School Choice

If Charter Schools Are 'Unregulated,' Why Is This Successful California School Facing a Shutdown?

Trump's choice of education secretary will prompt a fight over who has control.

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Trump and DeVos
Andy Katz/ZUMA Press/Newscom

What exactly is to be done when a charter school appears to be extremely successful at teaching students, but also appears to be funneling spending toward friends and family of its founder?

For Chino Valley Unified School District in California, the decision was apparently to shut the school down, despite a crowd of parents begging them to keep the school open. On Monday the district's school board voted unanimously to reject the bid to renew the charter for Oxford Preparatory Academy.

Oxford Preparatory ranked as the top K-8th grade school in San Bernardino County according to state testing and was the highest-scoring charter school in the county. But it had been plagued by accusations that founder Sue Roche had set up a series of companies with friends and relatives to "launder" money to them in exchange for services so that she could profit from her school.

The school has since cut ties with Roche, but the superintendent declared that the school "cannot be saved, and should not be saved. It is forever tainted," according to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.

Without downplaying whatever sort of financial improprieties might have happened (Roche's lawyer denies misconduct), could anybody out there imagine that a school board would ever declare a public school "forever tainted" due to bad behavior by a principal and simply vote to shut it down—despite excellent test scores and despite parents begging for it to remain open? It would never happen.

It's both a strength and a weakness of charter schools: They're easier to close when they perform poorly, but the system is susceptible to manipulation by public school system administrators with an agenda. Charter schools often have to fight the local school district to open in the first place, and then they will have to fight the system every step of the way as powerful public school interests will keep trying to find reasons to shut them down. By the media accounts, the rest of the administration of Oxford did not what know what Roche was doing, so the idea that it's "forever tainted" now makes no sense. And that's particularly true given that whatever financial corruption might have been happening obviously did not interfere with the school's performance.

It's going to be more and more important to pay attention to stories like this given President-Elect Donald Trump's selection of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education. DeVos is a supporter of charter schools and school vouchers, so there's going to be a significant effort to paint school choice in the worst possible light, as though families and poor people are being preyed upon. Take a look at this Washington Post "worst-case scenario" analysis of what DeVos might do as education secretary that simply asserts that charter and private schools are "unregulated" in several spots. No doubt the upset parents at Oxford Preparatory wish that were the case.

Charter schools are, in fact, heavily regulated and face tremendous amounts of bureaucracy and oversight. The Oxford Prep example shows that, in reality, they are even more accountable to the government that the schools the government itself operates! To get another perspective of the challenges facing people who attempt to start charter schools, read this interview with Gloria Romero, a Democratic former state senator in California who just opened her own charter school this year. That she had to put her own credit at risk and mentions other charter schools having to take out short-term loans while the state drags its feet forking over the money (despite claims of profiteering, charter schools usually get less funding than their public school counterparts) serves as an interesting alternate explanation as to how family and friends end up involved in providing goods and services to charter schools.

As we see more attacks on charter schools, keep an eye out for weighted words like "unregulated" being deliberately tossed out to incorrectly describe how they operate. And also be very wary of vague coverage of test scores that don't account for the full picture, like an attempt to make Detroit's charters look like massive failures when that's not true at all. And above all, be wary of reporting on charter schools that completely ignores whether parents are satisfied with the educations their children are getting.

Read more from Reason and school choice here.

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39 responses to “If Charter Schools Are 'Unregulated,' Why Is This Successful California School Facing a Shutdown?

  1. it had been plagued by accusations that founder Sue Roche had set up a series of companies with friends and relatives to “launder” money to them in exchange for services so that she could profit from her school.

    As opposed to all those completely selfless public school administrators who tirelessly work with no hope of compensation…

    1. This is either someone stating truth, or making some sort of veiled, useless over-generalization about school administrators like all muslims are terrorist or all cops are killers.

    2. Hey, YOU try living on $300k a year.

      1. “The two pair of Allen Edmond wingtips I bought cost so much, I had to wait until next month to pick up the Guccis I wanted. I feel like a peasant.”

  2. We don’t typically shut down entire corporations for the misdeeds of their middle management, so I don’t see why this should be any different.

    1. It’d be nice if we could shut down the government based upon the misdeeds of its middle management.

  3. That’s a big league swing at decent alt-text.

    1. Yes. There should have been a “donate so Sicklord gets to wear an alt text champ hat” option.

      1. There is, but it’s only $2.50 and they want to encourage bigger donations.

        1. We could wait until Burger King has one of those ‘paper crown’ promotions for kids, and then just cross out ‘Burger’ and write in ‘Alt-Text’

  4. Silly Shackelolololoford, “unregulated” is just Progressive for “icky in a way i can’t quite describe.”

  5. Oxford Preparatory ranked as the top K-8th grade school in San Bernardino County

    damned with faint praise

    1. Oxford in Cypress, Orange County is where all the really smart Asians in middle school went instead of public high school.

      So not just tallest midget, more like giant in a midget colony.

  6. could anybody out there imagine that a school board would ever declare a public school “forever tainted” due to bad behavior by a principal and simply vote to shut it down?despite excellent test scores and despite parents begging for it to remain open? It would never happen.

    As charter schools are public schools, I can imagine it as it just seemed to have actually happened.

