How to Get to the Top of the Charter Lottery

While doing some research on charter law, I saw this article from the LA Weekly, entitled "Charter Schools: Getting Your Child on the List - How to cut in line and pervert the concept of public education" by Gene Maddaus that I thought worth passing along.

Apparently, at least a couple of tony LA charters had figured out how to exploit a federal guideline to pull in more of the "right" parents AND support their bottom line.

Here's the basis for the problem (and I had never heard of this before so news to me): under federal guidelines, there are a handful of lottery preferences.  One is siblings.  Already have a child in the school? The next one is in.  Two is a preference for children of staff (according to most of the state charter law I found, this is restricted to 10% or less of the student population).  And three?  Well, that's for "founding parents."
The preference exists so that parents who go to the trouble of creating a charter school can be assured that their kids will be able to attend. The only restriction is an unwritten rule limiting founders to 10 percent of the school's total enrollment.

School officials explained how it would work. Parents who agreed up front to make an extraordinary volunteer commitment to the school could get admissions priority. They would be called "founding parents."

They would be asked not only for their time but also for money. The school got public funding, but that wasn't enough to cover costs. The "funding gap" worked out to $2,500 per child, officials said. That was the school's not-so-subtle way of conveying the expected contribution. Larchmont is a public school, but it was behaving more like a private academy.

That's why these parents were being asked to "found" a school that had opened in 2004.

School officials did warn the parents that Larchmont couldn't guarantee admission to their children. But — wink, wink — no children of founding parents had ever been rejected.

Some of these parents were coming in a year or two ahead and working to show their dedication to the school. Great, but how many parents have the money or time to do this in advance?

Now, of course, someone is overseeing these charters, right?  And, in this case, that is LA Unified School District but well, it's a big district and they are not so concerned about these issues.

That someone is L.A. Unified. It should be policing charter schools. Instead, it has focused on facilitating them. The issue of founding parents has come to the district's attention before. But the charter school division has failed to establish a policy, much less enforce it.

L.A. Unified does not keep track of who gets admitted through lottery preferences. The district does not even know how many schools give out founding-parent preferences, or how those schools define the term.

Oddly, even charters opened by large charter management organizations can get in on this deal when clearly, their charters were not founded by parents.  Just pony up your time and money.

Many schools said the charter language is just boilerplate. They said they have never used the founding-parent preference because they don't want to play favorites. Several others said they only used the preference in their first year of existence.

"It's a clever method for inviting in particular kids and families you want in the school," Fuller says. "These mechanisms may not be created with any ill intent. But by enriching the mix of families and kids, the charter starts to look like an elite private school."

Striving for diversity, Larchmont and Los Feliz also have preferences in the lottery for kids who are poor enough to qualify for subsidized lunch. (The founding-parent preference outranks the free-lunch preference, however.)

This is the first I am hearing of this loophole but I'd be willing to bet that parents in-the-know throughout the country use this all the time.


CT said…
Totally common occurrence in both UT and AZ. No different than giving a donation to a private school when your kid doesn't get in, and then suddenly there is an open spot....
And these charter schools - that their supporters call public schools but are actually publicly funded private schools - don't report these donations either.
In fact, in AZ the GOP has messed with the tax code so that you can donate, get your kid in, and write off your donation. Nice scam!
Anonymous said…
This week PBS has been presenting a couple of educational pieces. Last night it looked at Indiana's solution to high drop out rates and its model of "school choice". The state allows voucher usage and the voucher can be used at public school (outside child's PS district), private and charter schools. They looked at Anderson, IN, a city just outside of Indiannopolis that lost many GM jobs.

It was pretty eye opening how the poor economy 1st devastated the Anderson public school district because as middle class jobs disappeared and families moved away, so do kids that attended these schools. On top of this insult, comes the voucher and charter system.

I thought PBS presented a fairly balanced view of the how school choices can open opportunity for some and shut down opportunity for others. You can see why families who can jump through the hoops looking for better quality education are going to leap through it while leaving those who can't behind. What's left of the old system is pretty grim, but also forcing the district to make some changes to adapt and try to keep their remaining students from leaving.

It is quite a quandry. Some school districts are in terrible shape (despite many years of fixing) and thøse families who are willing to take advantage of better educational opportunities will do so. If facing similar choice, I probably would do the same for my children even though it goes against what I belive in.

Seattle mom
Anonymous said…
Here's the site for the PBS newshour piece:

anonymous said…
Don't the children of SPS staff get a guaranteed spot for their children in the school they work in?

