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A week in the charter school universe…

If you don’t follow charter school goings on worldwide (and for your sanity, I kind of want to suggest you don’t), you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s just the odd blip here and there. But, to be honest, it’s more like a volley of blips coming thick and fast. In fact, if blips were locusts, we’d have a plague on our hands.

Take just this week’s revelations, for example…

Nga Parirau Matauranga Trust (NZ)

  • David Seymour confirms that as yet not a cent of the $5.2 Million the failed Northland charter school received has been recovered. The school was open for just one year.

Waipareira Trust (NZ)

  • Waipareira Trust pulled out of charter school negotiations in part because Government refuse to include the Treaty of Waitangi in the contract. (What’s that again, how ACT say this is all for the benefit of Maori students…)

The E Tipu E Rea Trust (NZ)

  • This new body is set up by government to promote and support charter schools and given half a million dollars without even going to tender. (Very expensive cheer leading.)
  • Apparently it’s a charity, so it’ll have charity tax exemptions.

Academy Transformation Trust (England)

  • Ian Cleland, chief executive,”…spent £3,000 of taxpayers’ money on first-class rail travel, while dining expenses racked up on his taxpayer-funded credit card include a meal with other staff at Marco Pierre White totalling £471, and the Bank restaurant in Birmingham, at a cost £703.45″ Yes, teachers eat this way all the time in the staff room. More Moët anyone?
  • He also leased a XJ Premium Luxury V6 Jaguar car and put his wife on the insurance, clocking up £3,000 in service bills alone. Because what head teacher doesn’t need a Jag?

NET Academies Trust (England)

  • Maxine Evans spent over £9,000 on executive taxis to travel between schools (and they have been sometimes made to wait outside, meter running, for the duration of her visit!)

Paradigm Trust (England)

  • An OIA shows that the Trust pays for broadband at CEO Amanda Phillips’ holiday home in France. (Clearly it’s hard to afford when one only earns £195,354 (NZ$400k) a year.)

Gulen/Harmony Charter Schools (USA)

  • Charges filed against them alleging  US$18M fraud (One of a raft of scandals related to the Gulen charter school chain over the years)

Michigan study (USA)

Ohio Department of Education invoiced (USA)

  • Diane Ravitch reports that Geneva Area City Board of Education invoiced the Ohio Department of Education, stating that “[o]ver the past 16 fiscal years, $4,265,924.70 has been taken away from Geneva Area City Schools via State Foundation Settlement deductions and sent to under-performing charter schools.”

Cabot Learning Federation (England)

  • Bath-based school is closed due to insufficient students, leaving current students without a school. Parents were not consulted.
  • The school was inspected in May and judged to be inadequate.

Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (England)

  • The Trust decides it doesn’t want to run the schools any more and looks to find someone new to take over. (Like passing on a franchise…)
  • The BBC reports: “In November, the Regional Schools Commissioner’s Office issued a pre-termination warning notice to the trust over “unacceptably low” standards at Marshlands Academy in Hailsham.”
  • The BBC also reports: “The commissioner said the number of pupils reaching level four or above in reading, writing and maths had fallen by 20% and was “significantly below the floor standard”

Oh I could go on… this is but a drop in the ocean… but you get the idea.

The charter schools movement is not about education – it’s about privatisation and diversion of funds. As always, I ask you to follow the evidence and follow the money.

~ Dianne

Featured Image courtesy of pixtawan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sources:

Taxpayers fund large wages and lavish perks of academy school chiefs , The Guardian, Published online Sunday 24 July 2016

Trust given $500,000 charter school contract without going to tender, NZ Herald, published online 

Are charter schools making the grade? – The Nation, TV3, Saturday 23 Jul 2016 10:34 am, retrieved 9.38pm 25/7/16

Charter school a waste of public money – PPTA, Radio NZ, published 7:19 pm on 28 January 2016, retrieved 9.31pm 25/7/16

Gulen-led schools in Texas accused of $18M fraud, World Bulletin, published 15:14, 12 July 2016 Tuesday, retrieved 9.46pm 25/7/16

Parents at Bath Community Academy say school has failed their children and failed them, Bath Chronicle, published July 23, 2016, retrieved 9.59pm 25/7/16

Charter School Fraud and Mismanagement

Charter schools are sold with the promise of innovative teaching, greater freedom, and the magical word “choice”.  And it’s fair to say that in some cases they deliver.  Some charter schools do great things, as do some state schools, so what’s the problem?

Promise v. Reality

The charter school  promise all to often fails to match the delivery.

PR, sound bites and glossy brochures might sell a school as doing amazing things.  The desks might be new, and you might get your uniform paid for or other benefits that individual parents find hard to resist, especially if they are having trouble making ends meet as it is.  And some of those schools will be doing just what they say they are, a good job.

