Educate All Students, Support Public Education

January 29, 2014

More on LifeSkills Academy, Voucher School that Fled Wisconsin Only to Resurface in Florida

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 5:46 pm

Open records request uncovers shocking allegations

FFRF charges LifeSkills Academy with ‘appalling’ school lunch violations

(Remember LifeSkills Academy. They fled Wisconsin in the middle of the night after receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Wisconsin voucher program, only to resurface in Florida after opening a special needs voucher school there.)

January 28, 2014

An open records request filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation about LifeSkills Academy, a religious voucher school which closed its doors in mid-December stranding students, has uncovered that it was removed from federal meal programs in March 2012 for appalling violations of federal school lunch program rules.

LifeSkills Academy has received $2.3 million state voucher money since 2008, yet only one of 56 students in grades 3-8 had tested proficient in reading or math in 2012 state exams.

The Wisconsin Department of Public instruction wrote Taron Monroe, school superintendent of the controversial school, on June 28, 2011, outlining a series of allegations over mismanagement over school lunch programs.

The shocking allegations included:

  • Falsification of applications (parent signatures and dates) “by both you and Pastor Rodney”
  • Serving food as part of the National School Lunch Program that came from pantries and was expired
  • Serving children Ramen noodles with hot sauce and a cup of water for lunch, which does not meet reimbursability requirements for breakfasts and lunches
  • Serving KoolAid in place of juice
  • Serving moldy apple juice
  • “Cutting” whole milk with water
  • Counting students even if not present for meals
  • “Repeated issues with bats.”

An official with the Department of Public Instruction wrote a letter to Monroe that such “concerns are unacceptable and, if validated, are out of compliance with the federal and state regulations that govern the National School Lunch Program.”

Ultimately, in March 2012, LifeSkills Academy was cut off from federal meals programs, and was told “claims for reimbursement will not be paid for September 2011 through February 2012.”

The open records request was filed by FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott. “This horror story should wake up our state to the fact that Wisconsin’s voucher program is failed and is subsidizing incompetent schools,” Elliott commented.

“We’re deeply concerned that this couple has now set up a voucher school in Florida drawing public funds,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

– See more at:

January 28, 2014

Senate Bill 286 (on “accountability”) is a Direct Attack on Public Education and MPS and Gives a Pass to Voucher Schools

Filed under: Charter Schools,Vouchers — millerlf @ 6:53 pm

On Thursday, in Madison, there is an Executive Session of the Senate Education Committee to consider SB286.There will be no public testimony. SB286 will probably make it to the Senate floor the week of Feb. 10.

Some noteworthy features of the SB286:

1) While public schools would be forced to close or turned into an independent charters, voucher schools would not be forced to close but would not be able to enroll any additional voucher students. 

2)  Public schools have to take the state test. Voucher schools get a choice, they take the state test, but they also have the opportunity to take a different test and submit that information if they choose.

3)  There is a stipulation that the lowest performing 5% of public schools must be placed in the lowest performing category. It suggest that even if you are not in the “F” or “Fails to meet expectations” category, you can be thrown into the group that could be slated for closure or conversion to charter. Labeling 5% as “lowest performing” — even when they aren’t — is a backdoor way to create perpetual charter school expansion.

4)  Low performing schools will be closed or turned over to independent charter management organizations (CMO).

5)  The MPS Superintendent will have the power to contract directly with CMOs, circumventing the elected School Board.

6)  90% of the funding goes to the CMO. (Presently approximately 80% goes to the CMO.)

7)  Failing schools in MPS are only given 1 year before sanctions begin, rather than 3, and this stipulation is retroactive.

