Credit: Downtown College Prep

Across the Bridge Foundation, the only California charter organization selected for a startup grant, will receive $827,000 this year to expand charters serving middle and high school students in San Jose, including Downtown College Prep, where history teacher Jon Fitch works with a student.

California, which received $250 million in federal money over the last five years to foster the growth of charter schools, will get none of the $125 million that will be allocated in the next round of funding, the U.S. Department of Education announced Monday.

The Charter Schools Program is the primary source of hundreds of thousands of dollars in startup money for charter schools, particularly small independent operators. Aspiring charter operators will find it extremely difficult to open without that support, said Eric Premack, director of the California Charter Schools Development Center, which guides charters through the process of opening schools. Saying he was “stupefied” by the new allocation, Premack said this will be the first time California, the state with the largest number of charters, has been shut out of federal funding in two decades.

The federal program gave California charters state-administered seed money of  between $200,000 and $500,000 over three years; after that, they depended on state-funded tuition money.

Under a peer-review process, eight states were to divide $125 million in 2015-16. The Department of Education awarded an additional $32 million to a dozen existing, high-performing charter organizations to expand. Only one is based in California. San Jose-based Across the Bridge Foundation, which operates Downtown College Prep, San Jose’s first charter high school, will receive $827,000 this year and a total of $2.4 million over five years to expand to six middle and high schools serving low-income students.

Premack attributed California’s low ranking to changes in the judging criteria. The Department of Education’s new criteria encouraged stronger state oversight of charters and asked states to explain how charters fit into their reform strategy, he said. “It assumes that a state exerts power and authority over charters, which is not the case in California,” he said. California law is structured to leave primary oversight and approval to local districts.

Premack also said judges awarded few points to California for high-quality charters – even though a 2015 national study of urban charters by CREDO, a research a research institute at Stanford University affiliated with the Hoover Institution, found that California’s charters, serving minority and low-income children, were among the most effective in the nation. The CREDO studies found that district schools in Ohio, which was awarded the largest state grant,  significantly outperformed charter schools overall.

The department also awarded extra points to states that had not previously gotten start-up grants.

Myrna Castrejon, acting CEO of  the California Charter Schools Association, said the association wasn’t completely surprised by the outcome. “California has been fortunate to receive continuous support for the growth of charter schools for nearly 20 years, even as the national movement has grown significantly and federal dollars have remained mostly constant,” she said. “This year’s competition strongly favored newly eligible states – in some ways we could say we were handicapped by our record of success.”

Castrejon said that there still is money left from the current grant, which should provide some startup money in the current year. According to the association, the 1,184 charter schools operating in the state serve an estimated 547,800 students. Last year, 87 new charter schools opened in California.

Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported on a proposal by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation to encourage other foundations to join it in donating $490 million to add 260 charter schools in Los Angeles Unified over eight years. It’s not clear from the proposal whether federal seed money was factored into the plan.


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  1. CarolineSF 8 months ago8 months ago

    Also, one point: This report should have disclosed that CREDO is a pro-charter organization operating under the auspices of the Hoover Institution, whose mission is to advocate for privatization and free-market principles. It's not appropriate to report as though CREDO were doing impartial scholarly research. I will say that CREDO has released its research findings even when they haven't been favorable to the charter sector. CREDO's director appears to be principled about that, and has … Read More

    Also, one point: This report should have disclosed that CREDO is a pro-charter organization operating under the auspices of the Hoover Institution, whose mission is to advocate for privatization and free-market principles. It’s not appropriate to report as though CREDO were doing impartial scholarly research.

    I will say that CREDO has released its research findings even when they haven’t been favorable to the charter sector. CREDO’s director appears to be principled about that, and has come under fire from fellow Hoover Institution names for it.

    Hoover and CREDO used to be less cagey about CREDO’s purpose, and their online information used to openly describe CREDO as promoting charter schools. Now you have to dig to even find the connection, and the description no longer explicitly states that CREDO’s purpose is to promote charter schools. Current wording from the Hoover website:

    Margaret E. Raymond is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

    At Hoover, Raymond serves as director of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), which analyzes education reform efforts around the country. CREDO’s mission is to improve the quantity and quality of evidence about the impacts of education innovations on student achievement in public K–12 education. Raymond, who has done extensive work in public policy and education reform, is currently researching the development of competitive markets and the creation of reliable data on program performance.

    In partnership with the Walton Family Foundation and Pearson Learning Systems, Raymond is leading a national study of the effectiveness of public charter schools. The public-academic-private partnership helps public charter schools adopt information technologies as a means to both support their operations and generate information required by the study design. More than 250 public charter schools have joined the study to date.

    Replies

    • Don 8 months ago8 months ago

      Among other things, the CTA is an anti-charter organization. Do you insist the author must identify it as such every time it weighs in against charters?

      • CarolineSF 8 months ago8 months ago

        The CTA is a teachers’ union and that’s evident from the name and general knowledge. CREDO is often inaccurately represented as an impartial research organization.