And didn't we give siblings priority for many many years. And still do.

This doesn't seem so far away from what we do here, already, in the public school system.

dw said…
This doesn't seem so far away from what we do here, already, in the public school system.

Except you missed the main point, #3, which is the ability to essentially buy your kid a seat at the school. Got an extra $2500? We've got a seat.

It's odd to me that people will take the time to write a comment, but not take the time to read/digest the post.
Anonymous said…
A point Seattle Mom forgot to note that the "choice" allowed in Indiana included religious schools, with very religious agendas. The piece showed a teacher giving a lesson about Jonah and the Whale (I think—that or Jobe) that would have been very much at home in Sunday School, and included pray and thanks to God and Jesus. I'm not a big fan of public dollars going to support religious instruction.

Sahila said…
The Gates Foundation recently gave a large-ish grant to PBS, SPECIFICALLY to air more programmes on education reform... it says so explicitly in the grant description....
Anonymous said…
I think it's better for people to watch or read the transcript for themselves. What I wanted to impart was what is out there and WHY it is out there. It isn't to support or slam voucher or charter.

If I was still living and working in Detroit and the choice for my kids are its public schools, I would consider every educational alternatives including homeschooling. I think despite SPS's many flaws, our district still serves most of our students' educational needs relatively well and for that I am grateful. Not all families are so lucky.

I would offer another reading as to how wacked out our educational system has become. Read NYT"s article on merger of Memphis SD with Shelby County SD.

This is where I just can't get my head wrapped out the US educational system. It is as if we just have mini implosions all around the country. We have people who all seem to share similar worded goals of educational excellence and yet we can't seem to figure it out and come together to nation build. I know much of it's due to the political landscape. But I can't help but think we have become complicit as long as we are not looking and challenging ourselves to look at everything and why we do what we do.

Seattle mom
Anonymous said…
Charter schools beloved of the Gates Foundation & the Koch Brothers...

Wait, there's more....

Not a joke. You can't make this stuff up.

Anonymous said…
The mystery for me regarding education in America is people have a pretty good idea of what we need to do to teach our kids well. Why don't we do them? We have sent experts all over the US and this Earth to study successful systems and similarly, educators have come to our shore to study what we do well and don't do well.

Most Americans rank a good education just as important as having access to clean drinking water and functioning infrastructure. Most Americans are willing to support education with tax dollars. Yet we have such headbanging clashes about how to go about it.

Don't you get tired of repeating yourself? I do. I just want to leave the blame game. I enjoy reading truthout and its cheekiness. But lately, I'm finding less joy in getting a bite of the opposition. In the end of the day, I want peace of mind. I want solutions.

Seattle mom
seattle citizen said…
Seattle mom,
Your posts are artiulate expressions of the issues. I agree that there seem to be some things that we think would work, and why can't we get them put into action...
I'd suggest a couple of roadblocks:
1) Insitutional inertia: big systems with lots of people in them (and around them), each with their own agendas and desires - Often times in conflict.
2) Economic instability - constantly flucuated funding sources (will levies pass? Will state cut/add funding for this program and that? What about the feds?) Schools are planned, budget-wise, on a year-to-year basis. Not a lot of stability or security there, for either programs or staff sometimes.
3) powerful interest groups: business, politicians, unions, minority interests, "AP communities," etc etc. Each with a voice and an agenda
4)The place of education in society - undervalued lately, it seems: Public education is taking hits from all quarters, is in a defensive mode (and perhaps, for some of the older staff, protective mode: They have mortgages.) Until public education is "honored" (whatever shape that takes) by a vast majority of stakeholders (taxpayers and politicians especially) it will be in survival mode.
5) a large percentage of community members and parent/guardians who are "checked out"; who don't add their piece to the puzzle but merely ask the schools (and taxpayers) to carry the ball.

These are some of the reasons things are in a quandry, and until there is some sort of consensus (which is why I favor public, non-charter community schools) then we might just see more of the same in a descending spiral as schools fight for funding and for their actual "publicness" in the face of various attacks on them.
seattle citizen said…
Seattle mom wrote "Most Americans rank a good education just as important as having access to clean drinking water and functioning infrastructure"

Many Americans don't know where their water comes from. Many around the world pay private companies for water. (Ours, here in Seattle, is a public utility, thanks to one R.H. Thompson, city engineer at the turn of the last century who convinced the council to purchase land high up in the Cedar River watershed....)
Many Americans take a functioning infrastructure for granted and only complain when their are potholes because they don't want to pay any more taxes.

