Tag Archives: charter schools

Stand for Children PACs could face big fines

A pro-charter school organization and the four Nashville school board candidates it backed in August are subject to combined civil penalties potentially totaling $685,000, according to The Tennessean.

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance on Tuesday sent a show cause letter to Stand for Children and candidates Miranda Christy, Thom Druffel, Jane Grimes Meneely and Jackson Miller.

The violations relate to the candidates coordinating with Stand for Children and its two political action committees to find campaign workers. The coordination, first reported by The Tennessean, stemmed from an email between Stand for Children’s political director, Dan O’Donnell, and the executive director of the Martha O’Bryan Center, a nonprofit group that operates two charter schools.

…According to the ethics bureau’s board of directors, that coordination caused the four candidates to eclipse campaign contribution limits. Each campaign is subject to a fine equal to 115 percent of the difference between the contribution cap of $7,600 and the amount of the unreported political help provided by Stand for Children. That comes out to about $70,000 in potential fines per campaign, and Stand for Children’s political action committee is subject to the same potential fine for each infraction.

Registry board votes to review activities of Stand for Children PAC

The Registry of Election Finance board has taken the first step toward a hearing on allegations against the Stand for Children political action committee and several Nashville school board candidates it supported violated campaign finance laws, reports The Tennessean.

A complaint against the PAC was filed by Tennessee Citizens Action, which bills itself as promoting consumer rights and civic action.The complaint contends Stand for Children illegally coordinated its activities with several pro-charter school candidates during the election.

“My gut feeling is there is enough smoke to open up and look at it,” said Tom Lawless, chairman of the registry board. He added: “If they violated (the law), we need to be consistent. We don’t have to be punitive, we can be constructive.”

The complaint was filed Aug. 4, a day before Nashville’s school board elections, and cites a story by The Tennessean that details emails sent by the head of a prominent Nashville nonprofit that appear to show she coordinated with Stand for Children to find campaign workers for the four school board candidates.

It also cites a July 29 WSMV report that says Stand for Children Director Daniel O’Donnell met with candidate Thom Druffel during a 10-day mandatory blackout period before the election. Stand’s attorney said O’Donnell took a day off from work that day and was not in violation of the law.

Stephen Zralek, an attorney with Nashville law firm Bone McAllester Norton PLLC who represents Stand for Children, said the organization takes election ethics issues seriously and consistently follows the law.

“The Registry’s order is standard procedure whenever a complaint is filed. We look forward to answering the Registry’s questions and providing an accurate account of the facts,” he said in a Wednesday email.

Gerard Stranch, the attorney who filed the complaint, told the registry he thought it was clear that there was evidence Stand for Children exceeded campaign contribution limits by coordinating with candidates, and violated laws banning donations by a PAC within a “blackout period” in the days immediately leading up to the election.

Mismanagement prompts Dept. of Ed takeover at ASD

Tennessee Department of Education officials have been quietly taken over because of inept handling of fiscal affairs, according to a Comptroller’s audit outlined to legislators Wednesday. The actions included dismissal of the entire financial management staff at ASD. The audit reported troubles ranging from a $2,500 expenditure for a party where liquor was served to generally loose oversight of money.

Further from the Times-Free Press:

The intervention, which began last fall, only came to light Wednesday — the result of the public release of a blistering state comptroller performance audit that represented the watchdog agency’s first comprehensive look at the district’s internal controls since it was created in 2010.

Many of the findings don’t look good for the agency created to help low-performing schools. (Note: Full audit HERE)
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ASD to stop school takeovers for a year

The Achievement School District will not seek to take over more low-performing schools in the 2017-18 school year because of the state’s transition to its new K-12 assessment this year, district leaders said Friday.

Further from Chalkbeat Tennessee:

The decision is consistent with allowances being shown by the State Department of Education over student grades and teacher evaluations due to the failed rollout of TNReady, according to the announcement by Tennessee’s school turnaround district.

“Extending flexibility to priority schools during this transition mirrors the flexibility we have offered to teachers and students,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement released through the ASD. “We remain committed to improving all schools as well as the work being done by the ASD …”

Under the new timetable, the next time the ASD will authorize new school charter operators will be the spring of 2017 for potential charter conversions in 2018-19. However, decisions on new school starts for previously authorized operators, grade expansion and non-academic school actions will continue and be based on operator and school performance.

“This is not a moratorium, it is a hold harmless year based on a new assessment,” the statement says.

