School Choice is a Lie. It Does Not Mean More Options. It Means Less.

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“A lie told once remains a lie but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.”

-Joseph Goebbels

 

 

Neoliberals and right-wingers are very good at naming things.

 

Doing so allows them to frame the narrative, and control the debate.

 

Nowhere is this more obvious than with “school choice” – a term that has nothing to do with choice and everything to do with privatization.

 

It literally means taking public educational institutions and turning them over to private companies for management and profit.

 

 

A FAKE DIFFERENCE AND A BIG DIFFERENCE

 

 

There are two main types: charter and voucher schools.

 
Charter schools are run by private interests but paid for exclusively by tax dollars. Voucher schools are run by private businesses and paid for at least in part by tax dollars.

 

Certainly each state has different laws and different legal definitions of these terms so there is some variability of what these schools are in practice. However, the general description holds in most cases. Voucher schools are privately run at (at least partial) public expense. Charter schools are privately run but pretend to be public. In both cases, they’re private – no matter what their lobbyists or marketing campaigns say to the contrary.

 

For instance, some charter schools claim to be run by duly elected school boards just like public schools. Yet the elected body is a proxy that gives over all management decisions to an appointed private board of company officers and a CEO. That’s not really the same thing as what you get at public schools. It’s a way of claiming that you’re the same without actually being it.

 

Likewise, voucher schools are subject to almost no regulations on how they spend their money – even the portion made up by tax dollars – but charter schools are subject to more state and federal oversight. This is why voucher schools can violate the separation of church and state – teaching creationism as fact – while charter schools cannot.

 

Yet, in practice, state and federal laws often allow charters much more flexibility than public schools and the state and federal government rarely checks up on them to see if they’re following the regulations. In fact, in many states, auditors are not even allowed to check up on charter school compliance unless specific complaints have been filed or long intervals of leaving them to their own devices have passed. So charters can also teach things like creationism as fact only more clandestinely.

 

In short, the differences between public and privatized schools is significant. Yet the difference between the two types of privatized education is more political and rhetorical than practical.

 

Despite these facts, when we talk about privatized schools, we ignore the real distinctions and focus on the fake ones. We overlook the salient features and instead describe privatized schools as vehicles for choice.

 

They’re not.

 

 

 

FAKE CHOICE

 

 

 

School choice.

 

Got choice?

 

Parents should have the freedom to choose the school their children attend.

 

But using “choice” as the ultimate descriptor of what privatized schools are and what they offer is at best misleading and at worst an outright lie.

 

They are essentially private businesses existing for the sole purpose of making a profit.

 

Yes, parents choose if they want their children to enroll in these schools. But they also choose if their children enroll in the neighborhood public school.

 

Critics say the public school option is not a choice because there is only one public school district in a given neighborhood. Yet isn’t it the parents who decide the neighborhood where they live? In most cases, even the wealthiest district has rental properties where people can move to take advantage of an exceptional school system.

 

Certainly the quality of a school shouldn’t be determined by a zip code. But this is an argument for funding equity, for providing each district with the resources necessary to educate the children in their charge, not an argument for privatization.

 

In BOTH cases, public and privatized schools, parents exercise choice. But the propagandists choose to call only one of them by that name.

And it is a misnomer.

 

Privatized schools – both charters and voucher schools – are under no obligation to accept all students who seek enrollment. Public schools are.

 

If a student lives in a public school’s service area, the district must accept that student. It doesn’t matter if educating that child will cost more than the average per pupil expenditure. It doesn’t matter if she is easy or difficult to educate, if she has a record of behavior or discipline problems, if she has special needs, if she has low test scores. The public school must accept her and give her the best education possible.

 

Privatized schools are legally allowed to be selective. They can deny enrollment based on whatever reasons they choose. Charter schools may have to be more careful about their explicit reasoning than voucher schools, but that’s just a restriction on what they say, not on what they do. The results are the same. If they want to deny your child entry because of her race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, whatever – they can. They just have to put something more creative down as the reason why.

 

Vouchers schools don’t even have to give you a reason at all.

 

And charters have a multitude of ways to avoid accountability. They can simply pretend to have conducted a lottery. Or they can include an onerous series of demands for enrollment such as expensive uniforms, school supplies and parental volunteering at the school, to discourage difficult students from applying.

 

Moreover, even if they let your child enroll, they can kick her out at any time if she proves to be too expensive or it appears she’ll make the school look bad. This is why every year charter schools send a stream of struggling students back to the public schools just before standardized test time – they don’t want the students low test scores to reflect badly on the school – yet they’ll use the fact that they enrolled difficult students at the beginning of the school year to “prove” they aren’t selective!

 

That’s not choice. It’s marketing.

 

At best, it’s not choice for the parents or students. It’s choice for the operators of privatized schools.

 

WALMARTIZATION OF SCHOOLS

 

 

Critics will argue that these problems are a feature of the limited scope of so-called school choice programs. If there were more of them, the market would self-correct and many of these irresponsible practices would disappear.