To read SB286 go to: Accountability Bill

Accountability Bill: Privatization Driven

Filed under: Charter Schools,Low Performing Schools — millerlf @ 10:01 am

Following is the Legislative Research Bureau analysis of the bill’s application to MPS:

Public schools

If DPI determines that a public school, other than a charter school, has received a grade of F for three consecutive school years, or has received a grade of F in three of five consecutive school years and a grade no higher than D in the other two school years, the school board must close the school or contract with a high−quality charter management organization (CMO) to operate the school as a charter school. (In the Milwaukee Public Schools [MPS], if the school board opts to contract with a CMO, the superintendent of schools, instead of the school board, enters into the contract on behalf of the school district.) A CMO is considered high-quality if, in each of the two preceding school years, the improvement in the average scores of pupils attending each charter school operated by the CMO on state assessments in reading and mathematics was greater than the improvement in the average scores of pupils attending public schools in the school district in which the charter school will be located.

A charter school established under these provisions may not be an instrumentality of the school district and the school board may not employ any personnel for the school. The school board must pay the charter school operator, for each full-time equivalent pupil attending the school, at least 90 percent of the average per pupil cost for the school district.

The requirement to close a public school or contract with a CMO to operate the school as a charter school does not apply if DPI determines, based on information provided by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Value-Added Research Center, that the school demonstrates high-value added growth.

Some noteworthy features of the SB286:

1) While public schools would be forced to close or turned into an independent charters, voucher schools would not be forced to close but would not be able to enroll any additional voucher students. 

2)  Public schools have to take the state test. Voucher schools get a choice, they take the state test, but they also have the opportunity to take a different test and submit that information if they choose.

3)  There is a stipulation that the lowest performing 5% of public schools must be placed in the lowest performing category. It suggest that even if you are not in the “F” or “Fails to meet expectations” category, you can be thrown into the group that could be slated for closure or conversion to charter. Labeling 5% as “lowest performing” — even when they aren’t — is a backdoor way to create perpetual charter school expansion.

4)  Low performing schools will be closed or turned over to independent charter management organizations (CMO).

5)  The MPS Superintendent will have the power to contract directly with CMOs, circumventing the elected School Board.

6)  90% of the funding goes to the CMO. (Presently approximately 80% goes to the CMO.)

7)  Failing schools in MPS are only given 1 year before sanctions begin, rather than 3, and this stipulation is retroactive.

To see the full bill go to:

Accountability Bill


January 27, 2014

Poem: Richard Sherman

Filed under: Racism — millerlf @ 5:56 pm

Ode to Richard Sherman and Justin Bieber:

Richard Sherman–

angry, dark, loud, dreads


Is he a credit to his race?

Is he a good role model?

Didn’t he take the course on Black leadership behavior?

what would Booker T say?

Wait, what would Jack Johnson say?

What would Fred Hampton say?

But he did break the rules.  “He may have set race relations back 100 years.”

Justin Bieber —

Fun-loving, mischievous, cute, mousse, white

thug wannabe(part-time)

Is he a credit to his race?

Is he a good role model?

What would his father say?

What would  the judge say?

What would  his homies say?

But he did break the rules.  “He may have set race relations back 100 years.” Or will his

Miami drunken rampage get him a movie deal or a new Lamborghini or a gangsta cd deal?

The Super Bowl is no longer between Seattle and Denver

SuperBowl XLVIII :Richard Sherman versus whiteness– those afraid, those defensive, those ignorant , those arrogant, haters

Bet on Richard Sherman

 “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, an African American; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
W.E.B. Du Bois The Souls of Black Folk

January 26, 2014

MPS and Independent Charters

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 8:46 pm

Larry Miller 1/26/14

The historic goal of the right-wing in America, as expressed by Milton Friedman, is vouchers for all. But because the voucher movement has suffered so many defeats, the right-wing has now advanced the independent charter movement as its main strategy to privatize and destroy public education.

I have sat on the New Charter Review Committee of MPS for years. We have rejected most proposals while advancing some. The original intention of charters, to infuse innovation and creativity into education, has been lost. Charters have become the main tactic of the so-called education “reform” movement, along with their Tea Party allies in government, to destroy public education.

The goal of the independent charter movement is to create and establish a dual school system, which will be separate and unequal: charter schools for the most motivated and able students and public schools as a repository for those unable to get into the charter system (special-ed, ELL, behavior problem students, low performing students—the list goes on).

The right wing’s goal is to create a new and separate school system — clearly stated by the CEOs of Rocketship and Kipp — through the use of nonprofit CMOs, charter management organizations.

