Posts Tagged ‘charter school’

Did PURE’s UNO charter school complaint help trigger SEC probe?

Thursday, October 17th, 2013




It was announced yesterday that the federal Securities and Exchange Commission has opened an investigation into the UNO Charter School Network’s finances.

A look at the SEC document request suggests there are two major areas of inquiry. One is the possible conflict of interest in the D’Escoto and other charter school construction contracts, about which the Sun-Times has written extensively.

And the other is UNO’s tax-exempt bonds, which PURE highlighted in our January 2013 complaint to the Illinois Executive Inspector General.

Here’s what we wrote then:

UNO Board Chairman Juan Rangel and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel are longtime allies. Rangel recently served as finance chairman of Emanuel’s mayoral campaign, and he and other appointed-not elected-UNO leaders have strung together multiple taxpayer-subsidized and tax-exempt financial transactions to pay off private bank loans and private bondholders. UNO is using this largesse to engineer a rapid buildup of not only its student enrollment, but of substantial real estate holdings as well.

A breakdown of three years of UNO tax-exempt bonds is attached. It shows that, with each successive transaction, the financial burden has resulted in higher debt-per-student costs as UNO has nearly no other source of revenue other than public transfers via direct subsidies, publicly issued bonds and government contracts. If UNO fails to secure more buildings and more students, the growing financial burden will likely have an adverse impact on its students as per-pupil classroom spending will suffer due to an increasing portion of the network’s income being diverted to cover debt payments.

We held a press conference on January 17 at the Office of the Executive Inspector General (EIG) where we filed our complaint. It wasn’t until a week later that any major media outlet chose to report on it, and then only after UNO made the mistake of putting on a dog and pony show at one of their shiny new schools. The Tribune, WBBM-AM radio and Crain’s jumped on the bandwagon, though none of these reports emphasized our concern that UNO might be using its charter school students and promises of more rapid expansion as collateral for its bond debt.

At the time, the Sun-Times was clearly working on its own UNO story focused on the construction contracts, which they broke on February 4. They have been doing great work on this part of the UNO problem, but have resolutely refused (despite several e-mails to lead reporter Dan Mihalopoulos – and you have to spell his name right to e-mail him, which I did!) to mention PURE’s complaint. They even tried to take credit in March for the EIG’s investigation, again refusing to acknowledge our January complaint.

At least Crain’s gave PURE credit for helping stop the extra $35 million state Senator Heather Steans put in the Springfield pipeline for UNO. Crain’s Greg Hinz wrote, “I first heard about the story from Parents United for Responsible Education.”

Well, media rivalries aside, the point is that UNO may finally be exposed for what it really is – a real estate empire Juan Rangel (pictured above with his private plane) is building on the backs of Chicago Public School children and Illinois taxpayers.

Sadly, Gov. Quinn prematurely re-opened the barn door, choosing to kiss Rangel’s ring instead of being a responsible steward of scarce state funds. After a mere six week “timeout,” Quinn turned the cash faucet back on for UNO because “UNO mended its ways enough to deserve the next installment of $6.2 million in grant funds.” Wonder if the SEC will agree?

Noble charter school student’s story in Education Week

Friday, February 22nd, 2013
Joshua Moore

Joshua Moore

The story about Noble Charter Schools’ “secret sauce” – their ridiculous and costly discipline policies — that PURE first brought to light has made it into Education Week. Called “Charter Discipline: A Tale of Two Students,” the story details the way Joshua Moore, son of PURE member Donna Moore, was systematically harassed and ultimately pushed out of the school by the discipline code.

A demerit for not looking at the teacher after being reminded. A detention for drawing on a desk. An out-of-school suspension for dozing off instead of doing homework.

Donna Moore, whose son, Joshua, 17, left the Noble system after repeated disciplinary incidents, sees the…policies as petty and subjective. She says they make it more likely that some students will drop out of school.

