As part of his spirited defense of Charter Schools USA and their role in the takeover attempt of seven Pembroke Pines schools, CEO Jonathan Hage pointed to CSUSA’s takeover of Indianapolis schools:
Last year the State of Indiana invited Charter Schools USA to partner on turning around the lowest performing schools in Indianapolis. We diagnosed each school’s symptoms and developed solutions and strategies for improvement on a case-by-case scenario. We looked at improving the curriculum, the leadership, the quality of teachers and the culture.
Most importantly, we didn’t dismiss solutions because of political innuendos. Instead, we reviewed each of our decisions through the prism of what would be most beneficial to the students. In just one year we are already seeing great success in turning around some of our nation’s toughest schools.
Political innuendos, eh? More like political patronage.
In December last year, Scathing Purple Musings reported that as a result of a sweetheart deal from Tony Bennett, Hage received $6 million more for those Indianapolis schools than he should have. From reporter Dan Goldblatt of Indiana Public Media:
A Marion County judge has decided that the Indiana State Board of Education misappropriated several million dollars of funding to charter schools. The money was being withheld from Indianapolis Public Schools.
When private companies took over four Indianapolis Public Schools to become charters, the State Board of Education counted the number of kids enrolled in the takeover schools during the 2011-2012 academic year, the last year IPS was in charge.
When the charter schools took over this year, enrollment in those four schools dropped by almost 50-percent. However, according to a statement from IPS, the state gave the charter schools funding based on the previous year’s enrollment.
Furthermore, IPS charged, the money tied to the kids who transferred from a takeover school back to IPS did not follow the child; it stayed with the charter school.
A judge this week decided the state should have looked at this year’s enrollment when distributing funding to the schools, and ruled that more than $6 million must be returned to IPS.
Three of the four schools taken over are now operated by Charter Schools USA. Spokesperson Colleen Reynolds says while she doesn’t know if or how the state will recoup the money, it does not plan to change its model.
“We are going to provide the educational services and the caring environment that we’ve established so far,” she says. “We’re going to continue what we’ve been doing.”
The Department of Education says it is currently reviewing the ruling to determine next steps
And it looks like Hage and Charter Schools USA got to keep most of the money, too. Writes Indianapolis Star reporter Scott Elliott:
The suit stemmed from a 2012 Bennett recommendation, approved by the state board, which resulted in the takeover schools receiving the highest level of per-pupil funding in the state — twice as much as some districts — for the first six months of the school year. School funding is based on the prior year’s enrollment, but IPS correctly projected that enrollment at Donnan Middle School and Arlington, Howe and Manual high schools would drop significantly after state takeover.
That meant that for the first six months of the school year, the turnover operators received per-pupil funding for more than 1,800 students who attended the schools last year but didn’t show up to enroll after the takeover — a cost to IPS of about $6 million. Many of those students transferred to other IPS schools instead.
The court ruled Bennett’s funding plan violated state law and that IPS’ calculation method was correct. Rather than appeal, (Current Indiana ed chief Glenda) Ritz negotiated a settlement with IPS and Gary.
Small wonder Hage was so interested with the takeover of seven public schools in Pembroke Pines. Recent passage of legislation puts additional cash at Hage’s disposal. From Matt Dixon in the Florida Times-Union:
In recent years, the legislative fight for education construction dollars has been fierce.
In the two most recent state budgets, lawmakers gave charter schools $110 million in construction money. During that time, no construction money has been given to district-run public schools.
Next year’s $74.5 billion spending plan includes $91 million for charter school construction, a nearly $40 million increase from recent years. For the third consecutive year, district-run schools received no funding.
An increasing portion of the construction money has gone to schools managed by Charter School USA and Academica. This year, one-third of it went to those schools, up from 23 percent in 2008
The man who secured that extra $6 million for Hage is now Florida’s education commissioner. With the $200,000 that Hage has invested in Florida political activity, it’s useful to review all the cozy relationships. This from my December post linked above:
Floridians are seeing the way that Tony Bennett can be expected to do business in Florida. Small wonder he received $5000 from Charter Schools’ USA real estate development arm late during his campaign. Two separate departments whose heads answer to Bennett will provide oversight to Charter Schools USA. Moreover, Bennett’s position on the state board allows him to vote on disputes Charter Schools USA has with local school boards.
Bennett was never properly vetted and the only version of his Indian tenure came from extreme partisans. The campaign cash that went to support Bennett’s Indiana run from Florida included donations from three members of the state board who hired him. Such an obscene misappropriation of funds likely will get a shrug from this state board. You see, the “school choice” ends justifies any shady means which cronies engage.
Hage’s engagement in rhetorical attacks on opponents doesn’t mask the realities of the sort of patronage he’s been buying. His attempt to take over Pembroke Pines schools won’t be the last such attempt. People are in places of power to help him. Will the demagoguery continue as well?