 

Yet such a belief shows a complete ignorance of how business works in America.

 

The free market has not lead to more choice. It has led to consolidation.

 

When WalMart moves into an area, it doesn’t help boost the local mom and pop stores. It devours them. It’s a principle best described as the bigger fish eat the little ones.

 

Our system is designed to hide this fact by preserving separate companies with individual names and brands but that are all owned and operated by huge conglomerates. For instance, there are multiple newspapers and TV stations across the country all owned by a handful of huge corporations. The same with airlines, banks, pharmaceuticals, you name it.

 

That’s not choice. It’s the illusion of choice. And if privatization were given free reign over our public schools, we should expect nothing less.

 

If all or most of our public schools became privatized, after a short time we would have a handful of huge corporations dominating the field with near monopolies. Schools would be large charter and voucher chains, possibly with a variety of names and brands marketed differently, but providing pretty much the same generic services. It would be the WalMartiztion of education.

 

That goal is not the expansion of choice. It is the reduction of it.

 

 

MUSICAL CHAIRS

 

 

And what of those critics who claim school choice isn’t about privatization but about allowing students to attend even neighboring public districts?

 

First, this is rarely what so-called “school choice” programs do. And there is a very good reason for that.

 

It’s a terrible idea.

 

Let’s say you have three districts in your part of the state, one of which is exceptional and the other two struggle. If we allow students at the struggling districts to attend the exceptional one, what happens? You have a mass exodus to the exceptional district while the other two close due to lack of funding.

 

Now what? The one exceptional district has to somehow service more students than it can house and somehow create an instant infrastructure to meet their needs. Even under the best of circumstances, this is impossible. It would take years to do so, and in the meantime all students – even those who originally lived in the exceptional school’s immediate coverage area – will suffer.

 

Moreover, it ignores the realities on the ground. Why were there two struggling districts and one exceptional one? Almost always this is because of the wealth disparity between the three districts. The exceptional district probably serviced wealthier children. They have fewer needs than poor children. They have books in the home, less food uncertainty, less exposure to violence, racism and trauma.

 

Yet the rich district has an overabundance of resources to meet whatever needs its students have. It can levy higher taxes and thus spend more per pupil than the other struggling districts.

 

So when you combine the three districts, you end up being unable to continue spending the same amount per pupil. You probably have to decrease that spending and thus all students receive fewer services. However, at the same time, student needs for services increase because now you’re also trying to educate the more impoverished and racially diverse students from the two previously struggling districts.

 

No, even this kind of school choice doesn’t improve the quality of education. It degrades it.

 

The only solution is to provide each district with the funding necessary to meet students’ needs – whatever they are. That is the only way to increase the quality of education – not playing musical chairs with where students physically go to school.

 

 

SCHOOL CHOICE IS A LIE

 

 

At every level, so-called “school choice” is a lie.

 

It’s about preserving the status quo for the wealthy while providing substandard services for the poor and middle class.

 

It’s a power grab by the business community to profitize public funds set aside to educate children.

 

And perhaps the easiest way to combat it is the simplest: stop calling it school choice.

 

Call it what it is – school privatization.

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Guns and Profit – Why We’ll Do Absolutely Nothing New After This Las Vegas Shooting

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Wake up, America.

We are not the land of the brave or the home of the free.

We are the land of the gun and the home of the free market.

Stephen Paddock’s killing spree last night in Las Vegas will not change anything – except the bottom line for numerous gun manufacturers.

Ca-ching, people!

Scores of American companies are going to clean up over this!

That’s what happens every time we get a high profile mass shooting.

Not new gun regulation. Not additional services for the mentally ill. Not stricter guidelines against fake news on social media.

Just tons of money pouring into gun manufacturers pockets as firearm aficionados rush to buy as many additional pieces as they can in the fear that tomorrow the government will come for their guns.

You think this has anything to do with the Second Amendment or the right to bear arms?

Wrong.

It’s about putting business over humanity. It’s about our culture of death overtaking everything else.

Look at the facts.

A 64-year-old retiree used a cache of almost 20 guns to spray bullets on a crowd of concertgoers. He killed at least 58 people and wounded more than 500 others.
To do so, police say he had at least one fully-automatic rifle, an AR-15-style and AK-47-style rifle, more than a dozen additional firearms, and a ton of ammunition.

Any sane society that values human life would do something to stop things like this from happening again.

It is almost impossible to inflict this kind of death toll in such a short time without these types of firearms.

It’s the guns, stupid!

Yeah, I know they didn’t pull their own triggers. That was done by a human being, but by all accounts so far there were no warnings that Paddock was unstable. He was just another privileged white male with a gambling habit and an armory full of guns.

We will never be able to accurately and adequately predict when someone will snap. I’m not saying there isn’t more we can do to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill, but it will never be enough.

No one should have the power to inflict this kind of death on others.

