Don’t look for Bill Moyers to be getting any grants from the Walton Family Foundation. His website reports on a new study about harm to taxpayers and school children from poor oversight of charter schools.
Charter school operators want to have it both ways. When they’re answering critics of school privatization, they say charter schools are public — they use public funds and provide students with a tuition-free education. But when it comes to transparency, they insist they have the same rights to privacy as any other private enterprise.
But a report released Monday by Integrity in Education and the Center for Popular Democracy — two groups that oppose school privatization – presents evidence that inadequate oversight of the charter school industry hurts both kids and taxpayers.
Sabrina Joy Stevens, executive director of Integrity in Education, told BillMoyers.com, “Our report shows that over $100 million has been lost to fraud and abuse in the charter industry, because there is virtually no proactive oversight system in place to thwart unscrupulous or incompetent charter operators before they cheat the public.” The actual amount of fraud and abuse the report uncovered totaled $136 million, and that was just in the 15 states they studied.
Here’s the full report. Arkansas is not among the states studied. It had a cap on open enrollment charters for years, unlike some states where proliferation of the schools has led to shady operators, poor education and self-enrichment.
But a bit of the rubber meets the road this week in Arkansas. A Texas charter school operator, Responsive Education Solutions, is going to ask this week for permission to move its proposed Quest charter school into a building on Hardin Road in west Little Rock that neighbors says isn’t suitable for the school because of traffic. Responsive Ed has a hand in seven charter schools in Arkansas. It has been faulted in a national study for quality of its work with poor kids and a Slate investigation pointed up shoddy curriculum in science (creationism) and history (fractured facts). In Little Rock, it has not been honest with regulators. It won approval for a school on Rahling Road in far western Little Rock while it was negotiating for a school site closer in, near existing Little Rock and charter schools. Then, it said it wouldn’t complete the purchase on the alternative site until it had approval from state and city officials. Records show the sale has closed, though neither the city nor state has formally approved use of the property for a school. How tough is Arkansas oversight? We shall see.
A measure of the looseness of regulation in Arkansas is the decision by top regulator Diane Zook, a member of the state Board of Education, to declare she has no conflict of interest in voting (FOR) on all Quest proposals even though her nephew, Gary Newton, is a lead organizer for the school and she has supported its establishment from early in the organizing process. Newton is financed in several pro-charter-school organizations by money from the Walton Family Foundation. I wonder if lawyer Chris Heller’s aunt was on the state Board of Education if anyone would object to that Board member voting on a case, like Quest, where Heller was objecting to the charter on behalf of his employer, the Little Rock School District. I’d make a small wager that Gary Newton would.