Atlanta Journal Constitution reports on the sources of funding for Board of Education candidates [Update]

The AJC issued a report (behind pay wall) on the contributions the Atlanta Public School Board of Education candidates are receiving from a variety of large donors or special interests. The article places a significant focus on the contributions being made by supporters of charter schools.

As I have stated before, while it is important to know where the contributions are coming from, it is even more important to understand what the candidates are saying or how incumbents have voted in the past. In that regard, the following are some excerpted quotes in the article from the candidates and another special interest group:

Quotes from candidates (emphasis added):

School board candidate Jason Esteves [AL-9], a TFA graduate and attorney, said charter schools should be “laboratories of innovation” that can test new ways of teaching that can then be applied more broadly in traditional schools. “I support charter schools, just like I support great traditional schools. I want to see the division between charter schools and traditional schools bridged,” said Esteves,…

“We’re not going to jump in there and hand over control of the school system to some for-profit charter monster,” [Matt] Westmoreland [D-3] said. “Just because someone gave me a political contribution, if they come at me with an idea that I don’t think is in the best interest of everyone in the city, I’m going to say no.”

[Courtney] English [AL-7] said it’s natural for candidates to receive financial support from people with similar backgrounds, pointing out that his opponent, Nisha Simama, brought in significant donations from employees at the private Paideia School, where she’s worked for 20 years. Simama brought in $5,755 from people associated with Paideia School, according to campaign finance records…“I’ve got a history and a track record of standing up to powerful interests,” English said. “Nothing I’ve done in my record would indicate that I’m heavy-handed in my support of charters. It’s a good idea for people who know what the inside of a classroom looks like to make policy decisions.”

The special interest group Atlanta Federation of Teachers is also quoted:

“This election is being bought,” said Verdaillia Turner, president of the Atlanta Federation of Teachers, which had given $8,075 as of Sept. 30 to candidates running against those supported by charter school advocates. “They put people in leadership positions to set policy, and that policy puts big bucks into private hands.”

Apparently the $8,075 ‘special interest money’ contributed by the AFT is perfectly reasonable – it is the other ‘special interest money’ that is objectionable.

Opponents of charter schools often refer to the charter school movement as a veiled attempt to ‘corporatize’ or ‘privatize’ public education. In that regards, it is important to note that all the charter schools that currently operate in the APS district are non-profit entities that enter into performance agreements with both APS and the GA DOE.

[Update] In addition, per the APS policy on charter schools,

In keeping with state statutes (O.C.G.A. §20-2-2060 through §20-2-2071) and subsequent legislation, the ABE may approve a petition from:

  • An existing local school in the Atlanta Independent School System to convert to a charter school.
  • A Georgia non-profit corporation that submits a petition to establish a local start-up charter school.
  • An existing Atlanta Public Schools charter school for a renewal term.
  • A district-sponsored start-up charter school.

Please note that the policy (in accordance with the GA statutes) only allows for non-profit charter schools.

As a general rule, I believe the current Board has made a series of very judicious decisions on granting charter petitions and then holding the existing charter schools accountable for their results. And my sense is that none of the candidates – that are open to granting additional charter petitions – have in any way advocated to make changes to the process currently followed by the Board.

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]

2 Responses to Atlanta Journal Constitution reports on the sources of funding for Board of Education candidates [Update]

  1. Bertis Downs says:

    Good post from a teacher/blogger in Louisiana who wonders about so much mysterious Big Ed national money flowing to local school board elections in disparate towns and cities all over:

    Here’s a hint: When you hear that a candidate in a local election is being outspent by 10- or 20-to-1, vote for that candidate.

  2. Tamara Jones says:

    Bob, I have found your blog to be valuable and generally find it to be fairly unbiased. However, I find your assertion that Georgia statute and APS policy only permit non-profit charter schools (and by inference that therefore these donations highlighted in the AJC article are a non-issue) to be disingenuous.
    I posted this in the comments section of the AJC article (behind the pay wall):
    Per the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the 2011-2012 Charter Schools Annual Report published by GaDOE, there are fourteen public charter schools within the APS boundaries. Two were authorized by the state: Atlanta Heights Charter School, which opened in 2010 and Heritage Preparatory Academy which opened in 2011. The others were also authorized by ABE.
    These 14 schools enrolled 5,122 students in school year 2012-13 per NAPCS.
    While all may have non-profit entities who actually hold the charter, only three were classified as “Freestanding”, meaning they manage themselves: ANCS, Heritage Prep, and Kindezi (status of Latin Academy is unknown as it just opened last year and has no data in the annual report). The five KIPP schools are managed by a CMO (Charter Management Organization – nonprofit). Per the annual report, KIPP was the only CMO operating in the state that year.
    The remaining five paid management fees to for-profit education management organizations and are classified by management type as EMO (for-profit).
    In school year 2011-12, Drew Charter School and Intown Academy paid $861,130.00 in management fees to Edison Learning, which was acquired in 2003 by Liberty Partners, a New York based private equity investment firm
    Wesley paid for-profit Imagine Schools Inc. $710,584.00 in management fees that year (which does NOT include the $51,000 monthly facility cost). Wesley has recently cut ties with Imagine.
    Atlanta Prep paid $285,094.00 to for-profit Mosaica Inc. that year, and Atlanta Heights paid $5,618,477.00 to National Heritage Academies (no, that’s not a typo, at least not mine. I hope the state made a typo).

    Put a different way, 59% of students (2,997) enrolled in our public charters are served in schools that pay for-profit management organizations for services (at least as of their 2011-12 status), and not an insignificant amount of money. Only 16% of our charter students are in freestanding schools, and only the KIPP kids are managed by a non-profit (25%).

    Arthur Rock, Greg Penner and Dave Goldberg are all partners in Rocketship Education, a small CMO (nonprofit) with aggressive expansion plans. They have something to sell. Since KIPP is the only CMO in GA and has worked well here, Atlanta is clearly a prime opportunity.
    What the AJC article failed to note is that Joel Klein is now working for Rupert Murdoch heading News Corp’s Amplify division. He’s selling curriculum-loaded tablets (“Personalized Learning” is the buzzword).

    Charter schools have a role in our district. As Jason Esteves noted, they should serve as laboratories for practices that when proven successful might be rolled out in focused circumstances in the traditional schools. But that’s not necessarily how they have operated in our city.

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