Sunday, May 9, 2021

FBI raids charter school company in L.A.


Seven federal agencies, including the FBI, raided a high-performing charter school network in Los Angeles on January 25, saying the organization that manages the charter schools was being scrutinized for its financial and management practices, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Newt Gingrich visits a charter school in Tucson, Ariz. in 2009 (American Solutions / Flickr CC)

Fraud, fiscal mismanagement, and misuse of public money that was supposed to be used for children’s education were among the findings of an investigation by the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Office of Inspector General and the LAUSD’s charter schools division, but the federal warrants are under seal and no one can be sure what the feds are looking for at the Celerity Education Group.

The district decided not to renew the charter contracts for two of Celerity’s schools at a contentious board meeting in October, where the charter schools division’s director, José Cole-Gutiérrez, said the connection between the schools and an umbrella nonprofit corporation, Celebrity Global Development, wasn’t clear.

“We don’t have the full picture of their relationship,” he told the school board when asked why the two schools had been recommended for denial. “We have severe concerns with regard to their lack of transparency. We are not even clear who the board members are.”

Trouble at a Philadelphia charter school too

Financial and management issues aren’t the only problem that surface at the occasional charter school across the US, we learn from a report filed by FOX-29 in Philadelphia.

The ASPIRA network has a few charter schools in that city, and the operator at one of the schools recently settled a lawsuit, said to be in the six-figure range, brought by a former top educator at the schools, who accused the CEO of sexual harassment. She said “sex discrimination and retaliation” was ongoing at ASPIRA.

She charged the network’s CEO with demoting her in 2012 because she:

  • “rejected the on-going sexual advances of respondent”
  • “refused to hire as a teacher a woman he had sexual designs on”
  • “refused to allow him to talk about his on-going sexual conquests of teachers, students, and parents”

The lawsuit was never tried, but it was settled. If any of the claims she made were true, they would reflect badly on the management style of the charter network involved, although public school educators have occasionally been found guilty of similar crimes.

There are those in the charter school crowd, though, who say the schools provide for the needs of their students quite well and are needed in our educational landscape.

When the NAACP in October took a strong stand against charter schools, as reported here in the Huffington Post, joined by the Black Lives Matter movement, one Memphis grandmother spoke out.

Sarah Carpenter, a parent who was very impressed with her first visit to a charter school in Memphis, where educators were talking about preparing kids from the poor neighborhood she grew up in for college and beyond, became an activist and now runs Memphis Lift, a parent education advocacy organization funded partly by groups that support charter schools.

She agrees with the NAACP and BLM that charter schools, like other public schools, should be held accountable, even though they’re run by private companies, but said it’s wrongheaded to try to stop the growth of “great schools doing great work,” Education Week reports.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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