
And there’s Title V money for magnet schools, including grants to “expand an existing magnet school program that has a demonstrated record of success in increasing student academic achievement, reducing isolation of minority groups, 2 and increasing socioeconomic integration” (pgs. 426-27). The magnets could escape the “challenging State standards: “the challenging State academic standards… or are directly related to improving student academic, career, or technological skills and professional skills” (pg. 427).
And that takes care of Title V of the Alexander-Murray reauthorization draft.
A few brief observations upon exit:
The Title V language leaves room for charter school mismanagement. A glaring issue is that under Title V, states do not need to account for charter school academics until the end of the three-year grant period. That noted, the Alexander-Murray draft does not include language requiring states to increase the number of charters, nor does it require states to provide charter school attendance as an option for students in “identified” schools (see Part II of my series).
Time for me to end this post.
Next post: Title VI: “Innovation and Flexibility.”
I know. That title has me wondering, too.
Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.
She also has her second book available on pre-order, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, due for publication June 12, 2015.