Expose of Charter Corruption in The New Republic

November 21, 2012

Timothy Noah, a senior editor of The New Republic, has written a stunning expose of charter school corruption. He begins with Arizona, where the laws are so lax that self-dealing by charter executives is the rule, not the exception. Noah points out that 90 percent of charter operators are exempt from state laws requiring competitive bidding. The state has never withdrawn an exemption.

Noah bases his observations about Arizona’s Wild West of charters on investigative reporting by Anne Ryman of the Arizona Republic.

He quotes from Ryman’s article:

“The schools’ purchases from their own officials,” Ryman writes, “range from curriculum and business consulting to land leases and transportation services. A handful of non-profit schools outsource most of their operations to a board member’s for-profit company.” A nonprofit called Great Hearts Academies runs 15 Arizona charter schools. Since 2009, according to Ryman, the schools have purchased $987,995 in books from Educational Sales Co., whose chairman, Daniel Sauer, is a Great Hearts officer. And that doesn’t count additional book purchases made directly by parents. Six of the Great Hearts schools have links on their Web sites for parents who wish to make such purchases. The links are, of course, to Educational Sales Co. Since 2007 Sauer has donated $50,400 to Great Hearts. You can call that philanthropy, or you can call that an investment on which Sauer’s company received a return of more than 1800 percent. I’m not sure even Russian oligarchs typically get that much on the back end.

Oh, yes, Great Hearts Academy. This is the same Arizona-based outfit that has been turned down four times by the Metro Nashville school board because it did not have a diversity plan. Because of its rejection of Great Hearts, the Nashville schools were fined $3.4 million by Tennessee’s TFA state commissioner of education Kevin Huffman. Huffman and the governor really, really want Great Hearts in Nashville and apparently they “won’t back down” until Great Hearts has at least three or four campuses in Nashville, regardless of what the school board says. The governor and legislature are set to pass an ALEC-model law to create a commission to overrule local school boards that have the nerve to turn down a charter school.

By the way, Great Hearts Academy just got permission to open charters in San Antonio.

Noah notes corruption in Ohio and California charters, including the Adelanto Charter School, which was shut down. It will now be replaced the the nation’s very first parent trigger charter, also in Adelanto, California, which was selected by only 50 parents in a school that enrolls more than 600 children.

Keep writing, Timothy Noah.

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Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. She serves on the board of the Core Knowledge Foundation, Common Core, the Albert Shanker Institute of the American Federation of Teachers, and Common Good. She is an honorary life trustee of the...