Does that mean all guns should be illegal? Maybe. Maybe not. Does it mean they should be highly regulated. Absolutely! But no matter what you’re preconceptions, it’s a discussion we should be having.

However, we never will because our government is owned by big business, and guns are one of the biggest businesses out there.

Gunmakers made millions of dollars after the mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut; San Bernardino, California; and Orlando, Florida. Profits also skyrocket under Democratic Presidents. I wonder how many sprawling estates and mega-yachts were bought off the backs of “Obama’s coming for your guns!”

But ever since Donald Trump took office, profits have tapered off. Everyone knows he’s not going to do anything about gun violence. No reason to rush out and buy that new Glock.

The market has noticed. Vista Outdoor’s stock dropped by 40 percent since the election, while Sturm, Ruger & Co.’s stock fell 20 percent and American Outdoor’s stock has fallen by a whooping 46 percent!

But now! Woo-wee! This Las Vegas shooting is just what the industry needed!

And THAT’S why we aren’t ever going to do anything to prevent future massacres.

In America, the bottom line is all that matters.

We are a country of charlatans and prostitutes. Anything for a buck: for-profit healthcare, privatized education, and gun sales over all.

But don’t worry. The right wing media machine will be all over this, distracting you with alternative motivations for the killing spree.

Since Paddock killed fans at a country music concert, they’ll say he must have been targeting conservatives. Or it’s a false flag operation to stop NRA-backed legislation easing regulations on silencers. And various other B.S. conspiracy theories Facebook and other social media platforms allow to jump from profile-to-profile without regard to facts or evidence.

It’ll all just be another distraction.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, people.

It’s just big business getting richer off of your partisanship and credulity.

If only saving lives was where the money is.

If only preventing death was as profitable as causing it.

If only we cared more about each other than making a buck…

But no – instead we are one nation, under God, with guns and ammo for all.

Why is Common Core Still Here?

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Common Core has become a national joke.

 

In fact, the set of academic standards has inspired a new genre of grade school humor – Common Core comedy.

 

For instance:

 

One student turns to another and says, “Common Core is about making us college and career ready.”

 

The other student replies, “It’s working. It’s making me drink more everyday.”

 

Here’s another one:

 

Question: Why can’t mommy help you with your Common Core math homework?

 

Answer: She only has a four-year degree.

 

And finally:

 

Question: How many whiteboards does it take to show you how to screw in a light bulb?

 

Answer: One, but it takes dozens to explain 1+4 in Common Core.

 

Parents nationwide know the pain of Common Core by the looks on their children’s faces.

 

They see bright, curious youngsters go to school and come back hating education and thinking they’re stupid.

 

Parents get the same feeling trying to decipher their children’s homework.

 

Meanwhile the majority of teachers hate the standards – and as they become more familiar with it, that number grows every year.

 

So why do we keep using Common Core? Why haven’t our schools thrown this bad idea on the trash heap of failed education policies?

 

In short – because industry is making a lot of money off it.

 

Common Core was created by private industry.

 

It was not made by the states, nor was it written by the federal government.

 

It was created to sell a new generation of standardized tests and textbooks.

 

It’s raison d’etre is profit not education.

 

School children didn’t need a unified set of academic standards. Big business needed them to sell more books and tests.

 

 

The standards were written by Achieve, Inc., a Washington, D.C., organization formed in 1996 by corporate leaders and six state governors. The endeavor was funded by Bill Gates and other corporate interests. It was reviewed by individuals and organizations also funded by Gates.

 

 

Then the federal government stepped in to strongly encourage states to adopt the standards. Not because anyone actually thought they were necessary. They did it because that was what wealthy donors wanted.

 

Eventually the standards were adopted in 42 states, but not because legislatures voted on them. The standards were quietly approved by state boards of education, unelected state education chiefs and boards of education. Many lawmakers didn’t even know what Common Core was or that their state had implemented it until voters started calling and asking questions.

 

Moreover, at the time of their adoption, the standards weren’t even completed. They were enacted in many cases sight unseen.

 

How did the federal government get state officials to do this? Money and threats.

 

Public schools were strapped because of the great recession. So the Obama administration swooped in to help – on the condition that states enact a series of reforms including Common Core.

 

The Obama administration did not write Common Core, but it did everything it could to make sure states enacted these standards. In the 2009 stimulus package, there was $4.35 billion in discretionary funds given to the U.S. Department of Education to hand out as state grants. But in order to qualify for these grants, states had to adopt the Common Core. With education funding at a premium, bureaucrats were only too willing to bend over backwards to keep their state’s schools running.

 

And when the carrot wasn’t enough, the federal government used the stick.

 

Many states were applying to the federal government for waivers to the disastrous No Child Left Behind legislation. Adopting Common Core and several other corporate education reforms was made a pre-condition. If states didn’t adopt these standards, their schools would be labeled “failing” and lose even more federal funding.

 

Despite all this, the media still often misrepresents the facts.