But far too many aren’t, and the level of fraud, mismanagement and dirty doings that is uncovered on a weekly basis is staggering.

In too many cases worldwide, we have seen that corporate greed and money-grubbing individuals use charters as just another opportunity to rort the system for profit.

The truth is, the charter school system is all too often co-opted by charlatans.

Personal Piggy Banks

swag theft moneyRupert Murdoch gleefully declared for-profit public education “a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.”  Be under no illusion, the businessmen and corporates are already poised to cash in on your tax dollars.  They have only one thing in mind – profit.

However, even worse than that is the fact that so much money is stolen or misappropriated.

Between the frauds and the lavish wages, lunches and perks given to certain staff, it’s bewildering how much education money fails to be used for education!

As one observer noted:

It might be an overstatement to say that some operators use charter schools as their own personal piggy banks, but then again a recent corruption scandal…  illustrates just how easy it is for money to flow from charter schools to private individuals.” Source

Indeed, and that flow seems all too often to be more of a flood.

Lessons from Abroad

Let’s focus on the issue of fraud and money mismanagement.

A recent report Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud, & Abuse found that over US$100Million is misappropriated in charter schools in the USA.

For example:

  • Nearly $3 million in unsubstantiated expenses amassed by the Weems Charter School.
  • The director of the now-closed New Hope Institute of Science and Technology charter school in Milwaukee, was convicted in federal court of embezzling $300,000 in public money and sentenced to two years in prison.  She spent about $200,000 on personal expenses, including cars, funeral arrangements and home improvement…

Things are so bad in the USA that the FBI are involved. Just take a look at just some of the cases FBI were involved in during the past year alone:

  • “The troubled Hartford charter school operator FUSE was dealt another blow Friday when FBI agents served it with subpoenas to a grand jury that is examining the group’s operations. When two Courant reporters arrived at FUSE offices on Asylum Hill on Friday morning, minutes after the FBI’s visit, they saw a woman feeding sheaves of documents into a shredder.”—The Hartford Courant, July 18, 2014

 

  • “The FBI has raided an Albuquerque school just months after the state started peering into the school’s finances. KRQE News 13 learned federal agents were there because of allegations that someone may have been taking money that was meant for the classroom at the Southwest Secondary Learning Center on Candelaria, near Morris in northwest Albuquerque … “—KRQE News 13, August 1 2014

 

  • “Wednesday evening’s FBI raid on a charter school in East Baton Rouge is the latest item in a list of scandals involving the organization that holds the charter for the Kenilworth Science and Technology School. … Pelican Educational Foundation runs the school and has ties to a family from Turkey. The school receives about $5,000,000 in local, state, and federal tax money. … the FBI raided the school six days after the agency renewed the Baton Rouge school’s charter through the year 2019.”—The Advocate, January 14, 2014

 

  • “The state of Pennsylvania is bringing in the FBI to look into accusations that a Pittsburgh charter school [Urban Pathways Charter School] misspent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on luxuries such as fine-dining and retreats at exclusive resorts and spas.”—CBS News November 12,  2013

 

  • “COLUMBUS, OH—A federal grand jury has indicted four people, alleging that they offered and accepted bribes and kickbacks as part of a public corruption conspiracy in their roles as managers and a consultant for Arise! Academy, a charter school in Dayton, Ohio.” —FBI Press Release, June 2014

 

And it’s not just the USA charter schools that have this problem.

In England, where charter schools are called ‘Academies’, there has also been a staggering number of cases of both poor management and fraud:

  • Just yesterday (31/08/14) another Academy head teacher was arrested on charges of fraud at Kings Science Academy in Bradford. Source
  • Mid August 2014 – Two former bosses at a Lincolnshire academy federation have been charged in connection with alleged fraud.
  • The head of an Academy chain run by Haberdashers’ Aske’s Federation Trust was ordered to repay £4.1m (~$8m NZ) taken fraudulently.  Not a penny had been repaid as of mid 2014.
  • Three Glendene Arts Academy staff arrested over the use of academy resources and payment of the salaries and expenses of staff used by a private company. Source
  • In May, “Auditors warned of a culture of “extravagance” at the heart of the E-ACT group – the second-largest provider of academies in England – that led to hundreds of thousands of pounds being wasted.” Source

What Next for New Zealand?

Overseas charter school chains already have their eye on Aotearoa.* Given the levels of fraud in overseas charters – of which the above list is but a drop in the ocean – how can we ensure our taxes are not squirreled off by the unscrupulous?

Ask yourself:

  • Are our charters set up in such as way as to protect against fraud?
  • What measures are there to protect NZ charter school funds against mismanagement?
  • Are the oversights stringent enough?