My point (somewhere) is that you give many Americans too much credit for knowing about these things. No disrespect to them intended, they're busy, but who really knows a lot about water? Who knows that many cities in the west are fighting tooth and nail for the remaining aquifers and watersheds?

If Americans ranked access to drinking water as important, then they had better get on the ball and study the issue.
Jet City mom said…
If I was still living and working in Detroit and the choice for my kids are its public schools, I would consider every educational alternatives including homeschooling.

I wonder what effect MGJ is going to have on the state of Michigans schools.
Poor kids.

Maria found a job!
mirmac1 said…
Seattle Mom asks

"The mystery for me regarding education in America is people have a pretty good idea of what we need to do to teach our kids well. Why don't we do them? "

My guess is there's no money to be made by Goldman Sachs using those methods. They run the DOE, both political parties, and just about everything else.
Jan said…
emeraldkity: She found a job working in a District that the Broad Foundation (and other donors that they refuse to name) "bought." -- Sort of like working for your dad when no one else will hire you.

According to the Detroit Free Press:
The new statewide school district for Michigan's worst K-12 schools is being funded by $2 million in private dollars pledged this year, making it the only district in the nation supported primarily by donations, experts said Tuesday.

Start-up money for the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) will be held by the new Michigan Education Excellence Foundation. It was incorporated in August, two days before former Kansas City, Mo., Superintendent John Covington was hired to be the EAA chancellor.

The California-based Broad Foundation donated $400,000 and expects to give $500,000 more before 2012. State and local officials declined to name other donors or give budget details, a lack of transparency some experts call problematic.
Jan said…
Seattle Mom: Here is how I see it. Seattle has lots of good schools, and some that are not measuring up. It has a persistent "achievement gap" that suggests that its black, hispanic, and poor kids learn substantially less than more affluent and/or non-minority kids do. Layered on top of this is evidence that the ENTIRE game has to be stepped up, or remodeled in a sense, to meet growing global competition and career requirements.

The only "solutions" to date have been offered by big business (because they have the money/resources to mount a big blitz campaign). Not surprisingly, they favor solutions that funnel as much "public" taxpayer money as possible to private enterprise (both so they can get rich and because they hold, as a tenet, that public servants are wasteful and ineffective users of money -- and they have lots of great examples to point to). Their policies are harmful, and wasteful in their own right (spending millions on high priced salaries, consultants, trainers, materials, charter school management companies, etc. has not moved the needle on kids' learning yet, but it HAS moved the revenue/profit needle on a bunch of corporate or individual income statements!)

On the other side, the teachers unions, who were formed to protect teachers, not education, have failed to respond -- except to (correctly) try to point out that teachers are not the sole (or even the main) problem, and that most of the teacher incentive formulae are unhelpful, or actually harmful.

What is needed, I think, is true "citizen activism" (which is NOT the same as union activism) at the local/state level. Locally elected school boards can, in fact, do this -- but only if they are chosen by people who are pragmatically (not ideologically) motivated. Unfortunately, when "citizen" groups organize, it is hard for them to not be co-opted by the bigger, better funded agendas above them -- be it ed reform, or big labor. Look at the Alliance for Education! It seems to me that it started as a great community ed support organization. It has now been infested by ed reform.

Big Labor would love to run the show, because then it can be set up to provide the maximum in job security, benefits, and work envirnoment for its union members (who pay its dues and keep it alive).
Big Ed would love to run the show, because then it can be set up to require the fewest tax dollars, and funnel the greatest amount of money to private enterprise.

Neither of these really focuses on the "real goal" -- which is kids learning. That is the goal. Do kids learn enough/as much as they need to/as much as they can. Period. Everything else (including having a core of teachers -- since while some kids can learn some stuff without them, or in spite of them, they are generally a pretty critical component of the process -- that is stable, enthusiastic, and compensated well enough to contribute the maximum amount to student learning) serves that ultimate goal.
Jan said…

So yes, I DO want to get away from the blame game. But that IS the game in politics these days -- and schools have become an intense political battleground.

I think that if citizens (parents AND others) came together at the school and community levels -- we could take back much of this -- but as long as EITHER of the players at the top is trying to push the political angles, we will not be able to stop entirely -- because they won't. It's like flood water. Or fire. You can't just decide to stop fighting it anymore when it is trying to destroy your house. But the ultimate goal is to just live there and live a peaceful, prosperous life.
Sahila said…
Re MGJ and her new job.... her new boss John Covington is also a Broadie Toadie... and he too has a history of mismanagement, this time in Kansas...

some more info from The Michigan Citizen:

DETROIT — Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Roy Roberts announced the creation of the Educational Achievement System (EAS), a statewide district of low performing schools, on June 20. EAS will begin in 2012.