 

It is an objective fact that the Core was written by private industry. So the media never asks that question. It asks if the Core was “state led.” That way there is room for spin.

 

Who led the effort to enact these standards? Since a handful of governors and other government officials were involved in their creation, media patsies are able to pretend the initiative started with the states. But don’t believe it. It started with private interests – people like David Coleman and Bill Gates – trying to influence government to do what they wanted for their own ends. As President of the College Board, Coleman stood to profit off new books and tests. As co-founder of Microsoft, Gates stood to profit from the new technology needed to run many of these new tests and materials. They led the initiative, not the states.

 

No government official was ever given a mandate by the voters or their empowered representatives to create or enact Common Core. Those that did so acted in their private capacities. Bribing a handful of governors doesn’t make something a state initiative.

 

Just because a government official does something doesn’t make it policy. When Chris Christie orders a footlong hoagie for lunch, it isn’t the start of a government program to feed people at Subway. He’s just ordering lunch.

 

Moreover, when government officials are coerced into adopting a policy because otherwise they won’t be able to fulfill their obligation to voters, that isn’t an endorsement of those policies. You can’t offer a starving child a sandwich on the condition that he shouts a swear word and then pretend it was all his idea. You can’t offer a glass of water to a man dying of thirst on the condition that he shave his head and then pretend that he likes being bald.

 

Common Core was not adopted by states because they liked it. It was adopted to keep schools running.

 

Special interests used the federal government’s power over the states to circumvent the legislative process.

 

The result is a set of poor quality standards that are developmentally inappropriate and don’t help students learn. This should be no surprise since they were written with minimal input from classroom teachers or child psychologists. Instead they were created by standardized test authors. But even if the standards had been good, the process of their adoption was highly undemocratic.

 

Sadly, this is how government works now.

 

Charter schools, Teach for America, standardized testing – Public education has been high jacked by business interests.

 

 

Once upon a time, the goal was to help students learn. Now the main objective is to help big business profit off students.

 

If you can make a buck off something – even if it doesn’t help or actually hurts school kids – do it.

 

 

Nowhere is this clearer than with the Common Core.

 

 

Unfortunately, our 2016 Presidential candidates don’t seem to get it.

 

 

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump seems to understand the problems with Common Core.

 

 

Clinton thinks the only issue is the way the Core was implemented in schools – not federal coercion, not poor quality standards, etc. Schools didn’t implement them too quickly. The standards are badly written, unproven to help and increasingly shown to hurt.

 

 

Trump, on the other hand, thinks it’s all wrong, but he has no idea why or what he can do about it. Like too many Republicans, he acts as if the only problem with the standards is Obama’s participation. He ignores or omits the one-time advocacy of prominent members of his own party for the Core like Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, and Mike Huckabee.

 

Neither candidate seems to understand that the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) bans the federal government from doing anything to promote Common Core, or any other set of education standards. This does not, unfortunately, repeal the standards. It emphasizes the states’ power to choose their own academic standards.

 

Each state legislature can keep, revise, or repeal Common Core. And in some cases, this has already begun. In Oklahoma, for example, Common Core was repealed entirely. In other states, like New Jersey, Common Core has been revised but largely left in place. In other states, the standards remain untouched.

 

Why hasn’t Common Core gone away? State legislatures haven’t acted.

 

No matter who wins the presidential race, whether it’s a candidate in favor or against Common Core, he or she has zero power to do anything about it. Hopefully, no one tries to exceed that authority by coercing states one way or another.

 

Meanwhile, state legislatures need to pay attention to the wishes of voters. If Common Core is repealed – and that’s what the majority of taxpayers want – we can only hope it’s done so in a more democratic fashion than it was approved. We can only hope it isn’t replaced with something worse.

 

Whatever happens it should be to benefit students, not corporations.

 

Or to put it another way:

 

Question: What if Common Core was created just to drive parents crazy?

 

Answer: Somebody must be making a fortune on crazy meds!!

Make Tons of Money Doing a Terrible Job – Start a Cyber Charter School

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 If you’re a parent, you’d literally be better off having your child skip school altogether than sending her to a cyber charter.

 

LITERALLY!

 

But if you’re an investor, online charters are like a free money machine. Just press the button and print however much cash you want!

 

Ca-ching!

 

Nowhere else is the goal of corporate education reform as starkly clear as in the cyber charter industry. Nowhere else can such terrible academic results reap such tremendous financial gain.

 

Cyber charter schools are elementary and/or secondary institutions of learning where all or most lessons are given online via computer. Like brick and mortar charter schools, they are funded by taxes but are free from much of the regulations and oversight of which traditional public schools are subject. By every discernible report, the education provided by these online charters is truly execrable.

 

A recent nationwide study found that cyber charters provide 180 days less of math instruction than traditional public schools.

 

180 days!

 

There are only 180 days in an average school year. So cyber charters provide less math instruction than not going to school at all.

 

Amazing!

 

Ever watched an episode of Sesame Street? Then you got a better math education than an entire year at an online charter!

