Could California’s Next Governor Finally End For-Profit Charter Schools in California?  I Hope So.

If California’s next governor really wants to support public education, then he or she may need to do something that hasn’t been done in 25 years: Get rid of California’s for-profit charter schools. Why?

For-profit charter schools haven’t increased learning and tend to be scandal-ridden, as evidenced by yet another scam detailed below.  While there are only a half-dozen such charters in California, that’s still too many.  There is no profit to skim on the California’s school funding without taking away from students.  And, while it would be easy enough to end the few relationships between nonprofit charters and their for-profit management companies, politics, so far, has killed those efforts.

But first, to the latest atrocity as described by Edsource

As a result of a just released state audit, the California Department of Education says a network of virtual charter schools must refund nearly $2 million in improperly used state funds that were intended for implementation of the Common Core standards in English and math.

Sadly, this was actually the second time the state  investigated the charter.

Kamala Harris, then attorney general, last year sued the charter group’s national partner, K12 Inc. of Herndon, Virginia, over alleged violations of California’s false claims, false advertising and unfair competition laws. In that settlement, K12 agreed to provide $160 million to the schools it manages, which had incurred large debts through K12’s fee structure, and to pay $8.5 million to settle all claims.

 Auditors found that the group overpaid supervisory fees to the school districts that chartered its schools — amounting to $1.2 million in the two years it reviewed. The investigators also flagged $2 million in improper accounting of Common Core funds in 2014-15.

And let’s look at some of the educational outcomes, or lack thereof, produced by CAVA, again from Edsource:

A 2016 Bay Area News Group investigation of California Virtual Academies found that fewer than half of its high schoolers earned diplomas, and almost none were qualified to attend the state’s public universities.

 This newspaper also found that the online schools’ teachers were asked to inflate attendance and enrollment records. The lucrative online school model earned K12 more than $310 million in California public funding in 12 years, and also enriched sponsoring school districts, which were paid a cut of state funds.

When it comes to for-profit charters in California, there is enough evidence to say first, that they aren’t helping kids learn and generally seem to be hurting them, and second, their conflicts of interest around making money, are at odds with the investment in children.

So why are for-profits in California even a thing?

I half figured for some strange reason, that the California Charter School Association (CCSA) might be blocking legislation to regulate for-profit charters. Who else could possibly be behind it? So, I reached out. I was wrong.

Last Spring, Sen. Steve Glazer introduced Senate Bill 806 to create boundaries between the nonprofit charters and the negative influence that could come from their for-profit management companies. The bill would also force charters to comply with existing open meeting and open record laws.  CCSA supported this bill.

So why didn’t it pass?

Surprisingly, it’s a competing measure in the Assembly, AB1478, that supports 90 percent of Senate Bill 806. Basically, it comes down to a technical issue, which of several conflict-of-interest laws apply to charters.  This article explains the distinctions pretty clearly by summarizing the current situation.

But like many education issues in Sacramento, this one has gotten tied up in the political clash between pro-charter school groups and teachers’ unions; both sides would prefer to resolve the ambiguity in different ways…

 While most charter schools in California are, in fact, run by nonprofit organizations, SB 806 would also ban the relatively small number of charter schools that are run as for-profit operations.

 For all their differences, both AB 1478 and SB 806 essentially clarify that charter schools are subject to the Political Reform Act as well as to laws requiring open public records and open government meetings.”

 AB 1478 has yet to come up for a vote on the Assembly floor. SB 806 is still in the committee process.

Beyond politics

The families, children and taxpayers of California deserve more. We should all be able to at least agree on the half loaf of banning for-profit charter school operators and the need for transparency requirements. If we need to figure out the specifics of conflict of interest later, so be it. That said, we should be putting ethical pressure on schools to adopt the higher standards themselves.

This should be an easy one. Why can’t the charter association, the unions and our legislators get together and fix it? Do they just need someone to bring everyone to the table? Maybe, someone like a governor?

I can’t give you one good reason as to why they can’t get it together. But, I can point to at least four people who may be able to help.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, State Treasurer John Chiang and former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin are all running for governor and they all seem to agree that for-profit charters are no good for California kids.

So while, politics may have gotten in the way before, perhaps the right politician can make a way.

What do you think?

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