(Joshua) now attends Olive Harvey Middle College Campus, an alternative school. He spent two years as a freshman at Gary Comer High School, a Noble charter school, and, in that time, amassed hundreds of detentions—298 during the 2011-12 school year alone—and dozens of suspensions.

Education Week has allowed access to the full article without the usual cost.


UNO offers news hook for second round of IEG complaint press hits

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Last beam placed at UNO Soccer Academy - Tribune photo

Yesterday, UNO held another dog-and-pony show at its glitzy Soccer Academy, but reporters recalling PURE’s complaint to the Executive Inspector General against UNO last week added it to the story.

The Chicago Tribune story headline?

Parents raise questions about UNO charter schools’ use of millions from state grant

A similar story ran on WBBM-AM News Radio yesterday, too, though I can’t find a web link.

Love taking a little shine off the propaganda.

Good press on two PURE stories

Monday, January 21st, 2013

New blog site DNAInfo Chicago had a great story on our UNO complaint here.

UNO has 13 charters in the Chicago Public Schools, and 12 received funding increases in the 2013 budget for a total outlay of $55.6 million. That’s tied directly to school attendance, but Woestehoff suggested that’s part of the problem, that UNO uses students as “collateral” in its loans.

A Standard & Poor’s report in September 2011 gave the school bonds a BBB- rating, warning of “considerable growth risk with two schools opening.” It made clear that UNO’s ability to repay was based on school population.

“That money they’re getting that’s supposed to be for children is being used to pay their debt,” Woestehoff charged. “That doesn’t seem like a healthy situation.”

Meanwhile, MSNBC dipped back into our Noble “secret sauce” story from last year. A January 3, 2013 story based on another DNAInfo Chicago report referenced the $400,000 in fees that Noble has collected and that we exposed, and focused on testimony about the Noble fees by parent Marsha Godard at the Chicago December Board of Education meeting.
Then last week MSNBC looked a little closer at the funding issues between charter and regular schools, once again referring to our action on Noble last year:

Marsha Godard paid nearly $2,000 in fees to Chicago Bulls College Prep for her 16-year-old son’s disciplinary offenses that included not sitting up straight, and violating the school’s uniform dress code. Godard, whose story we’ve highlighted before, said this week that the rise of charter schools is robbing public schools of necessary funding to help its students learn.

“Chicago public schools are not getting the resources necessary to succeed,” Godard told MHP in a phone interview. “If you aren’t giving them money to come up, how can you expect them to come up?”

Godard’s son is not the only student racking up fees for behavioral offenses: Noble Network reportedly brought in about $200,000 in disciplinary fees in 2011, and almost $400,000 since the 2008-2009 school year.

That MSNBC piece repeated the Noble official’s quote from the 1/2/13 DNAInfo Chicago story that the fines “engage” parents. Yep. Just the same way that charter schools “empower” parents

Congressman Davis: Noble discipline policy a “striking, systemic problem”

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Students protest Noble's "secret sauce" discipline policy

Coming on the heels of State Senator William Delgado’s bill calling for an end to charter school discipline fees is this opinion piece by Congressman Danny Davis in today’s Catalyst.

Last summer I met with Congressman Davis’s education aide, Jill Hunter-Williams, as part of Parents Across America’s Lobby Day, the day before the SOS March. Among other things, I raised the issue of charter schools. She told me that they were aware of the unimpressive results of charter schools in general, but that they were very impressed with Noble Network of Charter Schools, which made the Congressman think that it made sense to expand such “good” charter schools. I told her what we knew at the time about Noble’s discipline policy . She was very interested and wanted more information, which I sent on to her.

It’s great to see that Congressman Davis has done his own investigation into Noble and found, as we did, that there are some very disturbing aspects to its discipline policy. He writes:

I found that in 2009:

  • Noble Street suspended 51 percent of its students out of school at least once – almost 3 times the 18 percent rate of Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
  • Although Noble Street has a lower percentage of African American students than CPS – only 30 percent in the sample – 53 percent of students suspended at least once were African American.  Moreover, nearly all African American students – 88 percent– were suspended out of school at least once, compared to only about one-third of African American students in CPS.
  • Noble Street suspended out of school 68 percent of its students with disabilities and 48 percent of its students without disabilities, compared to the respective CPS rates of 38 percent and 15 percent.