 

Dora the Explorer, Barney the purple dinosaur, Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood, the Teletubbies – all are more mathematically rigorous than cyber charters!

 

But what about reading?

 

When it comes to that essential skill, online charters come out much better. They only provide 72 days less instruction than traditional public schools.

 

That’s 40% of the school year!

 

So at a traditional public school you’d get a better education in reading if you simply took off at the end of February. You’d get more instruction if you only went slightly more than every other day!

 

The same study found that 88 percent of cyber charter schools have weaker academic growth than similar brick and mortar schools.

 

They have an “overwhelming negative impact” on students, according to researchers. Not only do they have fewer learning days in math and reading, they have a higher student-teacher ratio and much more limited opportunities for live-contact with teachers than brick and mortar schools.

 

For instance, student-to-teacher ratios average about 30:1 in online charters, compared to 20:1 for brick and mortar charters and 17:1 for traditional public schools.

 

And THIS is somehow a viable alternative to traditional public schools!?

 

Well caveat emptor, suckers! Thank goodness for the ignorance of the public!

 

But at least it’s easy to set up these failure factories.

 

Here’s all you have to do:

 

Give a child a computer with Internet access.

 

Buy a cheap, generic programmed package of study.

 

Then sit back and watch the money roll in.

 

From an education standpoint, the model is clearly unsound.

 

Here’s how a cyber charter teacher describes the reading curriculum at his school:

 

“Most cyber schools get their curriculum from K12, a company started by William Bennett, a former federal Secretary of Education. My school gets the majority of its high school material from a mail order company called Aventa.

 

When Aventa creates a course it is fairly bare bones. They choose a textbook from one of the major textbook companies, and cut it up into lessons. The lesson will contain a few paragraphs introducing the topic, they will have the students read a section of a chapter, they will ask the student to do a few problems from the book, and lastly, there will be some form of graded assessment, taken from textbook review problems. That is all.”

 

This is like giving out nothing but worksheets and expecting high academic performance. Here. Read the book, answer the questions at the back, and call it a day.

 

Even though it’s an online school, you do need a few flesh and blood “teachers” occasionally. Their job is to contact students every now and then, but – get this – in most states they don’t even have to be certified. In my home state of Pennsylvania, only 75 percent of cyber charter teachers need to be certified and even those are not subject to the same educator effectiveness accountability regulations as traditional public school teachers.

 

So you could have your cousin Vinnie calling students and asking how they’re doin’. It really doesn’t matter. Most times the kids won’t answer the phone anyway.

 

That’s about all it takes. And boy does it pay!

 

Nationwide there are about 200 online charter schools enrolling about 200,000 children. They raked in $426 million in 2013-14!

 

It’s almost like stealing, but it’s totally 100% legal!

 

Cyber charter operators pull in the same amount or more of tax revenues as traditional public schools – and here’s the best part – what they don’t spend on students is all bank for them and their shareholders!

 

Everything is set up to benefit online charter investors to the detriment of students and families. Take the very way online charters are paid.

 

They get money for each student enrolled. That money comes from the school district where the student lives.

 

However, in many states like Pennsylvania, each district spends a different amount of money per student. These expenditures reflect varying costs and available funding from the local tax base.

 

So cyber charters get whatever that local per-pupil expenditure is. It doesn’t matter if a district spends $8,000 on each student or $20,000. Whatever the amount, that goes to the cyber charter.

 

However, the cost of educating kids is drastically reduced online. Their programs are bare bones compared with what you get at a traditional public school. Most online charters don’t have tutors or teacher aides. They don’t offer band, chorus or extra-curricular activities. You don’t have to pay for any building costs, grounds, upkeep, large staff, etc. But funding formulas in most states ignore this completely. Cyber charters get to keep the difference – whatever it is. In fact, they have an incentive to keep as much as possible because they can do almost whatever they want with it. That includes putting it into operators’ pockets!

 

They just call it profit.

 

Even many online charters that claim to be non-profit do this.

 

For instance, take Pennsylvania’s Insight PA Cyber Charter School. On paper, it’s run by a nonprofit board of directors. However, the board gave over all day-to-day operations to a for-profit company, K12 Inc. On paper it’s one thing. In practice, it’s something else entirely.

 

And in some states when it comes to special education funding, it gets worse. In Pennsylvania, our funding formula is so out of whack that charters schools of all stripes including cyber charters often end up with more funding for students with special needs than traditional public schools. However, because of this loophole in the Commonwealth, Pennsylvania online charters have been increasing the number of special education students they enroll and even working to add that label to as many of their students as possible. The state Department of Education has been so underfunded it does not have the resources to oversee these changes.

 

Issues like these permit a bait-and-switch that sends an awful lot of tax dollars earmarked to help children into the maw of private industry.

 

Sure there’s a lot of turnover. Few students stay enrolled in online charters more than a year or two before realizing they’ve been had. But they are easily replaced.