This is privatization. A private organization/company running an independent school without public sector workers and few regulations is pretty much as private as you can get.

Some say these entities are nonprofit, therefore it’s not privatization. Would anyone say that Froedert Hospital or Aurora or the Catholic Church are public institutions? Hardly! They are all nonprofit organizations.

By the way, these nonprofit CMOs are not unprofitable for their CEOs and upper level management. Eva Moskawitz of Success Academy Charter Schools in Harlem earns $500,000/yr. Geoffrey Canada of Harlem Children’s  Zone and the CEOs of KIPP and Rocketship earn similar salaries.

When these CMOs are successful, that is because they receive certain clear advantages. These advantages are:

1.      They receive huge private funding from elements that want to destroy public schools.

2.      They serve consistently lower numbers of special education students compared to public schools in their communities. and

3.      They hide their exclusionary policies of selection and de-selection of students, especially special education students, ELL students, and students with “behavioral problems.”(There is a term among CMOs—“counseling out.” Parents are told “we can’t serve your child’s needs at our school”.)

My approach toward these independent charters has been to support a few (and reject most) in order to keep the charlatans in the legislature in Madison out of our business. But it has now become clear that the legislature is moving ahead with the intention of turning 20-30 schools over to independent charter organizations in the next 2 years, making meaningless any attempts at concessions or compromises.

As I spoke this past week with lobbyists and school board members from around the State, people in the know and versed in the present legislative politics in Madison, it became clear that the Republican leadership is intent on forcing large numbers of independent charters on MPS.

Even though I am very much opposed to independent charters, I was of the belief that if the MPS school board kept open the option to charter, we could possibly convince the legislature to support our overall “Plan for Supporting Low-Performing Schools.” By Thursday’s SASI meeting the writing was on the wall: nothing the Board does will influence the Republican leadership’s actions toward us.

This was confirmed by Alan Borsuk in his Sunday article where he said, “Sarah Archibald, an aide to state Sen. Luther Olsen, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said Friday that a proposal is expected to be released early this week that would make it likely the low-performing schools would be turned over to charter organizations in the next several years, whether or not the Milwaukee School Board agreed. The proposal would call for MPS schools that place in the lowest category of the state’s school report card for three years in a row to become independent charter schools.

Archibald said this could involve 20 to 30 schools by 2016-’17, if the plan is approved this spring. There also may be proposals for new measures for dealing with low performing charter schools and voucher schools.”

At the same time as we fight privatization, the parents, teachers, all MPS staff, the Board and community supporters of public education must also work tirelessly to improve our schools so that every child receives an excellent education.  

Commit to every child.

January 24, 2014

Scott Walker Praises and the Republicans Cheer for Sex Offender–Felon–Drunk Driver

Filed under: Scott Walker — millerlf @ 6:03 am

Daniel Bice 1/23/14 MJS

Emphasizing his role as a job creator, Gov. Scott Walker praised Christopher Barber’s moxie during the governor’s annual “state of the state” speech.

Photo by M. P. King / Wisconsin State Journal

Emphasizing his role as a job creator, Gov. Scott Walker praised Christopher Barber’s moxie during the governor’s annual “state of the state” speech. Barber, 32, left the ranks of the unemployed to land a seasonal job as welder at Ariens Co. in Brillion in late 2012, eventually turning that into a full-time post, according to a press release from Walker’s office. Newspapers around the state ran a photo of Barber giving a big wave to the crowd as he exited the Assembly podium to a round of applause during Walker’s televised address.

“These are the faces of an improving economy in our state,” Walker said Wednesday of Barber and others. “Wisconsin is going back to work.”

But there is a reason that Barber — a resident of Two Rivers — has had trouble finding steady work in the past.

Records show that he is a registered sex offender with two felonies and three drunken-driving offenses. Because of his checkered past, Barber has been in and out of jail and prison for much of the past decade, with his probation having been revoked at least twice.