Several state lawmakers from Memphis and school boards in both Memphis and Nashville have called for a one-year moratorium on ASD growth. The ASD operates 27 turnaround schools in Memphis and two in Nashville and will add four more in Memphis next school year.

Comptroller reports on TN charter schools

News release from state comptroller’s office:
The Comptroller’s Offices of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) has released a report that examines the way charter school facilities are funded in Tennessee. The report provides information on the facilities arrangements for Tennessee’s charter schools and describes efforts in Tennessee and other states to provide charter schools with facilities-related assistance.

Charter schools are public schools operated by independent governing bodies and are authorized by one of the following three entities in Tennessee: local boards of education, the Achievement School District (ASD), or the State Board of Education (SBOE). The majority of charters in Tennessee are authorized by local boards of education. As of the 2015-16 school year, 97 public charter schools operate in Tennessee. These school are located in Hamilton County (3), Knox County (1), Metro Nashville (27), Shelby County (45), and the Achievement School District (21).

Charter schools authorized by school districts and the State Board of Education must secure their own facility arrangements. Once a charter school’s application is approved, it is the responsibility of the school operator to secure its own school facility; neither the local board of education nor the SBOE is required to provide a facility to the charter schools they authorize. ASD charter schools neither lease nor own their school facilities and are not responsible for securing a school facility. Almost all charter schools in the ASD are instead located in a school facility previously operated by a local school district and subsequently taken over by the ASD because of low academic performance.
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Four more Shelby schools going to ASD

Four Shelby County schools will be converted into charter schools under the state-run Achievement School District next year, reports the Commercial Appeal. They are Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary, Kirby and Raleigh-Egypt middle schools and Hillcrest High.

Sheffield Elementary will stay with Shelby County Schools after the Aspire Public Schools charter network failed the application process.

Caldwell-Guthrie and Raleigh-Egypt will enter the Scholar Academies charter network. Hillcrest and Kirby will become part of Green Dot Public Schools. Neither Green Dot nor Scholar is based in Memphis, but both have schools operating under the ASD here.

The ASD announced the conversions Friday after a four-month process to determine which schools on the state’s priority list of the bottom 5 percent of schools would be taken over.

“They now have the opportunity to get the support that they need to be able to fulfill the potential that the students have,” incoming ASD Superintendent Malika Anderson said. Anderson, currently the district’s No. 2 official, takes over from Chris Barbic Jan. 4.

The news came days after a Vanderbilt study concluded the SCS turnaround plan in the Innovation Zone has seen more early successes than the ASD.

“Researchers indicated this work takes time, and we look forward to continuing to both research and reflect on the findings that our partners have around the impact that we are making,” she said.

The four additional schools mean the ASD will oversee 33 schools next year, with 31 in Memphis. When the state created the first priority school list in 2012, Memphis had 69 schools on the list. With four more entering the ASD, that leaves 11 schools that are still on the list but not in the ASD or in the SCS Innovation Zone.

…ASD leaders have said they hoped increased parent involvement this year would quell some of the controversies of years past. But the process has not been without contention. News conferences and rallies have been held in front of schools in both the ASD and SCS, including one called by SCS board member Stephanie Love and state Rep. Antonio Parkinson opposing the ASD less than 24 hours before Friday’s announcement.

During his speech to media, Parkinson pledged to seek a reallocation of turnaround resources, referred to the ASD an “experiment” and compared it to the Tuskegee Experiment, a 40-year medical experiment where black participants with syphilis were left untreated.

On Friday, Anderson called Parkinson’s comments “very unfortunate … given the gravity and the horrendous nature of the Tuskegee Experiment that was inflicted on black youth not too long ago.”

The ASD “is far from experimental,” she said. “This is a promise made and a promise kept.”

In a statement Friday, Parkinson said the Raleigh-Egypt move may not be a “done deal” and is exploring options to prevent it from shifting to ASD control.

Study finds ASD ineffective

A third-party look at Tennessee’s Achievement School District, published Tuesday, finds that the state-takeover of struggling schools has been ineffective so far, reports WPLN.

Researchers from Vanderbilt’s Peabody College have been monitoring progress since the ASD’s creation through the federal Race to the Top grant program.

The state-run district, which now oversees two-dozen schools, has pleaded for patience.

“There’s been a significant investment in these schools, in terms of time and resources allocated through Race to the Top, and we thought it was time to start looking at how they were doing,” professor Ron Zimmer says.