 

And – get this – when they return to their traditional public school hopelessly behind their peers, who has to pay to remediate them? Answer: you do! That’s a problem for traditional public schools and the taxpayers that support them – not cyber charters.

 

With all these issues, why do online charters keep getting approved? Ask the your local state Department of Education.

 

Unlike brick and mortar charters, which require approval at the district level, in most states cyber charters are approved by the Department of Education. Admittedly the online charter boom has slowed somewhat after news of fraud and abuse has become an almost a weekly occurrence in the national media.

 

For instance, PA Cyber Charter founder Nicholas Trombetta allegedly stole at least $8 million in public dollars only a few years ago. He bought an airplane, a $900,000 condo, houses for his girlfriend and mother, and nearly $1 million in groceries and personal expenses, according to the grand jury. Trombetta allegedly set up numerous for-profit and nonprofit businesses to provide goods and services to the cyber charter. Federal investigators filed 11 fraud and tax conspiracy charges against him and indicted others in the case.

 

While Trombetta awaits trial, the school continues to do business awaiting a potential state audit.

 

Another cyber charter founder, June Brown, was also indicted for theft of $6.5 million. Brown and her executives were indicted on 62 counts of wire fraud, obstruction of justice and witness tampering. She was well known for student test scores and had a reputation for claiming large salaries and filing suits against parents who questioned her, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

 

Brown is also awaiting trial. She ran the Agora Cyber Charter School, which was part of the K12 Inc. empire of virtual charters.

 

With this kind of fraud and a record of academic failure, perhaps the most amazing thing about cyber charters is that taxpayers allow them to exist at all.

 

You hear educators say it’s all about the children. But not at online charters.

 

There it’s all about the Benjamins. Heck! The McKinleys! The Clevelands! The Madisons! The Chases! The Wilsons!

How to Get Rich From Public Schools (Without Actually Educating)

Get-Rich

 

Gold!

 

There’s gold in them thar schools!

 

Don’t believe me?

 

When you drive by an inner city school, it doesn’t exactly look like the Taj Mahal. Does it? Even relatively upscale suburban schools wouldn’t be mistaken for a house on MTV Cribs. And some of those fly-by night charter schools look more like prisons than Shangri-La.

 

But I’ve got it on good authority that there’s $1.3 trillion available for someone who knows how to take it.

 

That someone is Harold Levy, an expert on how to get rich through school privatization.

 

The former chancellor of the New York City School System has begun a second career managing an investment company.

 

“For-profit education is one of the largest U.S. investment markets, currently topping $1.3 trillion in value,” according to the Website for one of his master classes for rich investors.

 

Wooo-weee! That’s a lot of money!

 

To put it in context, that’s more than 10 times the amount the federal government spends on education per year. And it’s all yummy profit!

 

So how do you get your hands on some of those delicious taxpayer greenbacks?

 

You gotta’ invest.

 

No! I don’t mean increase education budgets for traditional public schools that can barely make ends meet! I mean invest in shiny new charter schools.

 

Here’s how it works.

 

Lend money to a for-profit company to build a new charter school. If you do it just right, you’re almost guaranteed to double or triple your money in seven years.

 

You’ll want to take advantage of the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC), which began in 2000 at the end of President Bill Clinton’s administration. This will give you a whooping 39 percent tax credit. But here’s the best part, since it’s money you’re lending, you also get interest on it! And if that weren’t enough, you can piggyback all kinds of additional federal tax credits on top of that – things like historic preservation or job creation or Brownfield’s credits.

 

That doesn’t sound legal, does it? But it is!

 

In case that has you feeling queasy, you can hide what you’re doing by funneling the whole thing through a large non-profit organization like the Gates Foundation. They’ll be more than happy to help. They’ve done it for so many before you anyway.

 

However, make sure you whisk this money through something called a Community Development Entity (CDE). The federal website explains this can be either a “domestic corporation or partnership.” And it must have “a primary mission of serving LICs [Low Income Communities].” (Snicker!)

 

Here’s the best part. A CDE isn’t required to release information about who its donors are or how much they’re spending. So on paper the CDE – not you – gives the money to the non-profit, which, in turn, loans the money to a charter management organization. It’s like money laundering. No one can tell where the funds came from and thus it’s easy to escape from federal regulations or any appearance of wrongdoing.

 

There is a catch, however. You’re probably going to need a substantial amount of capital to put forward – at least a million bucks or so. No bank’s going to waste its time with only a few hundred thou.

 

This method is perfect for those who are already wealthy and want to increase their wealth or hedge fund managers out to boost their clients’ portfolios.

 

But maybe you just aren’t into the whole hedge fund game. Maybe you’re not the banking and investing type.

 

You can still make oodles of cash off public schools through real estate.

 

Here’s what you do – buy up cheap inner city properties that can be renovated or repurposed for charter schools. Then when a school privatization firm wants to set up shop in an impoverished city like Philadelphia, Chicago or Detroit, it needs someone like you to open the door.