January 22, 2014

Stop Special Needs Vouchers Wisconsin Coalition Fights Re-introduced Voucher Bill

Filed under: Special Education,Vouchers — millerlf @ 10:16 am

Families of Students with Disabilities Oppose Re-Introduced Special Needs Vouchers Bill

Contact: Joanne Juhnke,; 608-320-6165

Terri Hart-Ellis,; 414-217-8999

Madison, WI – Families of students with disabilities and their supporters across Wisconsin are responding with opposition and dismay to the January 21st return of the harmful special needs voucher proposal to the Wisconsin legislature. The unwelcome return of the special needs vouchers proposal, which failed to pass in previous attempts, would funnel critical taxpayer funding out of public schools and into private voucher schools which lack vital accountability. In addition, these private schools would not be required to abide by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This re-introduction of a failed proposal comes at a time when the underside of Wisconsin’s voucher program has been on stark display given the sudden folding of Milwaukee’s failed LifeSkills Academy, a private voucher school whose owners had also recently opened a special needs voucher school in Florida.

For Nancy Gapinski, parent from Glendale, the failure of LifeSkills Academy looms large in her concerns about the new special needs voucher proposal. “LifeSkills Academy took our tax money, failed to educate their students, and left families in the lurch in the middle of the night, all while re-inventing themselves as a special needs voucher school in Florida. How can we be considering new vouchers in Wisconsin when this kind of disaster is happening with our current vouchers?”

The bill’s most prominent revision is reportedly a new requirement that voucher recipients must first be denied an open enrollment request to attend public school in a district other than the one in which they live. The open enrollment denial requirement makes no sense to Joanne Juhnke, Madison parent and chair of the Stop Special Needs Vouchers steering committee. “If you want to improve open enrollment for students with disabilities, and we do,” says Juhnke, “this is entirely the wrong approach. It leaves in place the inequities in the current open enrollment law, while cynically encouraging families to game the system in pursuit of voucher funding. Open-enrollment denials are easy to get if one deliberately attempts to open-enroll into a district that’s known to be already full.”

The families of Stop Special Needs Vouchers oppose any voucher proposal that fails to require private schools to provide special education services or be held accountable for meeting students’ educational needs. In addition, no proposal so far has addressed concerns about discriminatory practices used against students with disabilities which were highlighted last year by a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice, outlining measures needed to assess and eliminate existing discrimination.

“Make no mistake,” warns parent Katie Schierl from Neenah, “special needs vouchers would represent a major statewide voucher expansion. This would be a drain on every public school district in the state, and our students with the greatest challenges are the ones who stand to lose the most.”

The families of Stop Special Needs Vouchers statewide will continue to work to inform the legislature and the public of the potential damage that special needs vouchers represent for our students. With all the shortcomings of Wisconsin’s current voucher programs, our state must not commit another dime to the expansion or creation of discriminatory voucher programs.

Stop Special Needs Vouchers is comprised of Wisconsin families committed to quality inclusive public education and to stopping harmful special needs vouchers.

For more background on concerns about special needs vouchers in Wisconsin, see:

For more information on Stop Special Needs Vouchers, a parent-led statewide grassroots group, see: Facebook page —

Blog —

Republican News Conference on Special Ed Vouchers

Filed under: Special Education,Vouchers — millerlf @ 10:15 am

The opposition to the re-introduced special education voucher legislation is getting ready for another fight. Sen. Leah Vukmir embarrassingly admits they did not consult with the Department of Instruction in developing this bill.

To view the news conference and statements by opponents go to:

January 20, 2014 National Charter Management Organizations Exposed

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 3:43 pm

The truth about charter schools: Padded cells, corruption, lousy instruction and worse results

Charter schools are sold as an answer. With awful discipline and shocking scandals, many really cause new problems

Jeff Bryant Friday, Jan 10, 2014

Imagine your 5-year-old boy went to a school where he was occasionally thrown in a padded cell and detained alone for stretches as long as 20 minutes.

Or you sent your kid to an elementary school where the children are made to sit on a bare floor in the classroom for days before they can “earn” their desks.

Or your kid went to a school where she spent hours parked in a cubicle in front of a computer with a poorly trained teacher who has to monitor more than 100 other students.