These statistics clearly demonstrate a striking, systemic problem with the Noble Street discipline practices.

There is more to this story, too. Stay tuned.

Tribune: “Off with their heads!” Fire school board for saying no to charter school

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Today’s Chicago Tribune editorial board fronts an attack on corporate reform’s next target: elected school boards.

Yep. The privatizers have decided that democratically-elected school boards just get in the way of “real reform” like privatization, expanding charter schools, and replacing experienced teachers with deer-in-the-headlights Teach for America kids.

PAA co-founder Leonie Haimson wrote about this in a recent Parents Across America blog post, referencing an article by Matt Miller called “First Kill All the School Boards” that argued that “local control has become a disaster for our schools.”

The Tribune calls for a “game change” in North Chicago, and wants the Illinois State Board of Education to “fire” the elected school board for refusing to hire the Chicago-based LEARN charter school network to open a new school.

The school board voted down the proposal, citing a concern about the loss of funding for the rest of the district’s schools.

Seems legitimate, given the tough economy and the cutbacks in state funding for schools.

If I were a North Chicago school board member, I would also ask about the rate of teacher turnover at LEARN, which has a 7.5 hour day and a 200 day school year. I’d review the personnel budget for the extra time as well as the lower class size the network boasts, to see if it could be supported.

Yes, LEARN’s test scores are impressive, but I might want to know more about numbers like these enrollment figures, from LEARN’s Interactive School Report Card.

2006: 60 students in 3rd grade

2007: 59 in 4th grade

2008: 41 in 5th grade

2009: 43 in 6th grade

2010: 36 in 7th grade

2011: 32 in 8th grade

LEARN had only one school between 2002 and 2008, when it opened a second school beginning in the primary grades, so that would not have affected the number of 5th graders and older at that point. So, apparently the original LEARN school had an elementary “dropout rate “of about 50%, from 60 to 32 students. What happened? Did LEARN “lose” some less-wanted students as is so common in charter schools?

But the Tribune demands that State Superintendent Chris Koch overrule the school board and approve the charter (yes, he can do that!). And, since the Trib considers it a capital crime to oppose any charter school, they also demand that Koch remove the school board and install a “new authority” (I guess he can do that, too).

Maybe the Red Queen is available. That would be a real “game” changer, for folks of a similar temperament who think education is just another game.

Cathie Black-style schools CEO for Chicago?

Friday, April 8th, 2011

On the heels of news that non-educator, mega-rich Cathie Black has been shown the door after only 3 months as New York City Schools Chancellor, this item appears in the Sun-Times’ Michael Sneed gossip column:

“Sneed hears rumbles mega-rich venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, who burps money and made certain a ton had been tossed into Rahm’s election campaign, is being eyed as the city’s new school CEO.”

Rauner most likely earned his place as a CEO wanna-be by crying BOTH TIMES he saw Waiting for Superman. His wife, Diana, is on Rahm’s education transition team and is president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund. While she does have early childhood credentials, she is probably the first former investment banker to hold that position at the Ounce.

Bruce has been messing with CPS schools for a while now. He’s a member of the Board of the Renaissance Schools Fund, chairman of the Education Committee of the Civic Committee, a major contributor to the Academy of Urban Schools Leadership, chair of the ACT Charter High School board of directors -AND he has his own charter school, the Rauner College Prep Charter High School.

Greg Hinz reported in Crain’s last year about this scheme of Rauner’s:

to sell empty and near-empty academic buildings to a privately capitalized venture fund that he and perhaps some other well-connected types like the Gates Foundation would put together. Those same buildings then would be leased to charter schools….

So, I think we have a pretty good idea of what he’ll do as CPS CEO. But, the Cathie Black model of district leadership seems to be coming apart at the seams these days.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.