I’m sure those running charters honestly are as frustrated by fraud and mismanagement as those who don’t want charter schools at all. The trouble is, the system is set up in such a way that makes them a prime target for rogues of all stripes.

Which begs the question, when it comes to fraud, will New Zealand’s charter school system fare any better than overseas?

____________________________________________

Notes:

KIPP , for example, sent over a representative to meet Hekia Parata and tour New Zealand just as charter schools were being legislated for.

Sources:

http://inthesetimes.com/article/17109/the_con_artistry_of_charter_schools

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/05/06/new-report-cites-100-million-plus-in-waste-fraud-in-charter-school-industry/

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/charterschoice/2014/05/report_documents_100_million_in_charter_school_fraud_in_14_states_and_dc.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2699331/Nigerian-accountants-4million-fraud-academies-Gove-hailed-Staff-member-said-spent-cash-extravagant-lifestyle.html

https://saveourschoolsnz.wordpress.com/2014/07/17/yet-more-charter-schools-under-investigation/

http://cashinginonkids.com/blogs/feds-charge-michigan-charter-school-manager-fraud/

http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/31/06.html

 

http://nzfirst.org.nz/news/charter-schools-model-gets-failed-mark

 

See also:  The Great City Academy Fraud, by Francis Beckett

 

 

 

The problem is that

Teacher Voice: We’re not in it for the money, by Jenine Maxwell

Kia ora. My name is Jenine Maxwell and I have been a teacher for 31 years, with only the odd year off here and there for babies.

Although most of my career has been spent in New Entrant classrooms, I’ve taught at all levels and at different management levels. I am currently a D.P. with both curriculum, Senco and classroom responsibilities.

Everyday I am grateful for a job that I am still passionate and hungry for, one that allows me to connect with, and make a difference in, people’s lives. Schools are the centres of their communities and as such we engage not just with students, but also with the parents and whanau of our precious charges.

Batman - teachers aren't in it for the moneyI work hard, with long days and many hours put in at home, on weekends, evenings and holidays, both devising programmes that will help my students succeed and keeping up to date on relevant research.

Can receiving an increased wage motivate me to work harder, magically find more hours or an enchanted potion to meet all of my students’ needs in the minimum time?

Absolutely not, particularly as I, along with most teachers I know, have never been in the job for the pay packet anyway.

If I am identified as an excellent teacher, dragged away from the students and school that needs me to go and help another, supposedly less successful school, I would then have only half the amount of time and energy to devote to two settings.

Common sense, not politics, tells me that I would soon have two failing settings, as well a nervous breakdown, to show for my hard work.

For the Prime Minister to accuse NZEI of political motivations is disingenuous to say the least.

If Key were offered the same conditions, an increased pay packet to spend half of his time across the ditch fixing their economic woes, I doubt he would accept the challenge. And if he didn’t, would it be because he was in the back pocket of the unions. He would consider such an accusation preposterous.

Yet for some reason he views teachers as so naïve and malleable, that we would follow NZEI’s recommendations without any research, thought or common sense of our own.

As a taxpayer, I find it astonishing that he is so determined to pay government employees more money, while failing to increase spending on resources and staffing within schools. I wonder how many parents would be happy with that equation?

NZEI: Government continues costly charter school experiment despite public rejection

A recent poll has found that two-thirds of New Zealanders are concerned at the amount of taxpayer money that is being diverted into charter schools.

Yet despite this, NZEI Te Riu Roa Immediate Past President Ian Leckie says the government is clearly committed to this expensive ideologically-driven experiment.

Yesterday the Ministry of Education released the names of 19 new applicants hoping to set up charter schools next year. The list includes a number who failed in their bid for funding last year.

vote now - poll - speak outIan Leckie says time and again the government has been told that New Zealanders want to retain a quality public education system and do not want education funds diverted into propping up costly charter schools.

“Money to charter schools means less money in public schools.  That’s not fair and it must have an effect on kids’ learning.”

He says a recent NZEI survey found that 63 percent ranked the diversion of taxpayer money to charter schools as either a “top concern in education” or were “somewhat concerned”.

The government has set aside more than $12m over two years to support charter schools – money that is not being used to support quality public education.  Currently there are five charter schools operating with a total of just 367 children.

“This is an incredibly high per-head cost compared to the amount of funding the government pays for students in the public sector.

So far the five charter schools operating receive an operational payment per student of between $11,500 and $40,300 compared to an average of around $5,800 at lower decile public schools.

“Clearly the government is not letting up in its path towards privatising our education sector despite the overwhelming view of the education sector and the wishes of the New Zealand public.”

