Bad News on Charters and Private Schools

Yet another thing I missed on I-1240 (it's just the gift that keeps on giving) - I had thought you could not convert a private school to a charter but yes, you can. 

I know, I thought 1240 had prohibited this but, in my defense, I can only say that I had read so many other states' charter laws (and many do prohibit this) that I got confused.  I double-checked with my ace reader, Eric B, and nope, we missed this.

Turns out at the Board of Education (which has to write some rules around the law), they have had a bit of a struggle over this issue as well.

Okay, so let's go over what we do know.
  • First, the words "private school" do not even appear in I-1240 so that should have been a dead giveaway from the start.   I was told by the BOE that yes, "the statute is indeed silent on this issue."  They aren't saying it's a omission but I believe it is a deliberate one.
  • The private school has to be a 501c3 (or create one).
  • The private school cannot be religious or sectarian (but that doesn't mean they might not be able to get around that issue - many private to charter schools in other states have, to some degree).
  • The new charter cannot accept any gifts or donations from a religious or sectarian group.
(Also to note, if you search "religious" and "sectarian" in the law, religious only comes up twice.  Sectarian comes up and particularly in this sentence that does NOT include religion:

No charter school may engage in any sectarian practices in its educational program, admissions or employment policies or operations.  

Now why would that not include religion?  I can only guess that the writers knew that there are Hebrew charters, the infamous Gulen charters (more on them later, they are Turkish -based), etc.  It is harder to have a culture-based charter if you say "no religion.")
  • A private school would have to follow all the same requirements and procedures as any other charter applicant.  
It's an interesting dilemma because a popular private school could probably say "look we have community support already due to our enrollment" and it would be true.  It especially would be true if a private school tried to convert an existing public school.  (I still need further clarification on this issue but I believe it possible.)

A private school would get state funding (like any other charter) but that might be less than they might get in tuition (so don't look for Lakeside to switch anytime soon).  But they also would now have less autonomy.  

They also already have a staff, students and facility.  But, if they are under the authorization of a district, they might chafe at the oversight and/or possible requirements/limitations.  (But they also would now have access to say, district sports teams, a big expense for any private school.) 

I also attended the latest Charter Commission meeting on July 30th.  This was a shortened day as half the day was executive session interviews of candidates for Executive Director.

The Commission picked some interesting candidates.  Three seem very qualified and one much less so.

Roger McKeague would come from the Hawaii charter system.  He seems like an interesting guy, very much about finding the best options for public education.  Kaaren Heikes is the director of charter schools in Oregon.  My research on her seems to indicate she's very much of the mind of "the more charters the better."  Joshua Halsey is local and has a very good resume for this job.  He is a regional program developer for South King County STEM.  The least qualified is Solynn McCurdy who used to work for the Alliance (and is quite the smooth operator).

Steve Sundquist had everyone in the room state state who they were (which certainly was useful for everyone).  WSSDA has shown up at every meeting, along with the Washington Charter Schools Association, DFER, Partnership for Learning, a regional rep for Barnes and Noble and others.  

October 22nd is the deadline for charter applications.  

The Commission was also soliciting feedback on rules they have written.  Part of this meeting was the public hearing (they had one in Spokane which solicited not a single comment at the hearing).

Lisa MacFarlane spoke for the following - DFER, Washington Charter Schools Association, and League of Education Voters.  They feel that the rules are too detailed and that detail could be included in the RFP.  They think that things like charters understanding they need a playground is too much detail.  

I asked that they continue to seek, in the notice of intent letter, whether a charter group is filing for a new charter or conversion charter.  

I also asked if at the public forum required of each charter applicant, the public could ask questions (and not just make comments).

There was also an interesting question about whether a charter school can start before Sep. 1st as the relevant RCW says public schools start September 1st or after.

Another good question was if a district files (and is approved) to be an authorizer but its school board is against it.  What is their relationship to the on-going process of approving charters in their district?

As I previously reported, the Charter Commission has been given $916k over the biennium for their work. 

I had an interesting conversation with a School Board member in another district who said Hispanic parents at one school were being chatted up about converting the school.  She said the principal felt the parents did not clearly understand what they were being told or the ramifications.