 

You’ll get to charge the charter corporation rent and – get this – that’s not price capped! You can charge whatever you want! As long as you’ve got a good spot and no one else is trying to beat you to it, charter corporations are willing to pay bookoo bucks to get their money-making enterprises rolling!

 

A good rule of thumb comes from privatization expert Charter Schools USA, which recommends rental costs not exceed 20 percent of a school’s budget. However, there are plenty of examples of charter schools paying 25, 30 even up to 43 percent of their money just on rental costs! Ca-Ching!

 

And if you really want to boost the bottom line, open a charter school, yourself! That way you can both rent out the real estate and pay for it!

 

Think about it. Who sets the rental price? You do. Who pays the rental price? You do. So you can pay yourself WHATEVER YOU WANT! And where does the money come from? The taxpayers!

 

Doesn’t sound legal does it? But it is!

 

According to the Miami Herald, which conducted an in-depth investigation into these practices, many of the highest rents are charged by landlords with ties to the management companies running the schools. Property records show at least 56 charter schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties sitting on land whose owners are tied to management companies.

 

Of course there are so many other ways to set things up like this with a charter school. Unlike most traditional public schools, charters contract with for-profit companies for everything from curriculum development to construction. So there are many opportunities for creative investors to figure out how to both set the price and pay it TO THEMSELVES!

 

Moreover, every state has different laws about charter schools so check for loopholes. You’ll find ‘em!

 

Just don’t forget to set up that CDE to hide your shady dealings from the public. After all, if taxpayers could easily see how you’re sucking up their hard-earned money that they thought was going to help school children (Tee-hee!) they wouldn’t be happy.

 

And if you’re reading this from somewhere outside of the USA, don’t despair. You, too, can make a ton of money off school privatization in the United States. It’s like the Statue of Liberty says – wealthy foreign nationals welcome! (Or something like that.)

 

Since the Immigration Act of 1990, investors have been allowed to purchase visas for their families by investing in U.S. corporations. Just stash some cash into a hotel, ski resort or charter school and – voilà! – Move directly to GO and collect way more than $200!

 

It’s called the EB-5 visa for Immigrant Investors. For the low price of at least $1 million -or $500,000 to a rural or high unemployment neighborhood — you can get visas for the whole family.

 

Sounds like some crazy new loophole – right? It isn’t. It’s been around for decades. Every year, the federal government hands out 10,000 of these visas. So while Syrian refugee children drown seeking asylum, wealthy foreign nationals get an express ticket to the US of A.

 

You might be thinking, ‘That gets me into the country, but where do I cash in?’ Easy. You now have a stake in a U.S. charter school and have access to all the same easy money as native-born investors.

 

It’s an incredibly lucrative model even for those more interested in the Prophet than profit.

 

Just look at Gulen charter schools. It’s the largest single charter school network in the country. More than 150 schools in Texas, Ohio, Illinois and other cities are funded by Turkish investors following an Islamic nationalist named Fetullaf Gülen. These schools are part of a “worldwide religious, social and nationalistic movement in his name,” according to the New York Times.

 

Be warned. Many of these schools are under investigation for using U.S. taxpayer dollars meant to educate U.S. children in non-educational or otherwise shady ways. Some of this tax revenue has allegedly been spent on political and religious causes championed by the Prophet Gülen. Other funds have gone to controversial educational practices. For instance, instead of hiring local teachers, the chain is infamous for shipping in Turkish educators to the United States. As if it wouldn’t be cheaper to hire locals! And guess where the money comes from to pay for these Turkish teachers’ visas? That’s right – from the charter school’s funding!

 

Still. Even with a few setbacks, there’s never been a better time to invest in the privatization of public education. Sure there are financial, behavioral and educational scandals at charter schools throughout the country being discovered everyday. But fortune favors the brave!

 

Money is just hanging on the tree waiting to be plucked. It’s hard to walk into a charter school and not come out with pockets fit to bursting with cold, hard cash.

 

In fact, the only folks not making bank in this whole scheme are the teachers!

 

Don’t be one of them.

 

Teachers at charter schools – where unionizing is often prohibited – take home even less than those working at traditional public schools. And those traditional educators aren’t getting rich, either.

 

A new report by the Center for American Progress argues that U.S. teachers usually have bad starting pay and are unlikely to see major salary gains even after several years of teaching.

 

Growth in teacher salaries is especially bad when comparing the U.S. to other developed countries:

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“The bottom line is that mid- and late-career teachers are not earning what they deserve, nor are they able to gain the salaries that support a middle-class existence,” the report concluded.

 

There appears to be a golden rule in education: the less you actually help students learn, the more money you get to take home.

 

Perhaps if public schools were kept out of private hands where profit is the overwhelming motivation for everything you do, things would be different. But thank goodness that isn’t happening!

 

Someday people may wake up and demand more for their tax dollars and for their children. But until then…

 

There’s gold in them thar schools!