Underwhelmed with ‘Investing in Educational Success’ plans

When John Key announced the Investing in Educational Success (IES) plans to spend $359 Million creating new teaching and principal roles, the education sector was cautiously hopeful.  More investment is needed in so many areas, so teachers, principals and parents waited with bated breath.  Sadly, the announcement left many underwhelmed, and this is why…

 

WHAT DOES IES PLAN TO DO?

The Government plans to invest $359 million over four years in a highly paid cadre of new management roles in schools.

Change principals will be paid $50,000 a year to turn around “failing” schools.

Executive principals will oversee 10 schools and get paid an extra $40,000 a year.

Expert teachers will also work across schools and get $20,000 extra a year.

Lead teachers will work within their own school and be paid an additional $10,000.On this page are materials to support your discussions about the Government’s “Investing in Educational Success” initiative with colleagues, parents and Boards

 

WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS?

There are concerns about consultation, as the announcement was made without any discussion with the education sector about where best to spend the money. Consultation after the fact has also left many uneasy as to whether it is genuine or for show only, a criticism that some feel is harsh but others feel is justified after so many sham consultations by the ministry of late.

Many parents, teachers and academics feel the IES plan is money being spent unwisely that could have a far greater positive impact on students’ education if spent elsewhere.  There is no research to say this type of intervention will improve student outcomes – and conversely there is research that shows other initiatives would help significantly.  In essence, adding more management is not going to help.

A parent-led petition is underway, that asks “Why not consult teachers and principals who know what is most needed to support children’s learning, as to what they believe will be the best use of this money?”

 

WATCH THE VIDEO FOR MORE INFO

The video below is an introduction to the Government’s planned new teacher and principal roles – Investing in Educational Success (IES).  It explains how IES fits within the wider reforms and what it might mean for children, teachers and schools, and people outline what their questions and concerns are.

 

teachers, what do you think about IES?  Do you think the original plan was good or not?  Do you think government will change the plan after consultation with the education sector?  Parents, how do you feel about it – do you understand the plans, and do you support them or not?  I’d be very interested to know.

~ Dianne

 

Poll shows paltry public support for new school roles

In the lead-up to the 2014 Budget, less than 6% of people think the government’s plan to establish new leadership roles for some principals and teachers is a good use of increased education funding, according to a new poll.

The poll, commissioned by NZEI Te Riu Roa, surveyed a cross-section of New Zealanders last month and found little support for prioritising the $359 million Investing in Educational Success policy, which has also been widely panned by teachers.

Respondents were somewhat supportive of the package (56%), but when asked what were the most important areas of education in which to spend extra money, the components of the policy were bottom of the list by a wide margin (paying $40,000 to executive principals to oversee a group of schools – 1%; paying $50,000 to experienced principals to turn around struggling schools – 6%; paying $10,000 to experienced teachers to work with teachers in other schools two days a week – 3%).

The poll showed that the public was more interested in

  • reducing class sizes (32%),
  • employing only qualified and registered teachers in early childhood centres (31%), and
  • more administrative support so teachers can focus on teaching and learning (29%).

See the poll results here.

NZEI President Judith Nowotarski said the poll showed that teachers were not alone in believing putting the money into frontline teachers and support would be a far more effective way to lift student success.

children“The government dreamed up this policy with the idea that it would somehow benefit students. It’s a great pity they didn’t bother to consult anyone who knows anything about what students need for educational success,” she said.

Parents are starting to ask questions about the lack of consultation in the spending of this significant amount of money.

An Auckland mother has set up an online petition asking the government to consult teachers, principals, boards of trustees and parents before implementing the policy.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: 

NZEI National President Judith Nowotarski: ph 027 475 4140
Communications Officers: Debra Harrington ph 027 268 3291,
Melissa Schwalger 027 276 7131

The global attack on public schools

STANDARDIZED Lies, Money, & Civil Rights: How Testing Is Ruining Public Education.

This documentary focuses on the proliferation, business,and inadequacies of state-mandated testing in our public schools.

It focuses on America but is every bit as pertinent to what is happening in New Zealand; we may not be as far down the track as the USA , but we are on the same path.

Whenever a new education policy is announced, I would ask you to come back to this:  follow the money.

Who stands to benefit?  Because with testing now a multi TRILLION $$$ industry worldwide, you can bet your bottom dollar it isn’t students or parents that are the main concern.

The doco will be out later in the year, but here is a sneak peek.

Charter Schools: Great advertising – Dodgy business

charter schools - dodgy business

Follow the money, people – follow the money.

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Further reading:

Does anyone remember being asked whether we want charter schools?

National and ACT make a pact to bring in charter schools

Campbell Live on Charter Schools

The Disempowerment of Public School Parents by Jeff Bryant

What is the most important thing? It is people.  It is people.  It is people.

 

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