Maybe you don’t have children or send them to private school? So how do you feel when you find out the local school that you pay for with your taxes is operating a scam that diverted millions of dollars through fake Medicaid billing?

Or the school used your tax dollars as “grants” to start up other profit-making enterprises … or pay lavish salaries – $300,000, $400,000 or more – to its administrators … or support a movement linked to a reclusive Turkish cleric being investigated for bribery and corruption.

Welcome to the world of charter schools.

Are there wonderful charter schools doing great things for kids? Probably. Are all these cumulative anecdotes an unfair representation of the value that charter schools can bring to some communities? Maybe.

But neither of those questions matters because of what the charter school movement has come to represent in the landscape of American education.

Charter schools have been relentlessly marketed to the American populace as a silver bullet for “failed” public schools, especially in poor urban communities of African-American and Latino/a students.

Politicians in both parties speak glowingly of these schools – which, by the way, their children seem never to attend.

Opening charter schools has become the latest fad for celebrities including athletes and rap stars.

Huge nationwide chains – called education management organizations (EMOs) – now run many of these charters. A recent study by the National Education Policy Center found, “Students across 35 states and the District of Columbia now attend schools managed by these non-government entities.” These for-profit and nonprofit EMOs – such as K12 Inc., National Heritage Academies, Charter Schools USA and KIPP – now account for nearly half of the students educated by charter schools.

Substantial, well-funded nationwide organizations have rapidly developed to lobby for these schools. One such organization, the Alliance for School Choice, recently received a $6 million gift from the Walton Foundation, of Wal-Mart fame.

Slick marketing campaigns have been rolled out in communities across the country to tout the coming of new charters.

The actual academic results of these schools seems to hardly anyone, despite report after report showing that these schools tend to do poorly on state and national tests and fail at providing equitable education to underserved students.

Yet lobbying for more of these schools continues unabated with more money funneled into the campaigns of politicians who support charters and more efforts to press state lawmakers to lift any provisions currently in place to regulate how these schools operate and are held accountable to the public.

As a result, charter schools now serve one in 20 students nationwide, despite “mixed results” at best.

Yet how much is really known about how most charter schools operate on a day-to-day basis? Most of the people who witness what these schools actually do are students, who have little voice outside the classroom; teachers, who need to hold onto their jobs; and charter administrators, who can’t always be depended on to blow the whistle on shenanigans.

But as these institutions proliferate, so are troubling reports of what the charter movement has unleashed.

Turning Our Backs on Abuse

Keeping a running tally of charter school scandals could amount to so much cherry-picking if it weren’t for the fact the tree is so loaded there’s practically nothing but fruit.

Two of the anecdotes cited above surfaced recently in schools operated by a nationwide chain called KIPP, which has been acclaimed for doing “wonderful things” to poor kids that most middle-class parents would not want to see done to their kids.

The incident where a 5-year-old student was confined in school to a padded cell prompted Chicago (where the incident occurred) blogger Mike Klonsky to write, “Brutal forms of discipline have become routine for KIPP.

“No divergence is permitted and deviants are quickly labeled, punished or expelled. KIPP has the highest student attrition rate in the nation. I recall one KIPP school where African-American children were made to sit on a bench with a sign around their neck that said, ‘CRETIN.’”

Klonsky noted the nationwide chain’s practice of using a behavioral technique, called “Slant,” that “instructs students to sit up, listen, ask questions, nod and track the speaker with their eyes.” It’s “military style behavior,” renowned educator Debra Meier remarked on her blog at Education Week.

Meier explained how these schools rely on “public shaming” as a form of behavior control, which often includes “children being ‘exiled’ to a special table at lunch, required to wear their KIPP shirts backwards, and other forms of public embarrassment.”

James Horn, who came across the incident where students had to “earn” their desks by siting on the floor, wrote, “KIPP requires the poorest urban children, those who have received the least in life, to earn everything at KIPP.”