 

Don’t be a sap. Don’t be a teacher. Don’t help children. Invest in a fly-by-night charter school and get rich!


NOTE: This article also was published in Commondreams.org.

 

 

The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Turning Kids into Cash

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For too many children, public school is just a “GO DIRECTLY TO JAIL” card.

Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.

The institution that should be raising kids to the skies is chaining them to the ground.

It’s called the School-to-Prison Pipeline, and it disproportionately affects students of color and the poor.

School policy at the highest levels is designed to sort and rank students. Some go to the college track. Some go to the industrial track. And even more end up on the prison track.

We actually have procedures that prepare certain children for life behind bars.

Why? Because people make money from it.

Think about it. The United States represents only 4.4% of the world population but we house 22% of the world’s prisoners. We’re the number one jailor!

It’s not that our citizens are out of control. It’s not a rise in violent crime. In fact, the crime rate has decreased to 1970s levels.

But instead someone has found a way to convert prisoners into cash.

Since the 1980s, we’ve been handing over our prison system to private companies to run for a profit.

The number of inmates in privatized prisons has increased by 44% in the last decade alone, according to a 2013 Bloomberg report.

This creates a market. Without a steady stream of prisoners, these institutions would go bankrupt. And corporations such as Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group spend tons of cash lobbying our government to ensure just that.

It’s no accident that our national education policy meets the needs of the for-profit prison industry.

Look at the so-called education reforms of the last decade: increasing standardization, efforts to close schools serving poor and minority children, cutting school budgets and narrowing the curriculum. All of these serve to push kids out of school and into the streets where they are more likely to engage in criminal activity and enter the criminal justice system.

Federal education policy – whether it be No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top – continually doubles down on privatization and standardization. These policies consistently have failed to produce academic gains but are offered as the only possible solution in school reform initiatives.

Question: Why do we keep enacting the same failed policies?

Answer: Because they are not MEANT to succeed. They are meant to fail a certain percentage, race and economic bracket.

If we had effective education procedures that increased academic success, we wouldn’t have enough prisoners to feed our for-profit prisons. Lawmakers would loose valuable lobbying revenue.

Call it what you will – misplaced priorities, profiteering or an outright scam. But the reform-to-profit cycle is advocated, perpetrated and championed by the most prominent figures in the so-called education reform movement.

Take Bill Gates – the monetary force behind Common Core State Standards (CCSS), one of the leading policies in education.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also is an investor in The GEO Group – one of the biggest for-profit prison providers in the country. It’s most recent tax filing (2013) shows a more than $2 million investment.

Nominally a philanthropic organization, the Gates Foundation refuses to admit if it still backs the industry or by how much. Sure Gates underwriting is just a drop in the bucket, but it proves how the organization’s interest is economic and not charitable. It is one of a herd of Trojan horses stampeding over the cries of critics under a banner of largesse.

Likewise, Common Core essentially isn’t concerned with increasing the quality of children’s education. CCSS has never been proven to be effective and is – in fact – developmentally inappropriate. But it’s touted as a panacea to a host of ills when its real concern is to continue fortifying the prison machine.

We live in a country where more than half of the children attending public school live below the poverty line. They need proper nutrition, social assistance, tutoring, counseling and a host of wrap around services. But instead they get so-called “higher” academic standards and standardized tests.

It’s like a sporting goods store withholding wheelchairs to the Special Olympics and instead donating extra hurdles – all the while claiming it was trying to help participants become better hoppers!

Even worse, these standards aren’t actually better. They’re just confusing, ignorant and ill-conceived. After all, they weren’t developed by educators. They were made by ideologues who admit they were unqualified for the task.

Was this a huge mistake? No. These standards and the associated bubble tests that drive them do exactly what they were meant to do.

They increase the numbers of failing students. They push more kids out of school and into the waiting arms of the prison industry.

And when kids have difficulty sitting through the hours, days, and months of test prep that are increasingly replacing a well-rounded curriculum, they face unfair discipline practices.

We treat misbehaving kids like little criminals.

Can’t sit still in class? Can’t keep quiet? Can’t control your frustration?

Out you go! Detentions, suspensions, expulsions!

We have zero tolerance for your childish behavior – even if you are still a child.

And unsurprisingly the majority of the children who are crushed by the hammer of discipline have dark skin.

Let me be clear. I’m not saying that misbehaving children shouldn’t be disciplined. Far from it.

But we need to stop criminalizing their misbehavior.

If we can’t provide them with schools that teach in a developmentally appropriate manner – it’s not the children who are misbehaving. It’s us! The school system!

Moreover, when a child has a problem conforming to the norm, our first reaction shouldn’t be punishment. It should be understanding. The goal should be to find ways to change the negative behavior, not weed the kid out of the system.

But this means treating children as ends not means.

We have to care about their well-being. They have to be more than just piggy banks for big business.

Otherwise, it is our sick society that really deserves to be sent to jail.


NOTE: This article also appeared in the LA Progressive, ConversationED and the Badass Teachers Association blog.