Recently, an education colleague asked me how do we make charter schools better? I really had no answer to his question in light of some of our recent local charter school scandals. Some of the lessons learned nationally from charter school mismanagement reveal that it is a business opportunity for some to make a quick buck at taxpayers and students’ expense.
Nobody embodies one of the most glaring problems of mismanagement of charter schools better than former Xerox Corporate executive Ken Amos in the District. He was exposed for siphoning off taxpayer money into the hands of for-profit management companies owned and controlled by the non-profit charter school sponsors all for their own personal gain.
Amos owned one of the largest charter school networks in DC. Amos is a DC Native who is highly regarded by many as a long time advocate for parents and children. He founded Dorothy I. Height Community Academy Public Charter School, known as CAPCS in 1998. DC law requires that charters schools operate as non-profit corporations.
Dorothy I. Height Community Academy Public Charter Schools served more than 1,600 students at four campuses, Armstrong, Burdick, Keene and Nicholson, including an online school.
In June 2014, Amos was charged by then DC Attorney General Irvin Nathan of funneling $13 million dollars in charter school funds for over a decade to a for-profit management company he owned.
The lawsuit alleged that Amos forced the charter school to pay his management company more than $13 million in what was known as “management fees” since 2004. According to Nathan in the lawsuit, "the diverted funds were used to enrich the company and Amos, to the detriment of the school."
Stories like Amos are all too common. I remember being surprised when J.C. Hayward, a popular Channel 9 news anchor here in DC became embroiled in the Options Charter school scandal in 2013. This scandal led to Hayward being removed from her post as Channel 9 anchor after a long-time stellar career of forty years.
The lawsuit alleged that three former managers, the Options school’s board chairwoman, Hayward, and a senior official at the D.C. Public Charter School Board allegedly concocted an elaborate contracting scam that led to improper payments of more than $3 million to for profit companies
Days after the Washington Post submitted a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request seeking information about contracts between the school and two for profit companies founded by the schools senior managers; Exceptional Education Management Corp. (EEMC) and Exceptional Educational Services (EES), the DC charter school board launched an investigation.
The sad thing about these stories, both schools ultimately closed their doors to its students, totaling 2,500 students. Regulations governing charters differ among states. In the District of Columbia, for example, a separate school board authorizes charters and monitors them.
Options closed at the end of school year 2015 after being placed under receivership and parents were given the choice to attend another charter school; Kingsman Academy. In February 2015, the DC Charter School Board unanimously revoked CAPCS charter and the school officially closed at the end of school year 14-15. The school’s campuses were transferred to other entities including DC Public Schools.
Amos and his management company settled his lawsuit by entering into an agreement to repay $3 million dollars, a far cry from the $13 million dollars diverted from the school.
Charter school closings due to financial mismanagement underscore the need for more transparency, oversight and accountability. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) claims that within the last 20 years, the federal government has spent $3.3 billion on charter schools but cannot account for which charters received taxpayer money and how those public dollars were spent.
This just isn’t acceptable.
Many believe charter schools should be held to the same standards as public schools to make sure students get the most of out of their educational experience and protect taxpayers’ investment.
The Annenberg Institute for Reform at Brown University has put out its own set of standards to bolster oversight for charters. Here are a few of their recommendations: [1.] charter school finance documents should be made publicly available; [2.] require charters to report administrative expenses; [3.] all vendor or service contracts should be made available to the public; and [4.] protect governing board members, students, staff, parents from retaliation for whistle blowing. Read the full report.
The Annenberg report is a major contribution to offering constructive suggestions on key concerns in the charter sector. Somebody has got to stop making it easy to steal from the kids.
© Candi Peterson 2015