  2. CarolineSF 8 months ago8 months ago

    Can you clarify? It's my understanding that some years ago, almost anyone who proposed to start a California charter school could get a $450,000 grant from the state Department of Education for the costs of preparing the proposal and trying to get the charter approved, and it didn't have to be paid back if for whatever reason the charter didn't come to fruition, and very little documentation was required. I haven't been clear if this … Read More

    Can you clarify? It’s my understanding that some years ago, almost anyone who proposed to start a California charter school could get a $450,000 grant from the state Department of Education for the costs of preparing the proposal and trying to get the charter approved, and it didn’t have to be paid back if for whatever reason the charter didn’t come to fruition, and very little documentation was required.

    I haven’t been clear if this program has continued to exist. I think it’s been very under the radar because the charter sector didn’t really want it widely discussed — it seems likely to prompt some concern and objections even among people with no negative view of charters — so there’s been no reporting on it.

    Is that some of the money we’re talking about here?

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 8 months ago8 months ago

      Years ago, charter applicants could receive up to $50,000 for pre-planning, which helped teachers and community groups without outside funding to design a charter, but that money is no longer available. To get up to a maximum of $450,000, an applicant for the federal grant must have an approved charter, which, in many districts, is an arduous process that includes producing a multi-year financial plan. That's been the requirement for nearly a decade, I believe. … Read More

      Years ago, charter applicants could receive up to $50,000 for pre-planning, which helped teachers and community groups without outside funding to design a charter, but that money is no longer available. To get up to a maximum of $450,000, an applicant for the federal grant must have an approved charter, which, in many districts, is an arduous process that includes producing a multi-year financial plan. That’s been the requirement for nearly a decade, I believe. Some charters have “blown up” just before launching. A West Sacramento charter’s deal for facilities fell through a few years ago, and it scrambled for other locations, but parents went elsewhere. I was at the State Board meeting at which the school was discussed, and then-Deputy State Supt. Richard Zeiger implied this was a chronic problem. But he didn’t produce stats to support the allegation, and, as far as I know, didn’t pursue the issue.

      • CarolineSF 8 months ago8 months ago

        When an education official describes a situation involving (multiple?) charter school operators that received up to $450,000 federal startup grants and then didn’t open the schools, the press might be interested in pursuing the issue.

  3. Barbara 8 months ago8 months ago

    People are finally starting to wise up to the fact that charters just steal money and space from public schools. Maybe this is a turning point.

    Replies

    • Don 8 months ago8 months ago

      Barbara, I suspect the vast majority of 547,800 students disagree with your dismissive comment and don’t consider their education grand larceny. These schools are not going away and their numbers are only likely to grow.

  4. Claire 8 months ago8 months ago

    I do not understand why ANY federal money would go to charter start-ups. Imagine what good that money would do to help an exciting school get stronger, rather than an unknown start from scratch.

  5. Don 8 months ago8 months ago

    TheMorrigan, not to parse words, but I'm not sure if "reputation" is meaningful in this context or that CA has better charter structure as you imply, unless by better you mean less government interference.The reputation you refer to has to do exclusively with nationwide charter test score comparisons. However, reputation is very meaningful in the local context of community interest and enrollment. Given the mixed record of charters in the test score … Read More

    TheMorrigan, not to parse words, but I’m not sure if “reputation” is meaningful in this context or that CA has better charter structure as you imply, unless by better you mean less government interference.The reputation you refer to has to do exclusively with nationwide charter test score comparisons. However, reputation is very meaningful in the local context of community interest and enrollment. Given the mixed record of charters in the test score department here in CA as elsewhere, it would appear that other factors drive charter enrollment. Not everyone buys into the testing mania and many choose charters for other reasons such as smaller class sizes, unique programming and/or more classroom control (KIPP), to name a few. A lot of people choose charters not because they are sold on them as much as they are seeking an exit from failed TPSs. As an avenue of last resort many charters can afford operate like private schools – love it or leave it. They have a captive audience and provide very little opportunity for parent and general community input. They are publicly funded, but lack any meaningful community governance. This is an undemocratic characteristic of charters at present and it their largest failing. If charters are going to be a better alternative, they need to be responsive to their communities.

    One thing that is very important to me as part of a charter school is my ability to interact with school administration when issues arise, particularly when they have to do with my child. The CA charter school law allows for way too much insularity. I’ve heard my experience echoed across districts. At my school no one has ever made a public comment in front of the board, though I haven’t checked the last 3 or 4 months. The school isn’t very interested in what the community has to say.

    Not to ramble, but as a moderate charter advocate I want more structure in place to make charters more public and less private in character. I hope that CA will consider bolstering the oversight and that charter advocates will stop crying and complaining about being passed over. At the same time I’m realistic about the fact that other factors drove this decision by the Feds. As usual, the USDE is not making transparent decisions.