Although 40 percent of state high schools are failing, the EAS system will only take schools from the Detroit Public Schools district. Detroit schools, do not yet know, whether they will remain in the DPS district next year.

Critics charge the system unfairly targets Detroit and is an example of the ongoing and unsuccessful experimentation with city students.

According to DPS press statements, Roberts and the Michigan Department of Education will “create and publish criteria that will be used to place schools in the new district.” DPS board member, Lamar Lemmons, sees Roberts dual role as DPS emergency manager and chair of the EAS executive board as a direct conflict of interest for DPS students. Lemmons says he has asked Roberts how he reconciles the conflicting roles. Lemmons believes Roberts has evaded the question.

“The only way a DPS student goes into the EAS system is if you fail them,” Lemmons says. “He essentially has to fail as superintendent of DPS to make the EAS viable. Financially, educationally, that’s a conflict.”

The EAS was legally formed by an “inter-local” agreement between DPS EM Roy Roberts and Eastern Michigan University.

No decisions have been made regarding EAS curriculum and school management, they say.

Roberts, Gov. Snyder and the EMU Board of Regents named the EAS board members Aug. 3. On Aug. 26, the EAS board then picked the former superintendent of the Kansas City School District John Covington to be the EAS Chancellor.

Covington is a graduate of the Eli Broad Superintendent Academy, founded jointly by former Gov. John Engler and California billionaire Broad. Local critics have called the school conservative and controversial. As chancellor, Covington will run the district.

Walter Kraft, Vice President of Communications for EMU, told the Michigan Citizen that the design of the EAS educational program will take shape when Covington assumes his position at the end of September.

Detroit school board member Ida Short is concerned the EAS will proceed without sufficient public oversight and input.

“Why are we the victims of an experiment, an evolving plan that has no track record of success?” Short told the Michigan Citizen. “Why are you starting with such a large group of children? It’s just not scientific.”

Short says Detroit schools are being targeted, citing an Aug. 29 report by the Michigan Association of School Boards indicating that 40 percent of high schools across the state failed to meet federal AYP (annual yearly progress) requirements.

“If that’s true, why are the suburban and rural districts being given two more years to get it together?” Short asks.

Gary Miron, professor of education at Western Michigan, agrees that the EAS system will introduce rapid changes to DPS “without basing these ideas on research.”

Miron says the number of unproven plans the state of Michigan has ennacted on DPS, through emergency managers Robert Bobb and Roy Roberts, has drastically increased the chaos within the district.

“It’s an example of bad education policy,” Miron told the Michigan Citizen. “We’re not following sound principals of school reform.”

DPS press releases have indicated that the EAS system will funnel more monies into the classroom and provide school administration more autonomy.
Sahila said…

DPS spokesperson Jennifer Mrozowski responded to Michigan Citizen emails, indicating that questions about EAS are “premature given that the EAS’s sole employee to-date, it’s Chancellor-elect, does not begin his duties in Michigan until nearly the end of this month.”

She also said that questions regarding the criteria used to place DPS schools into the EAS district should be directed to the Michigan Department of Education. The MDE had not responded to calls by the time this article went to print.

Nor did Mrozowski address questions regarding Roberts’ role as head of both DPS and the emerging EAS district.

Public schools in Detroit are entering their eighth year under state control since Governor Engler approved legislation appointing Kenneth Burnley CEO of DPS schools in 1999.

Before state control, DPS had a budget surplus of $100 million. The debt created by the first state takeover increased from an estimated $220 million to $327 million under the rule of emergency manager Robert Bobb (another Broadie Toadie).

DPS Board member Lemmons says Robert’s recent decision to restrict DPS families to their neighborhood schools will force more students out of the district. At an Aug. 30 DPS Board of Education meeting, Roy Roberts representatives said that policy would be in affect until the first count day, on Oct. 5. Lemmons says if families are dissatisfied with the neighborhood school option, they will be forced to leave the district rather than choosing another DPS school.

“It will compound failing schools, eventually increasing the number of schools placed in the EAS,” Lemmons says. “Activist parents will not have an alternative within DPS and are more likely to move to a charter. And those who don’t will be forced to go to a school that is labeled failing.”

Corporate-heavy EAS superstructure

DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts will, by state mandate, place upwards of 40 “low-performing” Detroit Public Schools into a new, statewide district, called the Education Achievement System (EAS).