Horn interviewed a former teacher from that KIPP school who recounted, “[The children] would sit there and do homework on the floor. They would fill in forms and pass them. And they had to all do it correctly, otherwise, they’d do it again and again and again … It was 100 [students]. It was all the fifth-graders in a classroom.”

Horn noted, “This is not the first time such educational atrocities at KIPP have been documented,” and he linked to a “series of incidents” in Fresno, Calif., where the school principal was accused of  ”slamming students against the wall, placing trash cans over their heads, forcing kids to crawl on their hands and knees while barking, and enforcing unreasonably strict bathroom rules, resulting in students having accidents and vomiting on themselves inside the classroom.”

“How long will we turn our backs on this kind of abuse?” Horn asked.

Rocketship to Nowhere

The questionable practices of many charter schools go beyond classroom management.

The charter cited above where students spent hours stuck in cubicles, in front of computers, is part of a nationwide charter chain called Rocketship.

According to ed-tech media outlet EdSurge, “Rocketship Education is a charter school network in hot demand, courted by urban school districts across the nation. Both Kaya Henderson, Superintendent of D.C. Public Schools and New York City’s outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg have publicly said they’d welcome Rocketship schools in their districts.” (emphasis added)

Tech market enthusiasts at EdSurge claim, “Rocketship has broken down the traditional factory school model, rethinking things like the bell-schedule, the role of teachers, the way kids are grouped, and even the physical space itself.”

What does all this “innovation” look like in practice?

As Samantha Winslow explained in the article cited above, Rocketship’s allure comes mostly from cost savings because so much of the “instruction” is delivered via computers. “The company says it saves half a million dollars a year by using fewer teachers, replacing them with non-certified instructors at $15 per hour … Half its teachers have less than two years’ experience; 75 percent come from Teach for America.”

The chain “targets low-income students” with the claim it can raise their test scores by drilling them with computer-based instruction. “Instructors monitor up to 130 kids at a time in cubicles in the schools’ computer labs. Rocketeers, as students are called, sit looking at computer screens up to two hours per day.

“Skeptics say the Rocketship test scores just demonstrate the schools are focusing on test preparation at the expense of arts, languages, and real learning,” Winslow noted.

The Last Thing These Children Need

In these types of high-tech-driven charters, where efficiency and driving down the costs of teachers are priorities, “there is never much time to actually teach,” explained one teacher who had been employed at a virtual charter school run by the company K12.

Writing recently at the the blog site of Education Week edu-blogger Anthony Cody, the teacher, Darcy Bedortha, recounted, “Each class met for 30 minutes in an interactive-blackboard setting one day each week. Fewer than 10 percent of students actually attended these ‘classes.’ Other than that time and any one-on-one sessions a teacher and student might set up (which, in my experience, almost never happened), there is no room for direct instruction.

“I was an English teacher,” Bedortha explained, “so my students would write. They wrote of pain and fear and of not fitting in. They were the kinds of young people who desperately needed to have the protective circle of a community watching over them. They needed one healthy person to smile at them and recognize them by name every day, to say ‘I’m glad you’re here!’ … The last thing these young people needed … was to be isolated in front of a computer screen.”

The educational malpractices committed by charter schools aren’t confined to the tech-driven ones.

A tutor who had worked at a “no excuse” charter school in Boston recently wrote a letter to her former students on the edu-blog site Edushyster. She confessed, “What I saw at your ‘No Excuses’ charter startled me and still troubles me deeply. I was trained on how to discipline you, but not on the best way to help you understand material. I was lectured on how to turn your learning into data points, but was never told who you are and where you came from. Your school forced me to do things that I don’t believe are in your best interest.”

A recent report coming out of Ohio told of a charter management operation in Columbus where teachers failed to show for work because they hadn’t been paid. There were bedbugs in the school, the food vendor stopped providing lunches, and an assistant principal was making less than minimum wage. The charter operator had two other charters it operated closed down by the state Department of Education in the previous month because “inadequate staffing led to fights among students and to lunch not being served on a set schedule.”

A “Perfect Storm” of Corruption

In addition to questionable classroom practices, charter schools are dogged by corruption.