Info on Gulen charter schools (the largest charter chain in the country).
Gulen Charters at
Gulen Charter Schools
Gulen at Charter School Scandals
Gulen at Wikipedia

Following the investigation, the Dutch government, concluding that the Gülen schools did indeed promote “anti-integrative behavior,” reduced their public funding.[31]

The United States of America is the only country in the world where the Gülen movement has been able to establish schools funded to a great extent by the host country’s taxpayers. In June 2011, New York Times shed light on schools in the United States, revealing that "Gulen followers have been involved in starting similar schools around the country — there are about 120 in all, mostly in urban centers in 25 states, one of the largest collections of charterschools in America." [32]

The schools are also H-1B visa factories. (These visas are supposed to be reserved for highly skilled workers who fill needs unmet by the American workforce.) In 2011, 292 of the 1,500 employees at the Gülen-inspired Harmony School of Innovation, a Texas charter school, were on H-1B visas, the school’s superintendent told the New York Times. The schools claim, according to an article written by Sharon Higgins in the Washington Post, that they are unable to find qualified teachers in America—which seems implausible, given the economic crisis and given that some of these new arrivals teach English, which often they speak poorly, or English as a second language, which often they need themselves.[35]

There is no evidence that Islamic proselytizing takes place at the American Gülen schools and much evidence that students and parents like them. Most seem to be decent educational establishments, by American standards; graduates perform reasonably well, and some perform outstandingly.[35]

Last year, the New York Times reported that the charters were funneling some $50 million in public funds to a network of Turkish construction companies, among them the Gülen-related Atlas Texas Construction and Trading. The schools had hired Atlas to do construction, the paper said, though other bidders claimed in lawsuits that they had submitted more economical bids. Folwell Dunbar, an official at the Louisiana Department of Education, has accused Atlas’s vice president, Inci Akpinar, of offering him a $25,000 bribe to keep mum about troubling conditions at the Abramson Science and Technology Charter School in New Orleans.

Utah’s Beehive Science and Technology Academy, another Gülen-inspired charter, was $337,000 in debt, according to a financial probe by the Utah Schools Charter Board. The Deseret News tried to figure out where all this taxpayer money had gone. “In a time of teacher layoffs, Beehive has recruited a high percentage of teachers from overseas, mainly Turkey,” the newspaper reported. “Many of these teachers had little or no teaching experience before they came to the United States. Some of them are still not certified to teach in Utah. The school spent more than $53,000 on immigration fees for foreigners in five years. During the same time, administrators spent less than $100,000 on textbooks, according to state records.”

A reporter for the leftist magazine In These Times noted in 2010 that the Chicago Math and Science Academy obscured its relationship to Gülen. And the school board was strikingly similar to Beehive’s: 

“When I went to the school’s board meeting on July 8, I was taken aback to see a board of directors comprised entirely of men. They all appeared of Turkish, Bosnian or Croatian descent. Although I have nothing against Turkish, Bosnian or Croatian men, it does seem that a school board serving students who are 58 percent Hispanic/Latino, 25 percent African American, 12 percent Asian and 5 percent white might be well served by some women board members and board members from ethnic backgrounds the school predominantly serves.”[35]


Anonymous said…
I went to grad school with one of the founders of Beehive Academy. He and I got into huge arguments about charter schools, and each time he was completely dismissive of me and my thoughts because I was a woman. At one point I talked to a parent who had her child there - she expressed concerns over the fact that staff appeared, then disappeared - like they were cycling through as many Turkish individuals as they could. She noted that her child had at least 3 different instructors in one subject area during the year. Many fishy things going on there, but Utah regulations on charter schools are rarely enforced, despite their protestations.

Jon said…
I don't understand what it means to turn a private school into a charter school. Does that mean that the parents going to that private school now have their tuition paid for by the state? Like vouchers? It couldn't mean that, could it? If it does, why wouldn't most private schools convert to charters?
Anonymous said…
Yes - the private-turned-charter school would receive money from the state for students. Probably not as much as they get in tuition, but they would probably follow the likes of Great Hearts charters ask for "donations" to make up the difference between what they are currently getting in tuition and what they will get from the state. Parents who are already paying tuition for a private school will probably not balk at a "donation" that is less than their tuition.
Why a private school might not convert - besides the application process - they lose their independence and are subject to state/district regs that they may not have to follow now.

Eric B said…
Jon, the big deal is that the state payment per student is relatively low, and they can't require parents to pay tuition. So a Lakeside like school that charges $20K/year per student wouldn't want to go to being paid $5K/year by the state (I'm totally making those numbers up to illustrate, don't take them as gospel). However, we have seen public schools put out a loud drumbeat for donations (see McDonald), and parents might be "encouraged" to give a percentage quarter of the old tuition to make up the difference between state funding and the old tuition.