    Jus’ sayin’

    1. This.

      Charters are not private. Privatize. The charter scam is a scam.

      1. You keep calling charter schools scams but you never provide any explanation of who is being scammed and how.

  7. Freedom, as opposed to an indulgence necessarily entails responsibility and risk. Freedom is never uniform and never predictable or without risk. Charter schools are an increase in freedom. So they are necessarily going to fail in some instances and be of uneven quality. That is just how freedom works. What progressive and other enemies of freedom do is point to the unevenness and instances of failure as proof that the entire thing is a failure.

    People should not play their game and admit upfront it isn’t going to be all wine and roses. We have to kill the Prog fallacy that a program is only as good as its weakest link or that unpredictability and risk are never something that can and should be accepted.

    1. Progs say they want freedom, but they don’t. They want fairness and equality. If that means sinking to the lowest common denominator, then so be it.

      Besides that, education, like health care, is a basic human right. It is immoral to profit from basic human rights. That is why both of those things should be completely controlled by government. Government doesn’t make profits. So what if it is an inefficient, ineffective, inept, corrupt, blunt instrument whose only tool is force? It doesn’t make profits for rich people. That’s what matters.

      1. You are right. They want uniformity and equality, which are completely counter to freedom.

        1. As Margaret Thatcher once said: They would rather the poor be poorer, provided that the rich were less richer.

          1. She said this, but they vehemently disagreed. Because that is not their intention. It is the result of what they want, but not their intent. Thing is, they can’t see past intentions. They can’t see results. That requires thought. They don’t think. They feel. They’re not human beings. They’re animals. They would fail the Gom Jabbar.

      2. They want fairness and equality. If that means sinking to the lowest common denominator, then so be it.

        You’ve got it backwards. They want the lowest common denominator. ‘Fairness’ and ‘Equality’ are how you say that without invoking thoughts of things like food lines and government cheese.

        1. I think you give them too much credit. They don’t see that the logical result of what they want is uniform poverty. They don’t think at all. They feel. That’s it. They don’t even deserve to be considered human beings because they completely waste that frontal lobe and only use their animal brains.

  8. From this link: http://www.dailybulletin.com/s…..hool-funds

    Roche’s response
    “It’s disheartening for me and Sue to see the defamation by FCMAT of the founder of an incredible foundation and school,” Roche’s attorney, Marc Greenberg, said Friday. “They started with a conclusion and went out to prove it.”

    There’s more, and this is the accused’ attorney, but there seem to be valid points such as ‘once the money is paid by contract to a vendor, what the vendor then spends it on is irrelevant’.
    Regardless, if there are problems, they can be handled in many ways short of forcing the kids back into a rotten school district.

  9. Strange that financial improprieties apparently merit worse punishment for a charter school than actual student abuse does in regular public schools.

    Guess it matters who your judge, jury and executioner is.

  10. Related: The Lottery – about Harlem families desperately trying to get their kids in decent schools. The Cartel – about the public school cartel, the education unions, and how hard they are fighting charters (actually, both film discuss the latter).

  11. First off, props to Trump for picking DeVos as the Education Secretary. It has sent all of my teacher friends into a frenzy which is an indicator that his pick was a good one.

    Secondly, I remember when the teachers in Chicago went on strike and a former acquaintance of mine was rah rah-ing the strike because her mother is a teacher at CPS. She was against school choice and forcing teachers to be much more accountable to the students and the parents but yet went to Nazareth Academy in suburban La Grange, despite being a resident of Chicago.

    After her rant was over I asked her how can she condemn a student to a shitty school and take the choice away from the student’s parent to find a better school, while she gets to go one of the top Catholic schools in the Western Suburbs even though, she lives in Chicago and her Mom works at CPS?

    She defriended me.

  12. Since financial fraud “forever taints” a school, I am anxiously awaiting the shut down of SF public schools, Detroit public schools, and Chicago public schools since they’ve all had major financial scandals in the last year. I’d wager there’s no major school district in this country that hasn’t had a case of financial fraud in the last 25 years or so.

  13. there was a California politician in charge of all California schools who did the exact same thing a few years ago by funneling all work to his wife. how come they didn’t close all of the schools then. I wish i could remember his name to provide a link

  14. It’s both a strength and a weakness of charter schools: They’re easier to close when they perform poorly, but the system is susceptible to manipulation by public school system administrators with an agenda.

    Being easy to close for poor performance is good. Being easy to close for any reason, despite good performance, isn’t so great.

    1. I might argue that that is still better than the opposite. Failing fast can be a feature, not a bug in a complex system.

  15. My public school’s superintendent stole money from the school for himself and his daughter. He was even convicted and sent to jail for it. Nobody considered shutting the school down.

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  17. I am a big supporter of charter schools and even vouchers(though the voucher value should be a little less than the per pupil cost allocation in public schools).
    Having said that, I see nothing in this lady’s background that makes me confident she will be a good Educaiton Secretary. Her husband is a big prpopnent of intelligent design (and it actually may even be creationist nonsense) in schools. I have a hard time believing he won’t have any influence on issues like this.

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  19. Ah, good… Goldstein has put up a new article. Let the two minutes hate begin.

  20. Not mentioned in the article, but a significant point: no union employees, no chance for skimming of funds by elected officials.

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