The scandal cited above in which a charter chain defrauded taxpayers of millions of dollars in a Medicaid scheme presents a “perfect storm,” according to one analysis, “of everything that might go wrong with private, for-profit ‘educators’ trying to make more than a buck from public education under the guise of charter school management.”

The D.C.-based firm Options Public Charter School managed to orchestrate a train wreck of corruption, including not only the Medicaid fraud scheme, but also payoffs of public officials and a local television news personality, diversion of funds meant for schools to personal accounts, business arrangements that siphoned funds to contractor partners, and bloated executive salaries.

The charter scandal involving the Turkish cleric is especially bizarre. As the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss explained at her Answer Sheet blog, “The reclusive cleric is Fethullah Gulen, who has been linked to charter schools in some 25 states and to other schools in dozens of countries around the world.”

But Gluen is no mere charter operator. In fact, as Al Jazeera reported, he is the head of a powerful movement in Turkey involved in “the most extensive and sensational corruption investigations” of that country’s recent history.

“The public charter schools in what is unofficially known as the Gulen network,” Strauss explained, “are believed to be operated by people – usually Turks – in or associated with the Gulen movement.”

Many of the schools have strong academic records, but have been the subject of frequent investigations of “whether some employees at some of these schools are ‘kicking back part of their salaries’ to the Gulen Movement.”

Strauss noted, “The New York Times and CBS News as well as PBS have reported on the Gulen charter network, citing problems such as whether these schools give special preference to Turkish companies when handing out contracts.”

No Scrutiny Please

One doesn’t have to dig deeply to find examples of charter school malfeasance. Indeed, all the above examples appeared in news stories and blog sites since the current school year began.

In the meantime, charter promoters do all they can to avoid any external audits or legal consequences related to what they do.

As education historian Diane Ravitch recently reported from her blog, when charter school operators in California were convicted of misappropriating over $200,000 in public monies, the California Charter Schools Association entered an amicus brief stating the defendants were “not guilty of any criminal offense because charter schools are not subject to the laws governing public schools. CCSA says that charter schools are exempt from criminal laws governing public schools because they are operated by a private corporation.”

In the same blog post, Ravitch told of a case in Arizona where another charter successfully argued that it was a private corporation, not a public school. And in Chicago, when the teachers at a charter school wanted to form a union, “the charter founder argued before the National Labor Relations Board that the charter was operated by a private corporation and not subject to state labor laws.”

Wait … and you thought charter schools were public schools?

Movement Interrupted

If it weren’t for the great marketing job the charter movement has employed, this education “innovation” would be a P.R. disaster.

So far, only the most well-informed fans of charter schools, who aren’t wrapped up in the movement ideology it has become, have changed their minds about what’s befalling schoolchildren and communities across the country.

An impartial observer of charter schools, Rutgers professor Bruce Baker, once hoped charters would be a possible source of “some creative, energetic leadership … that might be associated with a mission-driven start-up school, coupled with an ounce or two of deregulation.”

Recently, however, his perception has changed. “This whole movement has gotten way out of control – it has morphed dramatically – especially the punditry and resultant public policy surrounding charter schooling. Sadly, I’m reaching a point where I now believe that the end result is causing more harm than good.”

Recently, Stan Karp of Rethinking Schools wrote, “Nearly every teacher dreams of starting a school. I know I did.

“But I also know the charter school movement has changed dramatically in recent years in ways that have undermined its original intentions … The counterfeit claim that charter privatization is part of a new ‘civil rights movement,’ addressing the deep and historic inequality that surrounds our schools, is belied by the real impact of rapid charter growth in cities across the country.”

His conclusion? “It’s time to put the brakes on charter expansion and refocus public policy on providing excellent public schools for all.”


Jeff Bryant is Director of the Education Opportunity Network, a partnership effort of the Institute for America’s Future and the Opportunity to Learn Campaign. Jeff owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C., and has written extensively about public education policy.

