From the Editors – April 2017, on Parachuting Charter Schools

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April Issue, on Parachuting Charter Schools

Alianza editorial staff

In this issue, Alianza’s Rick Mercurio investigates the status of local “independent study” and storefront charter schools that have parachuted into districts. Most have set up shop without notifying district officials. A recent court decision ruled that it is illegal for these schools to remain in operation without approval of the district in which they are located. As Maureen Magee of the Union Tribune stated, it is “… a decision that could change the landscape of charter schools, a California appellate court ruled Monday that charters cannot legally expand throughout their home county by opening satellite campuses outside the district that authorized them… ”

The decision is being celebrated as a victory for school districts up and down California that have lost students and state attendance funds when far-flung charters open “resource centers” in their boundaries without their approval or oversight.
These schools have made it difficult for our elected officials and district administrators to plan and budget. When students enroll in these schools it means a loss of students and funding for the district schools. However, as of today, they are still operating and are even recruiting students for next year. They have been given until June of 2018 to either petition the geographic district in which they are located, or shut down Whether the California Charter Schools Association will try to push legislation or find some other way to bypass doing the right thing remains to be seen.

Where are our local elected
school boards in this mess?

Some districts have let this situation go unquestioned for years. Escondido Union School District has allowed these schools to stay in our district unquestioned, draining district funds and operating programs without any input from the officials we have elected to oversee our public schools. Several districts filed suit against either the Julian or Dehesa school districts for locating schools authorized from out-of-district entities. Ultimately the outcomes of these lawsuits resulted in the courts deciding, as they should have, that these schools have been operating illegally.
Escondido Union School District seemed to spare no legal expense when it came to pushing an elected board member out the door by any means necessary, yet they have not said a peep about the storefront and “independent study” schools that have been draining the district of their resources for years.

A bit of quick research a couple of years ago was all it took us at Alianza to understand that these storefront schools were standing on shaky legal ground by locating outside of their district within the county of the authorizing district. What are these high priced lawyers for, if not to protect the district’s students and the taxpayers? At EUSD, the pro-charter board majority has looked the other way while millions of dollars slipped out of their hands and into those of sketchy operators every year. These millions could have been used to serve students, for more teachers and teachers’ aides, for more professional development, for numerous programs and resources that would help educate our students, build the district’s reputation, and prevent declining enrollment.

Declining Enrollment:
The problem is crystal clear

EUSD recently established a committee to study declining enrollment in the district. We, at Alianza, will save them a whole lot of time and effort. Here’s your problem: CHARTER SCHOOLS
While it is too late to keep charter schools of our district as other districts have done, there are ways to decrease the damage they are doing to our public schools.

1.Do not authorize charter schools when the proposals are clearly lacking.

Charter school law is written in such a way that this can be difficult. However, it is done – over and over and over – and it has even been done by EUSD with the denial of Beacon Classical Academy. The recent proposal from Epiphany Prep Charter School would have been easy to deny, yet the pro-charter board chose not to do so. Epiphany’s San Diego location posted some of the lowest scores in the entire state, yet EUSD approved them. Apparently they thought an operator of a school posting dismal scores was just fine for our kids, our Latinx kids, that is. Epiphany San Diego’s scores were MUCH lower than EUSD’s schools with the highest poverty rates and largest percentage of English learner. There were numerous reasons to deny this charter, yet EUSD approved it. And now the real public schools are losing millions, and losing students to an unproven operator. Irresponsible.
If these storefront/’independent study” schools petition the district for a charter, say “No.” Or better yet, say “hell no.” Remember, these schools have been draining resources from the real public schools for years.

2. STOP renewing charter school agreements when they violate terms of their charters.

Charter schools authorized by the district are up for renewal every five years. They should not be renewed if all of the charter requirements are not met. Obviously we’re not talking about minor infractions, but major ones, like whether they are matching the demographics of the community in which they are located, a required element of their petition. Every charter petition must explain: Means to achieve racial and ethnic balance reflective of the general population of the school district.

If this has not been achieved, the petition should be denied. The school has clearly failed. In Escondido, we see resegregation of our schools because our “white flight” charter schools have been given a pass on this requirement for many years. Irreparable harm has been done to our community by resegregating our schools.

Often school boards are coerced into renewing charters by charter school lobbyists or pushy charter school parents. Closing a charter school will be hard for some, but shutting down a public school in favor of a profiteering charter school will potentially affect GENERATIONS of children and entire communities.

Board Members Need to Be Honest about who they represent – the taxpaying public or the charter school lobby.

Elected school board members need to decide who they are working for – the taxpaying public and our PUBLIC schools. or the charter school lobby.

Trustees were elected to serve the interests of the taxpaying public and our PUBLIC schools. Let’s hold them accountable.

 

Element Education management corporation operates several of the charter schools Dehesa School District has authorized.

Dehesa School District with 175 Students, Receives half a million net for authorizing privately-run schools. Total taxpayer revenues for these schools well over 100 million.

 

Below are the most recent annual enrollment numbers and fees Dehesa School district receives for authorizing many charter schools located all over San Diego County as well as Orange and Riverside counties. The Dehesa school district has 175 students, yet they oversee 22 locations in San Diego County, with some of their largest populations in Escondido. The numbers below represent the authorizing fees that go back to the district of 175 students. The total is listed by Dehesa as $ 542,157.55. Per student that pencils out to $3,098 per student just for authorizing schools outside of their district that do not negatively affect their enrollment, but instead take students away from other districts with revenue following them. Dehesa School District is a K-8 school district, yet they oversee and run charter high schools (mostly online) as well.

Since Dehesa received $1,434,811.55 as a 1-3 percent authorizer fee (They claim to put $892,654 into property taxes back to the charters), still leaving a net of $542,157.55 for Dehesa. If their fee is 1-3 percent of their charter schools’ revenues depending on the individual MOU, then their total annual revenues are a minimum of
$143,481,155 That’s 143+ MILLION ANNUALLY of public education dollars going to charter schools authorized by Dehesa School District.

This means that this ONE tiny school of 175 students has found a way to manipulate the charter school law to extract literally hundreds of millions of dollars from school districts for its privately run charter system, which consists mostly of online or a combination of online and part-time in-person experience. All of this was done WITHOUT EVER getting the approval of the districts in which they located these satellites and storefronts.

Dehesa School District Statistics
supplied by Dehesa

Enrollment Figures:

Dehesa Charter: 1057 students
Community Montessori: 601 students
The Heights: 236 students
Method: 130 students
Valiant: 63 students
Inspire: 3598 students
Diego Hills: 1265 students

The formula used to financially compensate the district is dependent on the individual MOU with the charter school. It varies between 1-3 percent over site.
Most recent annual figures:

Dehesa Charter $80,866.60
Diego Hills $402,621.93
Community Montessori $45,598.88
The Heights $50,627.94
Methods $70,484.43
Valiant Academy $6,172.55
Inspire $778,439.55

Total $1,434,811.55
From the total, we (Dehesa) pay out in property taxes (back to the charters) a total of $892,654.00. That is a net of $542,15

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