On Aug. 3, he announced the 11-member EAS Board. The Michigan Citizen tried unsuccessfully to reach several members for clarification of their role in forming and managing the Education Achievement System. Roberts will serve on the EAS board, and its five-member executive committee. He will also act as EM of DPS. Detroit School Board members have raised concerns about the dual role, citing a conflict of interest.
Sahila said…

Gov. Rick Snyder announced, Aug. 26, the appointment of former Kansas City School District superintendent and Broad Foundation Superintendent Academy graduate, Chancellor John Covington. He will leave his position in Kansas City to supervise the formation of the EAS school district at the end of this month. According to the official EAS fact sheet, schools placed in the EAS will remain for a minimum of five years, at which time they can choose to stay or return their “transformed” DPS public school system.

EAA Board members appointed by DPS’ Roy Roberts include:

*Roy Roberts, DPS Emergency Manager and former General Motors executive

Sharlonda Buckman, CEO and Executive Director of Detroit Parent Network

EAA Board members appointed by Eastern Michigan Board of Regents:

*Mike Morris, recently retired CEO of American Electric Power and member of EMU Board of Regents.

Jim Stapleton, CEO of B&R Consultants and member of EMU Board of Regents

EAA Board members appointed by Governor Rick Snyder:

*Mike Duggan, CEO of Detroit Medical Center

Carol Goss, President and CEO of the Skillman Foundation

Reverend Dr. Joseph Ralph Jordan, Pastor of Hamtramck Corinthian Baptist Church

*Mark A. Murray, CEO of Meijer Inc.

*Dr. William F. Pickard, CEO of VITEC, automotive supply company

Shirley Stancato, President and CEO of New Detroit, Inc.

Judith Kaye Berry, associate vice president of Strategic Initiatives, Office of the Provost at Lansing Community College

* Indicates the five members of the Education Achievement Authority Executive Committee, who are chosen from the eleven-member board. All are current or former corporate executives. Roy Roberts is the chair of the EAA Executive Committee.
CT said…
BTW - This is why the charter school movement is popular with richer whites, who don't want to pay private school tuition, but who aren't averse to putting in some money to get their kid into what they perceive us the best school - away from the riff-raff. I've done several interviews of charter school parents in Flagstaff, AZ. They all want their kids away from the native Americans and the Latinos because they "drag down the learning". One mom came right out and said she didn't want her kid around the coloreds, so if she could make a thousand dollar donation to make that happen, she would. She didn't like the public system because she didn't have any advantages (at least none that her money could buy just for her kid).
Anonymous said…
I agree with what you say. Perhaps the level of frustration will spill out and people who have had enough will take back their schools.

The news from Michigan is dismal. Detroit is a city that for the last 30 years exists on a cliff's edge. It is trying its best to come back, but when you send in the snake oil fellas to cure its ills, well.....
it is too profoundly upsetting for me.

These "educators" are runaways with no proven track records except for their ability to dazzle. As long as the measure of their worth is based on performance pay, well we've all seen how well performance pay and the numbers game have worked elsewhere.

The ultimate tragedy is what has become of learning. It has been quantified to its shallowest form, test results. That is what learning has become. Somehow I don't think that is how Candada, Finland, or Singapore see education for its citizens.

I often wondered why given what we know, why don't Wasington state take the best of what's out there and actually do it. Make something out of OSPI with bite and streamline our delivery of education. Do we really need so many small school districts with many layers of administration? Work with our union and non union teachers to get the concession so our teachers can thrive and are better for it. (i.e. forgive their college loans, work it out like the Feds do with Public Health Service.)

If your truly believe your greatest asset is your young citizens, then invest in them. But I think American citizens are not there yet. We may believe, but we have not been pushed to do something about it in a serious way....yet.

Seattle mom
anonymous said…
CT - great job stereotyping all "richer whites", and basing that stereotype on one moms quote, and one school in Arizona.

Standing ovation.

running fast
CT said…
Running fast - try 7 charter schools and 26 parents/sets of parents in this particular instance. And I'm hardly stereotyping - not only is there plenty of peer-reviewed, documented evidence of the stratification of races and SES levels in states where charter schools are prevalent - but this was a sentiment echoed by more than one parent, though none quite so bluntly. Perhaps discussion of race, wealth, and class make you uncomfortable, but these are all factors and motives in this movement to privatize public education. Different parts of the country are in different places in regards to these issues and how they address them or even admit to them.

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