January 16, 2014

Operators of Failed WI Voucher School Move to Florida, Open Special Needs Voucher School

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 2:51 pm

1/15/14  Posted by

For parents of students with disabilities in Wisconsin, the Florida version of special needs vouchers has loomed large as a cautionary tale.  In June 2011, the Miami New Times reported “McKay Scholarship Program Sparks Cottage Industry of Fraud and Chaos.”  The article related appalling accounts of schools held in strip malls, with inexperienced teachers and no curriculum or materials.  Fraud runs rampant, with almost no oversight or accountability from the state.  The vouchers, concluded the reporter, were “like a perverse science experiment, using disabled school kids as lab rats and funded by nine figures in taxpayer cash.”Since forming as a group in November of 2012, the parents of Stop Special Needs Vouchers have worked tirelessly to prevent such vouchers from being inflicted on the state of Wisconsin.  Special needs vouchers would funnel tax dollars from our already-underfunded public schools into unaccountable private schools, where students lose their federal special-education rights and protections.  Public schools educate everyone, regardless of disability; private voucher schools are notorious for cherry-picking the students they deem “easier” to educate, while students with more intensive and expensive challenges remain in the public schools.We have seen this dynamic underway already in the Milwaukee Parental Choice voucher program, where private schools are not accountable to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  Many families have experiences of students with disabilities who were returned from voucher schools to the public schools, after the voucher schools had received tax money for the semester.  According to public testimony from Bob Peterson of Milwaukee this past October, “We know that between the ‘third Friday’ and second of January there is an exodus from certain voucher and charter schools… Last year between the ‘third Friday’ and the first of December, 448 students left the voucher and charter schools; 142 of them turned out to be special ed students.”

Now we have further troubling evidence connecting a failed voucher school in Wisconsin to the special needs voucher boondoggle in Florida.

Erin Richards of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel broke the story on Janaury 14: Milwaukee voucher school LifeSkills Academy closes ‘in the dead of the night’.  LifeSkills Academy had 66 voucher-funded students when it closed down overnight; only one of those students was proficient in reading and math.  The students ended up at other schools, but, as the article reported, “The DPI is not able to recoup public money spent by voucher schools that do not finish the year.”

The depth of dysfunction at LifeSkills Academy was laid bare by a parent review on the site in 2013.  According to the parent:

This is among the worst schools I have ever seen. Poor administrative leadership and accountability, low morale, extreme unprofessionalism, the lack of organizational structure, scarce resources, low teacher creativity, loose student environment, and low faculty talent are just some of the reasons why this school is not only a scam but it perpetuates the issues our city is experiencing with juvenile delinquency, student illiteracy, and dismantling any hope that any attending student might have for being successful. I quickly corrected a mistake that I made for allowing my son to attend this “school” when I saw that he never had homework and his text book was photocopied, 3 grade levels below, and published in the late 1980’s. This school is run like a small family church and not like an academic institution.

In a follow-up article, the Journal Sentinel trailed the proprietors of the failed LifeSkills Academy: Leaders of closed Milwaukee voucher school are now in Florida.  According to the subsequent story, “Records show Taron and Rodney Monroe started a new private Christian school this year in Daytona Beach. While the school in Milwaukee was running on fumes, they were telling Florida friends they had experience getting government grants for religious schools.”  The new school was also named LifeSkills Academy.

Stop Special Needs Vouchers has learned that the new iteration of LifeSkills Academy in Florida did indeed succeed in qualifying as a voucher school, for Florida’s McKay special needs voucher program.  On a directory of McKay scholarship program private schools on the Florida Department of Education web site, LifeSkills Academy is listed as a McKay school in the Volusia school district, serving disability-types of Emotional/Behavioral Disability, Specific Learning Disability, Gifted, and Intellectual Disability.

The idea of such a school simply declaring themselves as expert in special education should send shivers down the spine of every parent of a student with disability-related educational needs.

The scandal of LifeSkills Academy voucher school, both in Wisconsin and Florida, must serve as a vivid warning for our state, as voucher expansion plans continue to surface in our state legislature.  The voucher experiment is riddled with failure and fraud.  We cannot allow special needs vouchers to multiply the damage in Wisconsin.

— Joanne Juhnke
Chair, Stop Special Needs Vouchers steering committee

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