Monday, August 23, 2004

Where DID the money go?

I need to respond to the question "Where did the tax money go?"

Most people would assume Cleveland schools are suffering from district mismanagement of tax dollars.
That would be a natural assumption. It is, in fact, one I would make, given the usual inclination of most governmental agencies.
In this case, I am afraid district incompetence would be an easier problem to address than the current cause of the 100 million dollar deficit that the Cleveland Municipal Schools find themselves in.

I will try to explain it to you as I understand the situation.
Several major factors have come into play here, and something is smelling rotten, but this time it is not the administration.

First, the current method of funding local school districts in Ohio relies very heavily on tax money raised by property tax levys, followed by state tax dollars, followed by federal tax dollars.
School districts in wealthy communities will always have more money for schools than low income areas. The Supreme court has found this method of funding schools in Ohio to be unconstitutional, yet there has been no attempt to rectify the situation. It remains unchanged.
The voice of the poor is no match to the voices of the wealthy who do not wish to share.

The state of Ohio made huge cuts in the education budget this year. Apparently tax dollars were needed elsewhere. Cleveland schools took quite a blow from that budgetary axe, and are asking the home owners in the city of Cleveland to pick up the difference by voting to increase their property taxes.
Hmmmm....lets try to recall how many jobs have been lost in Cleveland recently.
Reminds me of an old saying, "You can't squeeze blood from a turnip".

Now here is the really shady part.

Charter schools.

Originally, a great idea.
These schools would be run like a private school, free from the constraints of school boards. Yet, they would receive funding from tax dollars. The per/pupil state tax money which would normally be allocated to the school district (about $4-5,000) would follow the student to the charter school.
Everything sounds good so far, right?
Here's the rub: These schools can be run as a for-profit business.
As a private business there is no required public access to records. This includes ALL records, including test scores, attendance, etc. Teachers are not required to be certified. Curriculum is private, and need not follow state or national standards.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the opportunities for abusing the system here.
"But wait!" you say "Parents wouldn't send their children to a school where the education was inferior."

Or would they?

Sadly, we live in a society that enjoys getting something for nothing.

Charter schools are tuition free. They are advertised as an alternative to public schools whose problems are widely publicized, since all public school records are PUBLIC.

David Brenner, a very wealthy businessman from Akron, (and a HUGE contributor to the Republican party) saw an opportunity to make money here. He started a business called White Hat Management and began opening up charter schools in the inner-cities, as alternatives to the troubled public schools.
These are the Hope Academies, and Life Skills schools. These schools are not required to make any of their records public, and they don't.

Please take note: Has any one in a wealthy suburb seen one of these schools in their neighborhood?

At this point I am going to quote myself from a previous post which I made a few months ago.
Some of you may have missed it, and it explains a lot.

Life Skills markets their program to students who are not succeeding in high school as an alternative way to earn a high school diploma.
At Max Hayes we are beginning to see a steady trickle of students leaving our vocational program for Life Skills.
Last month, I lost two more students to the Life Skills Center on Madison Road. When I asked their friends why the girls left, I was told they had failed several classes, and would not be graduating this year.
At Max Hayes they would be required to repeat their senior year of high school.
Life Skills would allow them to graduate on time. (In two months)
I'd heard these rumors before, but chalked them up to teen exaggeration, and wishful thinking.
I had also recently overheard some of my colleagues discussing a former student, who had just graduated from Life Skills. This girl was classified as Special Education- Developmentally Handicapped at Max Hayes. (There are no special education classes at Life Skills.) Her reading ability hovered around the third grade level.
She was 18 years old, in the 10th grade, and had not passed any proficiency tests. In a matter of a few months, she had her diploma from Life Skills.
Either Life Skills has a phenomenal new method of teaching that can produce educational miracles, or there is something very wrong with the way we teach at Max Hayes.

Or something fishy is going on at Life Skills.

I began asking questions.
When I asked my classes if any of them knew someone who was going to Life Skills, every hand went go up.
Surprised, I asked them to tell me what they knew about the school.

Conventional teen-wisdom explains it this way:
Life skills is where a person goes who just wants a diploma fast.
People don't really learn anything there.
All the work is done on a computer. You simply have to show up, and complete the work that comes on the disc for that class.
Cheating is rampant and ignored.
Only a few general academic classes are required to get your diploma. Nothing like the work you have to do in a regular high school.

Several of my kids said that they were considering transferring there, maybe next year. Other kids said that they would never go there, because that was where all the losers went.
One boy said that he considered going there, but he wanted to join the Marines. His recruiter told him that they would not accept a GED, or a diploma from Life Skills. Another student told me that the Navy had the same policy.
I found those statements especially distressing.
That afternoon I called the Marines recruiting office. What they told me was essentially the same thing. They consider a Life Skills diploma to be a worthless piece of paper. They find that something is very wrong when a student is getting all 'F's in public school, transfers to a Life Skills School, subsequently gets straight 'A's, and then cannot pass the Armed Services Test.

What kind of scam is being pulled on our country's poor and uneducated? They are being tricked into thinking that this piece of paper means they have received an education that they have not worked for.

You will not find any of these schools in affluent or middle class neighborhoods. They are only being built our most disadvantaged neighborhoods whose populations are the most vulnerable to this type of scam. Society doesn't seem to care that David Brennan is getting rich by exploiting these kids and their families. They were destined to be drop-out losers anyway. These schools are popping up all over Cleveland's inner-city, and now other states (Arizona, Florida, Colorado,Washington DC), are buying into White Hat as educational savior.
Three years ago I never even heard of them.
Does anyone else hear the giant sucking sound?

Oh, and one more thing:
When a student leaves Max Hayes and goes to Life Skills in the fall, the per/pupil tax money goes with him. If after a few days, or weeks, the student decides that they are not happy with Life Skills and returns to Max Hayes, the money is NOT returned to the Cleveland school district. It stays with White Hat Management.

This is not theoretical. It has already happened.

Posted 4/15/04 by MB Matthews

Finally, I would like to discuss the President Bush's "No Child left Behind" legislation passed by the Republican congress. This act sets very high standards for public schools and teachers. If a district does not move toward or meet the standard they will lose federal funding. Accountability is stringent.
All good things...unless one looks closer.

A district that has money can easily meet and maintain the goals set by NCLB. School districts that serve the poor and disadvantaged have difficulty on two fronts: Little money for programs, and a population that is comprised of many troubled youngsters. The more money a district loses, the greater the difficulty in reaching the standards, and the greater the chance of losing even more money. With the inner-city public schools in a tailspin, the man with the White Hat moves in.
David Brennan is making money on the backs of the poor and minorities...with a nice big kick-back to the Republican party for making sure No child is Left Behind.

Yes, when money disappears it will always leave a trail. Sometimes you just have to know where to look.

PS. Why isn't the Media all over this?
After all this is an election year.


Ron said...

I think they are a good idea, but your legislature was asleep at the wheel.

For profit, absolutely, it will identify mismanagement when compared to public schools on both parties.

The records, eg acheivement standards and the like had better be open, same as in public schools. Same deal with curriculum, how is a parent to know. Openness will create criticism, and that can be good or bad. Perhaps a time frame to get established.

I don't know as far as certification and state/national standards though. I think those are grey issues.... but certifications, and standards must be open for a point of comparison. The issue gets complicated due to competition, but otoh, the benefits of them being open far outweight the negatives and abuses of a closed system. Only those driven for success will run a charter school as a result, and not the scam artists.

Funding transfer on a yearly basis makes sense. Mid year creates overhead, I think it would be a wash anyhow.

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