All of that said, there are laws and regulations. Laws are what the legislature or initiative passes. Regulations are created by agencies like the charter commission or BOE to implement the law. Regulations can't contradict the law, but they can certainly amplify it. This is a spot where a regulation issued by the CC or BOE can fill a gap left by the initiative.
Anonymous said…
So, what's wrong with converting a private into a charter? That sounds like a great idea to many of us. It would actually give students access to private schools - something many parents would like. But, I think this whole conversation seems hollow. Most of our well-known private schools charge at least 15 thousand dollars a year. As a charter, and public, they wouldn't get to charge that freight. How could they survive with just the regular allocation. Catholic schools, and some up-start schools are somewhat cheaper. But still, expensive by per student funding allocations most public schools get. The real question is: What per-student funding will be granted to charter schools? What about special needs, ELL, FRL, etc? What per student funding will be granted for those students. It would be really great to know that! Until we know that, idle speculation won't get us anywhere. I, for one, think if that information was available - it would be great to see private schools compete for charter status.

Po3 said…
I can't imagine any private school converting to a charter.
Yes, a private school cannot charge its previous tuition but must take state funding (but is free to go find other funding). The students are not guaranteed a spot (as the school will be open to all who apply).

Nothing is inherently wrong with converting a private to a charter. I'm pointing it out because it got missed during the election.

Not every private would do this so "access" would be limited to what schools might consider this and the fact that you have to apply to get in.

The per-student funding would be the same except they lose about 4% because - in exchange for their freedom and autonomy - they have to pay for the oversight by the authorizer.

Yes, charters get the F/RL,ELL, Special Ed funding but do they want the extra work it takes (not to mention not enough money to cover all needs)? Stats show that no they don't.

So you have the public schools who truly have to take and serve everyone and the charters who get to limit themselves in various ways.

I'm not idly speculating - you can go read all this in the law, at the BOE and at the Charter Commission. Like me.
Eric B said…
Parent, charters would get all state and federal money associated with a given student body, plus a share of a district's operating and capital levies. The capital levy money comes whether the school needs capital improvements or not. So you could see a school that gets a total remodel under one BEX get converted to a charter and continue to collect BEX capital money that should have gone to remodels/construction of other schools.
Po3, well this issue came up because one has announced that it is going to try to do just that.
Jon said…
It's actually kind of an interesting test for charters, isn't it? If it is true that private non-profits and companies can make a better school on the same amount of money, wouldn't most private schools convert to charters given the chance? Of course, as several people have pointed out, almost all private schools use x2-4 the level of funding public schools get, but doesn't that also say something?
Anonymous said…
Private school costs vary, as do their quality. Some private schools (mostly Christian) cost less per student than public, while some cost more (Hebrew/Jewish and Independent). A cost comparison for several metropolitan areas is linked below. From the article: The reality - Some do more with more. Some do less with less.

Private vs public school costs

Independent schools like Lakeside will remain private. What *good* private, independent school would give up it's autonomy and ability to choose their student body in order to convert to a charter?

We have been investigating the illegal and discriminatory practices at the Gulen charter schools for almost 6 years. We have found that when the American public is informed about potential Gulen charter schools attempting to open schools in their particular areas, that they protest and usually win their bids to reject the schools. In particular these schools are nothing more than venues for the Gulenists to continue to amass a fortune for Gulen's agenda at the expense of American tax payers. Additionally, they have abused the H1-B visa process through fraudulent activities, and in the process have also supplanted American teaching jobs in favor of their hand-selected Gulenists applicants. For more information on these schools, please go to http://www.charterschoolwatchdog.con
charterschool watchdog
Anonymous said…
If you look at what private schools are spending their tuition on, it might work out actually better to go charter.

I use for example Seattle Waldorf School as an example. The vast majority of their budget comes from tuition and is used to pay teacher salaries and benefits with some left over for building costs and financial aid. When a private school becomes charter, do the teachers’ salaries rise to match SPS teacher salaries? Does the cost of benefits come out of the funds per pupil?

Not all students pay full tuition. Schools like Lakeside, charge a lot more to those who can afford it so they can give financial aid to those who can’t. The amount the public schools get per student is fixed while at private schools it can vary from $25,000 to $0.

Anonymous said…
So Seattle Waldorf is a 501c3 non-profit and as such you can read their annual report online:

This should be true for any private school that is non-profit. From the annual reports, you should be able to see what a particular private school spends their money on.

HP, no, charters can pay their teachers whatever they like. They fund their teachers through state funding so I would guess that has to cover everything.

I still have a few questions like does the original private school have to close or can it operate and have a charter spin-off? The law is silent on the whole thing so it's up to the AG to look at it legally.
Unknown said…
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