Zimmer’s team, which was asked by the state to keep tabs on progress from the outset, zoomed in on test data more closely than the typical measures of “below basic” and “proficient.” While there were some changes year-to-year — up and down — there was no statistical improvement on the whole, certainly not enough to catapult these low-performing schools into some of the state’s best, which was the lofty goal.

…The Vanderbilt researchers found more encouraging results with the turnaround efforts known as iZones led by local districts in Memphis and Nashville.

Zimmer says his study does not give cause to shut down the ASD and that often reforms take years to gain traction. But he says the paper should be part of the conversation about spending on education reform.

For its part, leaders of the Achievement School District say there’s not enough data “to draw any decisive conclusions” and that their work is making a “positive difference.”

Report lists TN at ‘bottom of the barrel’ in education funding fairness

A Rutgers University report that grades states on how they fund public education shows Tennessee at the “bottom of the barrel” in fairness, reports The Commercial Appeal.

Besides being one of 16 states earning an F for percentage of state resources allocated to K-12 education, family incomes of children attending its public schools on average are half that of children in private schools or being home-schooled.

“That’s a warning signal,” says David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center.

“It becomes difficult to get the kind of forward-thinking reform in legislation if you have more affluent families not invested in this system,” he said.

The study looks at “fairness” in funding, including whether states allow more resources for districts with high numbers of students in poverty. Tennessee earned a B in the category, but Sciarra says even that is misleading.

“Because spending is so low, it really does not amount to much,” he said.

Note: The report is HERE.

Expanded ‘parent trigger’ bill fails again

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal that would make it easier for parents to convert struggling public schools into charter schools has failed this session.

Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown, the sponsor of the measure, asked Monday for the Senate Finance Committee to place the legislation on its calendar for next year. It failed last year, and the year before.

The House sponsor withdrew the measure from a House education subcommittee this year. (Note: House sponsor is Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis. It’s HB651/SB600.)

Currently in Tennessee, there is a statute that would allow 60 percent of parents to petition for a change to be made at a school.

Under the failed proposal, if 51 percent of parents at a school in the bottom 10 percent of failing schools believe a drastic change is needed, they could select from several “turnaround models,” including a conversion to a charter school or changing the administrators.

TEA: Poll shows TN voters not concerned with charter schools, but want them accountable

News release from Tennessee Education Association:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Poll results released today by In the Public Interest (ITPI) and the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), national organizations with expertise in national and community-level education policy, found that registered voters in Tennessee are not concerned with school choice and strongly favor accountability for charter schools.

“When Tennesseans were asked to rank important issues facing the state’s public schools, school choice came in dead last,” said Barbara Gray, Arlington Community Schools administrator and TEA president. “This poll shows that legislators need to redirect their attention to the issues that really matter to Tennesseans, like parental involvement, over-emphasis on standardized testing and cuts to programs like physical education and music. School choice isn’t even on the radar of the average Tennessean, despite what some out-of-state groups may tell legislators.”

The poll of Tennessee voters, conducted by GBA Strategies on behalf of ITPI and CDP, was part of a larger nationwide survey on public opinion of charter schools.

In Tennessee, participants overwhelmingly favor charter school reform proposals and common sense accountability for these schools. Nearly 80 percent of participants strongly believe charter schools should not harm local public schools and should be held to the same accountability as public schools.

“Tennesseans believe in their local public schools,” said Gray. “The survey results are a clear indication that Tennesseans want their local schools protected and to see proper financial investment from the state in the public schools that already have a proven record of success.”

Poll results also revealed that nearly all registered Tennessee voters want charter school educators held to the same qualification standards as public schools and that charters be required to serve students with special needs at the same rates as local public schools.

TEA has worked with legislators to introduce legislation that directly addresses the issues raised in the poll. First, a TEA-backed bill would put a claw-back provision into place requiring charter schools with a high student turnover rate to return taxpayer money to the district. A second TEA bill would give parents the ability to sign a petition against a charter school taking over a local public school, or petition to close a failing charter school.

“I hope legislators will take to heart what we have learned from this poll – the only people who think charter schools and school choice are important for student success are the out-of-state organizations who seek to profit from these privatization schemes. Huge majorities of Tennessee voters support prioritizing neighborhood schools over charters, implementing more common sense accountability for charters and greater protections that taxpayer money is being spent appropriately by charter operators. It is important that Tennessee take a cautious, measured approach to any further charter expansion in our state.” the TEA president said.

Note: A memo on the poll, giving some more details, is available by clicking this link: TEApollmemo