    Replies

    • TheMorrigan 8 months ago8 months ago

      I mean that CA does not have the numerous charter scandals that Ohio and Arizona have. CA has them about as often as traditional public schools do (every once in a while). Ohio, however, has several well-documented examples of malfeasance, land grabs, and corruption happening annually (Arizona is a little better, but not by much).The whole charter law in Ohio needs to be revisited and fixed. It is seriously bad from top to bottom … Read More

      I mean that CA does not have the numerous charter scandals that Ohio and Arizona have. CA has them about as often as traditional public schools do (every once in a while). Ohio, however, has several well-documented examples of malfeasance, land grabs, and corruption happening annually (Arizona is a little better, but not by much).The whole charter law in Ohio needs to be revisited and fixed. It is seriously bad from top to bottom in Ohio. There are even whole scandals involving deals with charter operators, the Department of Ed and the governor. The Ohio legislature all agreed that they were gonna address this huge problem after the recent court decision with White Hat but as of today, they have only talked and not acted (my guess is because several of them are connected to the scandals).

      I agree with you, Don, that CA needs more charter oversight, that charters need to represent their communities, and that they need some form of parent check and balance added to the mix. But we need to keep in mind that there is bad and then there is worse. Ohio should not get any money until it gets some major problems fixed.

      • Manuel 8 months ago8 months ago

        Maybe, "TheMorrigan," it is because the media does not report on the scandals. As an egregious example, take a look at what happened with "Today's Fresh Start Charter" when it asked LAUSD to approve a charter that the SBoE and the LA County denied. The sordid details were presented to the LAUSD BoD on September 1, 2015 (http://laschoolboard.org/09-01-15RegBd). A reasonably good synopsis is in the "meeting materials" (http://laschoolboard.org/sites/default/files/09-01-15RegBdPP.pdf, starting on p. 415 and ending on … Read More

        Maybe, “TheMorrigan,” it is because the media does not report on the scandals.

        As an egregious example, take a look at what happened with “Today’s Fresh Start Charter” when it asked LAUSD to approve a charter that the SBoE and the LA County denied. The sordid details were presented to the LAUSD BoD on September 1, 2015 (http://laschoolboard.org/09-01-15RegBd). A reasonably good synopsis is in the “meeting materials” (http://laschoolboard.org/sites/default/files/09-01-15RegBdPP.pdf, starting on p. 415 and ending on p. 443 [it is a 31.7 MB file]) as well as all the “exhibits”(http://laschoolboard.org/sites/default/files/09-01-15DenialCharterBR027Exhibits.pdf, a hefty download at 113.43 MB).

        Almost every fiscal malfeasance one can think of is listed in these pages. Worse, they have gone on for a number of years and there has been, to my knowledge, no criminal prosecution. Incredibly, the LA Times did not even cover this denial even though CCSA sent two representatives to advocate for this charter. Given that, I’d say that California has a very poor oversight record, both from the state and the “fourth estate.”

        Also, this is not the only school that has done this. There have been others, but the investigative reporting necessary has not been done (someone has to pay for it and, of course, putting charters in a bad light might not go well with the Usual Suspects).

        Therefore, let’s not point a finger at those other states when California seems to have equally bad problems. You just won’t read about it in your local newspaper of record.

        • Don 8 months ago8 months ago

          Manuel, all industries and institutions have bad actors. Should we dispense with solar power because some of them stole hundreds of millions from the Feds? SFUSD had a scandal involving extortion, yet it barely received mention in the MSM.
          That said, I agree. The media should be reporting on malfeasance in the charter section as it should report it anywhere public dollars are at risk.

  6. John Fensterwald 8 months ago8 months ago

    Eric Premack agrees with you; he said he was shocked that Ohio was chosen for the grant, given the well-publicized criticisms and evidence of poor oversight and mismanagement. For a summary and links to previous Education Week stories, go here. In a touch of embarrassing irony, the Ohio administrator in charge of oversight reforms resigned in July after he scrubbed data that would have made some charter authorizers look bad. The Columbus Dispatch wrote about … Read More

    Eric Premack agrees with you; he said he was shocked that Ohio was chosen for the grant, given the well-publicized criticisms and evidence of poor oversight and mismanagement. For a summary and links to previous Education Week stories, go here.

    In a touch of embarrassing irony, the Ohio administrator in charge of oversight reforms resigned in July after he scrubbed data that would have made some charter authorizers look bad. The Columbus Dispatch wrote about this in a story yesterday on Ohio’s grant.

  7. Don 8 months ago8 months ago

    The federal charter grant criteria for greater state oversight of charters runs counter to California's local control law which devolves state oversight to local education agencies. I don't know what the intent of the criteria is, but I have to say that oversight of charters is lacking by LEAs and either more state oversight is needed or more stringent local oversight. I can see from my own family experience at a charter that the district … Read More

    The federal charter grant criteria for greater state oversight of charters runs counter to California’s local control law which devolves state oversight to local education agencies. I don’t know what the intent of the criteria is, but I have to say that oversight of charters is lacking by LEAs and either more state oversight is needed or more stringent local oversight. I can see from my own family experience at a charter that the district authorizer, in this case San Francisco Unified, does a very poor job of overseeing its charters. Until I forced the issue, SFUSD didn’t bother to advise the charter to follow the state law and form a school site council, though it was perfectly willing to take the oversight fee. Parent participation in decisionmaking is practically nil, even with an SSC. Charters in California operate as insular fiefdoms. They need greater oversight to protect the public and the students that attend them from unaccountable management practices. Simply having to raise test scores is but one part of good stewardship.

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